AMHERST, Mass. – Three students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have received awards from two of the nation’s most competitive and prestigious scholarship programs.
Kunal Malhotra, a political science and history major, was awarded a Truman Scholarship. Matt Marzilli, a computer science major, and John Debardeleben, a physics and astronomy major, received Goldwater Scholarships.
“To rise to the top in these national competitions is an extraordinary achievement,” said Susan Krauss Whitbourne, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement, which provided the students guidance throughout the elaborate application and interview processes. “These are outstanding undergraduate students, and to have three selections in one year is a testimony to the high quality of teaching and learning that occurs at UMass Amherst.”
Malhotra, a native of Fairfax, Va., is one of just 75 students in the U.S. to be awarded the Truman Scholarship. Marzilli and Debardeleben, of Westport, Mass., and Doylestown, Pa., respectively, are among 323 students to win the Goldwater Scholarship nationwide.
Truman Scholars are selected based on academic merit and are students who intend to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service. This year 598 students were nominated for the award. The $30,000 scholarship goes toward graduate study as well as priority admission to some premier institutions and special internship opportunities within the federal government.
“I was shocked when I found out,” said Malhotra, “and I was happy that I could bring the award back to UMass.” His career ambition is to become a lawyer, and he plans to use his $30,000 scholarship to help fund his graduate school tuition. According to Whitbourne, Malhotra was “extremely enthusiastic” about the application and interview process.
Malhotra came to Amherst with what he called “a starry-eyed image of a small town in New England,” only to have his preconceived notions dashed “very much so for the better.”
His initial overwhelming feeling of being alone in a sea of 20,000 students soon passed as he entered the Talent Advancement Program (TAP) in Political Science, which allowed him to connect with other students with similar interests. “This often happens at UMass Amherst, despite its size,” he said.
The Goldwater Scholarship is a merit-based scholarship awarded to students who pursue careers in science, mathematics or engineering. This year, 1,081 students were nominated for the award nationally. The award covers the cost of tuition, room and board, books and fees up to $7,500.
Marzilli, who discovered he was a winner during spring break, said he had to check his computer screen repeatedly for the news to sink in. “I was definitely surprised,” he said. “It was an honor just to be nominated.”
He stressed the importance of the help of those around him during the application and interview phases. “I couldn’t have done it without the help of my advisors, especially the application process,” he said. His advisors are computer science professors Lori Clarke and Leon Osterweil and physics professor Narayanan Menon.
Marzilli plans to use his award to help with the cost of his fifth year of study on campus to complete a double-major in Physics.
Debardeleben, who recently declared himself pre-med, was equally surprised with the news of his award. “I may have had a mild heart attack the day a friend called me to tell me I had won,” he said. He plans to use his award to help fund his tuition and his upcoming study of proton transport through nanopores for the purpose of discovering alternative energy sources.
Debardeleben also had praise for his mentors, Whitbourne and physics professor Mark Tuominen. “I attribute my success to my advisors for helping me to write an application that stood out,” he said.