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Hillary Shah named Truman Scholar for continued public service

Hillary Shah named Truman Scholar for continued public service

Hillary Shah named Truman Scholar for continued public service
April 29
09:00 2021

Political science and economics senior Hillary Shah was named a recipient of the Truman Scholarship for her efforts in expanding civic engagement on campus and across the state.

Shah is one of 10 Texas students named as a finalist and was selected out of a pool of 845 applicants, making her the first UNT Truman Scholar in over 19 years.

The scholarship, a federal memorial to the former U.S. President Harry S. Truman, awards accomplished students $30,000 to put toward a public service-related graduate degree.

Shah said she plans to use the financial award towards a law degree after a year in the workforce, but believes the award’s sentiment is worth more than any monetary value.

“You can feel invalidated to be in public service because people[…] do treat you like you’re one of those people working at a mall kiosk,” Shah said. “[After] getting the Truman scholarship, I felt validated in that all the crazy stuff that I think no sane person would spend a ridiculous amount of time in college doing was not, in fact, crazy.”

Most recently, Shah co-founded the UNT Coalition of Civic Engagement along with American history senior Angie Whistler.

The organization partnered with the university, and — with the help of Melissa McGuire, associate vice president for Student Affairs — created a voting plan designed to make voting more accessible for the student body.

Although their original programming had to be restructured due to challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Shah said they were able to register 4,000 students in time for the 2020 election and increased on-campus voting by 200 percent.

“We ended up partnering with [McGuire] and we built the web page for student engagement, and we were instrumental in affecting the vote for the Texas campaign,” CCE president Whistler said. “But more than anything it was fun to see the unique ways that [Shah] came up with to engage students.”

Shah has been interested in public advocacy and social issues years before she was old enough to vote herself.

As an alumna from Lone Star High School in Frisco, TX, she joined the debate team as a freshman and developed her passion for social justice into a skill through oral arguments and mock policy writing. Her advocacy eventually turned into action following the Parkland high school shooting which sparked nation-wide protests against gun violence during her senior year in 2018.

The Truman Scholar said she remembers the day she was in class when the shooting happened at the Florida high school and watched it unfold on Twitter. A Stoneman Douglas High School student live-tweeted the incident. But their tweets were more disturbing for Shah after reading posts made days before the attack enjoying regular life. Specifically, the student posted her excitement for the NBC comedy series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — an enthusiasm Shah shared then.

“It seems like a silly moment,” Shah said. “But I think that kind of connection that I made with someone that I didn’t know over in Florida who was hiding because there was a shooter at her school kind of broke the barrier for me from just like talking about policy and knowing that it affected my community to actually doing something about it.”

After about a month of planning with other high school students across Frisco ISD, Shah and the student organizers led over 260 students on a district-wide walk-out. Students wrote letters to their senators and had the opportunity to register to vote during the event if they were eligible. Organizing the walk-out solidified Shah’s plan of pursuing a life in public service and becoming a lawyer, the first coming from a family of STEM professionals.

She joined the UNT Moot Court team during her freshman year where she argued cases based on constitutional law. In 2019, Shah won first place Champion in the Moot Court Regional Competition and became a national qualifier, and she argued before two Texas Supreme Court judges.

Upon completing her J.D., Shah wants to remove voting barriers through the legal system and continue to empower invisible communities through equality and justice.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Shah said. “I want to organize people towards issues forever. And it was hard, and it was grueling, but I loved it. It’s what I was supposed to do.”

Featured Image: Political science and economics senior Hillary Shah poses in front of the eagle statue on April 21, 2021. Image by Zach Del Bello

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Cristóbal Soto

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