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UM Student Named Truman Scholar Finalist

By Erin Garrett

University of Mississippi

University of Mississippi student and Truman Scholar finalist Madeleine Dotson visits the Colosseum in Rome while studying classics in Italy. Submitted photo

From Morocco to Japan, Madeleine Dotson has traveled the world studying issues related to disaster relief, sustainability and climate change.

The junior Arabic, economics and political science major at the University of Mississippi has been selected as a finalist for a Harry S. Truman Scholarship. The prestigious scholarship program awards $30,000 to select students across the nation. Finalists were announced Friday (Feb. 24).

“Madeleine is evidence of what a well-rounded student looks like,” said Vivian Ibrahim, director of the UM Office of National Scholarship Advisement. “She is a strong leader, incredibly smart and a genuinely good human being. 

“She’s focused on creating change and truly cares about social and environmental issues.”

Dotson will travel to Nashville, Tennessee, to participate in a regional competition for the scholarship, which memorializes the nation’s 33rd president, on March 20.

“If I’m awarded a Truman scholarship, I’m hoping that it will allow me to complete my master’s in ecological economics and then pursue my Ph.D. in economics,” said Dotson, who is a student in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College

“I would love to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development, then eventually the U.N. and be on the front lines of not only international and economic development, but also climate change and disaster response.”

Truman scholarships are merit-based and given to college students who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service. The scholars receive funds for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government. 

Students selected as Truman Scholars are invited to participate in the Truman Washington Summer Institute following their junior year to deepen their understanding of the national policymaking process.

Dotson grew up on the Gulf Coast and served as a Mobile Azalea Trail Maid, or ambassador to the city of Mobile, Alabama.

“That was how I really got into environmental issues on the coast,” she said. “I traveled across the Gulf Coast and Mobile meeting with different neighborhoods and communities, and I got to see firsthand how environmental issues impacted my community.”

She attended the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, where she was able to interact with these issues through science. She worked with the Alabama Coastal Foundation on its sea oat restoration project and conducted research on live oak resiliency.

At ASMS, she also solidified her love of studying the Arabic language. Before enrolling at the university, she was accepted to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program in 2018 and 2019, giving her two opportunities to study in Morocco. 

Although the pandemic forced her to end her second trip early, the immersive experiences were life-changing.

“It was intimidating at first because I lived with a host family and knew little Arabic,” she said “I knew standard Arabic, but not the dialect. It was fascinating, and after that, I was hooked. 

“I knew I wanted to study Arabic long term. I also began to think about opportunities in diplomacy and political science.”

Dotson began courses at the university in August 2020. She chose Ole Miss because of its Arabic Language Flagship Program, a program available only at select higher education institutions. She serves as an Arabic Flagship ambassador.

As a Stamps Scholar, Dotson was given a stiped for travel abroad and other educational opportunities. Since then, she’s visited Morocco a third time. 

She traveled to Italy to study classics, and to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina to study conflict, which helped her land a position with the U.S. Department of State as a social media research intern. She even met with representatives from the United Nations in Vienna and Geneva.

Most recently, she spent a month in Japan, where she learned about manga and anime and how climate change is presented in the mediums.

“Madeleine embodies the values of the Truman community,” said Ashleen Williams, an Honors College fellow and academic mentor for Stamps Scholars. “She is dedicated to improving her community and demonstrates her commitment through service. 

“She takes advantage of every opportunity to improve herself and serve others; this is something we hope all scholars will do when they arrive on campus.”

On campus, Dotson works for the Center for Community Engagement as the environmental and sustainability ambassador. In this role, she created an annual water forum to discuss water-related current events.

“The event was a response to students who had a lot of interest in water but no place to learn more about it,” she said. “I surveyed these students and saw that they were interested in water scarcity issues, whether abroad or in Mississippi.”

This year’s forum, set for March 22, will focus on the Jackson water crisis.

She also served as the first coordinator of the Arabic Summer Language Institute, an intensive Arabic program for high school students.

Allen Clark, co-director of the Arabic Flagship Program, said that Dotson displays an “enthusiasm for learning rarely found in anyone.”

“To give you an idea of how committed she is to her discipline, when she submitted her midterm paper, she asked how many times she could revise it,” Clark said. “She is an ideal learner, exuberant, charismatic and forever ready to engage in dynamic conversation in Arabic with anyone in earshot.”

Those who are interested in applying for a national scholarship should contact the UM Office of National Scholarship Advisement by emailing onsa@olemiss.edu or by visiting its website.


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