Penn State nominates three for Truman Scholarship

Sean Yoder
April 07, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State nominated juniors Erin Boas, Sarah Stevenson-Peck and Nora Van Horn for the 2021 Truman Scholarship, a competitive award that recognizes students for their commitments to public service.

Though the nominees were not selected to move forward as 2021 finalists in the national competition, Boas, Stevenson-Peck and Van Horn are aspiring change-makers with a desire for public service.

Truman finalists were announced Feb. 19. The list of Truman Scholars will be released April 14.

Erin Boas

Boas, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is an international politics and economics major. She is also minoring in business and the liberal arts and entrepreneurship and innovation.

Boas said she has a passion for international development and international economics, and one day would like to work with the United Nations World Bank or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Photograph of Erin Boas

Erin Boas

IMAGE: Provided

Many undergraduates will know Boas as an at-large representative and president-elect to the University Park Undergraduate Association, where she has served on the Governmental Affairs, Academic Affairs, Student Life, Justice and Equity and Facilities committees. She is also a University Faculty Senate Student Senator, and has served in organizations such as THON, Homecoming 2020, Movin’ On 2021 Music Festival and the Omega Phi Alpha National Service Sorority.

In fall 2019 and 2020, she served as a teaching assistant to Jadrian Wooten, associate teaching professor of economics in the College of the Liberal Arts. She said this gave her the opportunity to observe the other side of learning.

“Watching students improve from week to week and addressing challenges that arise in the course has given me a new appreciation for the classroom,” she said.

Academically, Boas has excelled as a Schreyer Scholar and Paterno Fellow. She said she plans to write her Schreyer thesis on economic stability in relation to the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions, a subject that binds with her passion for public service.

“My undergraduate research has allowed me to narrow and strengthen my passions, especially in my career and educational exploration,” Boas said. “I came into college knowing that public service was my destiny, but my research has allowed me to find my purpose.”

Boas’ future goals include pursuing a master’s degree in international development studies or international policy.

Sarah Stevenson-Peck

Stevenson-Peck, of State College, Pennsylvania, is majoring in philosophy and psychology, and one day hopes to attend law school and work as a civil rights lawyer.

Her undergraduate research in the Empathy and Moral Psychology Lab, College of the Liberal Arts, focuses on whether feeling similar to another person will increase empathy with that person.

Photograph of Sarah Stevenson-Peck

Sarah Stevenson-Peck

IMAGE: Provided

“Empathy is a really interesting subject since promoting empathy is generally good; it has the effect of increasing compassion and prosocial behavior,” Stevenson-Peck said. “But empathy can also increase parochialism and care for the in-group instead of caring for everyone, so it’s interesting to study.”

Participating in undergraduate research has taught her about the scientific method and how to read academic literature, and helped her to understand how science plays a role in many academic fields and life paths.

“I’ve learned a lot about how to analyze data and [interpret] what that data means, not just in the hypothetical sense of showing which correlations exist but also in the real-life way of what the data shows about how people act in different situations,” she said.

Stevenson-Peck is also the vice president of the Penn State Speech and Debate Society, work she said she is proud of considering the challenges of pandemic learning.

“Speech and Debate has dealt with some hurdles over the past year, particularly with remote learning, so I’m very proud of how well the team has been able to do competitively and in hosting public events.”

Nora Van Horn

Van Horn, of Loretto, Pennsylvania, is majoring in philosophy, Chinese and global international studies, with a minor in civic and community engagement. She is a Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar.

Central to Van Horn’s academic interests and future goals are addressing issues of corruption and environmental inequities.

Photograph of Nora Van Horn

Nora Van Horn

IMAGE: Provided

“I’m fascinated (and enraged) by how political decisions have and continue to benefit the private sector and those most powerful in our communities, while historically marginalized communities are and continue to be left behind, especially as international environmental inequities are perpetuated,” Van Horn said. “As our world globalizes, these environmental inequalities are exacerbated.”

Van Horn said she is interested in pursuing a master of arts in international affairs or a similar degree and conducting international research. She is particularly interested in Chinese language and culture, in which she’s already placed a great deal of academic energy. In addition to pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Chinese, in 2020 she worked with Ying Feng Kline, lecturer in Chinese in the College of the Liberal Arts, to complete an independent research project about international students from China and their perceptions of environmental sustainability. She studied abroad in Beijing during the summer of 2019 where she participated in an intensive language program at the Capital Normal University.

At Penn State, Van Horn has served with a number of organizations, such as the University Park Undergraduate Association as its director of sustainability, the University Park Student Fee Board, Students Teaching Students and Student Sustainability Advisory Council.

She said becoming a Truman Scholar would be an honor.

“And, more than that, the resources that being selected would unlock would elevate my capacity to serve the United States and our world,” she said. “The networking opportunities, the support system, the internship placement and more, would enable me to focus on addressing the pervasive environmental inequities in our world.

About the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation

For 2020, the Truman Foundation reported they received 773 applications from 316 colleges and universities. Penn State has had a total of eight Truman Scholars, with the most recent being Sara Ryan, a political science and African-American studies major, who received the award in 2004. Selection by the Truman Foundation is based off of records of leadership, public service and academic achievement.

Students interested in applying are encouraged to meet with Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring (URFM) in their first or second year of undergraduate studies to begin preparing.

In order to apply, students must be a U.S. citizen or a U.S. national from the Pacific Islands; be a college junior with a GPA of 3.7 or higher; plan to attend a professional or graduate school to prepare for a career in government, nonprofit or advocacy sectors; and commit to spending three of the first seven years after graduate or professional school working in public service. More than 3,000 Truman Scholarships have been awarded to date.

Penn State students interested in this and other funded opportunities that help students achieve their goals are invited to reach out to URFM at

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring is part of the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at

Last Updated April 09, 2021