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Rutgers student receives prestigious Truman scholarship

<p>&nbsp;Aasha Shaik, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said her experience growing up in a household that practiced both Hinduism and Islam was part of the reason why she decided to work in public service.&nbsp;</p>

 Aasha Shaik, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said her experience growing up in a household that practiced both Hinduism and Islam was part of the reason why she decided to work in public service. 

A Rutgers student was recently awarded the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which is given to those who exemplify leadership in areas of public service. 

The recipient of the award was Aasha Shaik, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. The "Truman" is a competitive national scholarship that reviews applications from more than 800 institutional nominations for approximately 50 scholarships, according to the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation website.

“Trumans are working in the West Wing, sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court and serving in federal and state legislatures. They are transforming nonprofits, delivering crucial services and organizing for change in local communities. And Truman Scholars are leaders in academia, research and health care. They can be found in every branch of the Armed Services. And many make a difference beyond the borders of the United States,” according to the website.

Shaik, who is also part of Douglass Residential College and the Honors College, said she hopes to double major in political science and Middle Eastern studies. From there, she plans on pursuing a joint J.D. and Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

“I want to practice law for a period of time as a trial attorney in a civil rights or human rights capacity,” she said.

Life experiences such as growing up in a bi-religious Hindu and Muslim household spurred her interest in public service, she said.

“That background has also motivated my passion for public service. While my identities have resulted in various marginalizations, I have immense privilege as well, from being an American-born citizen to being able-bodied,” she said. “My privilege juxtaposed with my experiences is what motivates my passion for uplifting all marginalized communities, whether their marginalization looks like my own.”

Beyond her major, Shaik is also active in many organizations on campus, such as the Petey Greene Program, in which she has served as president for the Rutgers chapter.

The program's main objective is to “supplement education in jails, prisons and detention centers, by preparing volunteers to provide free, quality tutoring and related programming to support the academic achievement of incarcerated people," according to its website.

As part of the program, Shaik worked to bring awareness to the state of the criminal justice system while also providing the program with more Rutgers tutors.

“During that first year, we increased the number of tutors placed in prisons by four times and grew our new Petey Greene chapter to more than 150 student members,” she said. 

Shaik’s time with the Petey Greene Program further increased her interest in public service, especially after recognizing racial bias related to incarceration. 

“I have the privileges that come with not being Black. While I face marginalization as a person of color, it is to a very different degree than my Black peers. In each of those ways, the criminal justice system and its flaws do not affect me. But that is one of the reasons I do care. It is our duty to use our privilege to uplift and serve others,” she said.

She advises students considering careers in public policy and human rights to apply for internships, fellowships, scholarships and other opportunities, even if they think they are not qualified. 

“Imposter syndrome is so real, but know that you do deserve the opportunities that you receive. And also that rejections from the opportunities you don’t receive don’t define you,” she said.

What it boils down to for Shaik is a sense of moral duty to help those in need, as she hopes to impact the world through her studies in politics and human rights.

“Ultimately, I aspire to be in a diplomatic or foreign policy position in which I can fight to protect the human rights of all,” she said.

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