Clearing the air

Candice Giffin finishes as a finalist for the Harry Truman scholarship.

Candice Giffin would like to see her hometown of Phoenix have the same kind of cleaner, clearer air that she has grown accustomed to during her time as a student at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. With this goal in mind, she wrote a policy proposal focusing on the reduction of automobile emissions in the Valley – and in doing so, earned a finalist berth in the Harry S. Truman scholarship competition.

Being recognized as a finalist for the nationally-renowned scholarship – awarded to students based on their academic performance and leadership accomplishments – is a rare honor.

This year, 629 candidates were nominated by 293 colleges and universities across the country. Out of that, five finalists were selected to represent Arizona.

“As finalists, we had the opportunity to interview in front of eight public officials – our panel consisted of federal judges, law professors, a former state legislator, and a former Arizona corporation commissioner,” Giffin says. “Just getting the chance to answer their questions and defend my policy proposal before them was an amazing opportunity.”

Despite falling just short of receiving the scholarship, Giffin says she is grateful for the experience, and has no regrets about applying.

“I am very at peace with it, especially considering how nationally competitive the award is,” Giffin says. “I am just so happy that I was able to represent Northern Arizona University as a finalist. The experience of interviewing in front of the eight public officials, and meeting the other Arizona finalists from Stanford, MIT, Occidental, and ASU, as well as the other regional finalists, was such an honor.”

Calling all difference-makers

The process of applying for the scholarship was arduous. Giffin, a junior majoring in both political science and environmental studies, was required to write eight essays, as well as the policy proposal.

“They want agents of change,” Giffin says. “They want people who are going to heavily influence public policy in the future.”

She says she has had the full support of the faculty and staff at Northern Arizona University, including Melissa Riggs, the coordinator for the Truman scholarship on campus.

“I met with Melissa many times to go over my application,” Giffin says. “I made nearly 20 drafts or more of every essay, as well as sought advice from my professors. That was the writing process: writing over and over again, with new drafts, and going to different people for suggestions.”

While Giffin is naturally ambitious, she explains the faculty at Northern Arizona University helped take her education to the point where she felt comfortable and confident throughout the application process.

“I’ve learned more outside of the classroom – getting to know the people up here and interacting with other students and faculty,” Giffin says.

When Giffin found out she was named a finalist, she was excited, but also nervous – her next step, oral interviews, would require even more preparation.

“It was extremely nerve-wracking,” Giffin says. “After finding out I was a finalist, I spent weeks doing research on everything I could think of, and took part in three mock interviews. The panelists ask you questions that are less about what you do in college, or what you did in high school, and more along the lines of, ‘What would you advise the President to do about our immigration system if you had two minutes to talk with him?'"

There were 11 other finalists in Giffin’s region, which includes most of the states in the southwest.

“All of us finalists stayed in a room together from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Giffin says. “Each of us got called in one at a time for twenty minute interviews with the eight panelists. It was great just getting to know the other finalists. All of them are very accomplished individuals who are already doing huge things for society.”

Moving on up

Giffin credits Northern Arizona University for its constant support, and advises students to actively seek out all that the university has to offer.  

“Jump right in when you get to Northern Arizona University,” Giffin advises. “When I was a freshman, I didn’t sit around and wait for things to come to me – I sought out opportunities, found them, and got involved.”

Giffin is now preparing to apply to graduate school, where she believes her experience with the Truman application process will allow her to stand out.

“Never doubt your potential,” Giffin says. “The process allowed me to realize that anything is possible if you work hard. Every hour I invested in the process, I was just investing in myself.”