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Ashley Edgette likes to get her hands dirty and grow things, especially things that feed communities.
Later this month, the University of Utah honors student will dig up part of Jackson Elementary School's yard and plant a 5,000-square-foot garden.
This effort and many others like it earned Edgette the title of Truman Scholar, the prestigious award for undergraduates headed to careers in public service. Early this month, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, named Edgette among the 54 students winning this year's scholarship named in honor of the 33rd president.
It was the sixth year in a row that a U. student was so honored, and no other university has fielded a Truman Scholar in each of the last six years. Much of that success can be attributed to the school's Hinckley Institute of Politics, which maintains a thorough vetting process for U. applicants.
Hinckley director Kirk Jowers praised Edgette, who is double majoring in political science and environmental studies and will graduate next year.
"She has built a strong legacy of public service, is committed to serving others and focused on solving problems," said Jowers, himself a 1990 Truman Scholar. "Now with the distinction and opportunities attributed to Truman Scholars, she will be that much more effective in advocating for and serving vulnerable American families."
This year, all three of Utah's finalists came through Hinckley. The others were Melissa Moeinvaziri and Whitney Benns. They were in an original pool of 587 applicants from 272 colleges and universities.
Edgette, a 2008 graduate of Alta High School, transferred to the U. from Salt Lake Community College and became interested in the U.'s Honors College through its late lecturer, Matt Bradley, who had a gift for engaging students in community action. Bradley, who inspired many other students, died in March in an apparent accident at home and was honored last week during the U.'s Pete Suazo Social Justice Awards celebration.
Much of Edgette's community service was conducted with the U.'s Bennion Community Service Center and Honors College Social Justice Scholars program, which Bradley directed, and the Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective.
"She leads by example in a humble and enthusiastic way, and seeks information and ideas from others to continue her ever-increasing knowledge and growth," said Gina Russo, the service center's assistant director. "She is a hard-working, bright and altruistic person who cares deeply about her community."
The only child of long-time Alta Ski Area employees, Edgette grew up skiing the storied slopes of Collins and Albion basins and competed as a racer and later as a big-mountain free skier. Preparing for a career wasn't exactly the first thing on her mind when she graduated from Alta High School in 2008.
"I was a ski bum. I wasn't a Sterling Scholar or anything," she said. Edgette paid for school through a variety of scholarships and worked last summer as a governmental relations intern the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., going to work every day in heels and a pencil skirt to lobby to protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and researched the educational benefits of school gardens.
Back in Utah she works 10 hours a week for the Salt Lake City School District as a family advocate assigned to Mountain View Elementary, where she helped start a community garden a few years ago as part of Bennion's Social Justice Gardens program.
Her Truman proposal seeks to build community food security by increased funding for USDA Community Food Projects and integrating them into Title I elementary schools.
"It is about creating infrastructure for food systems in the U.S. It looks at not only how food is distributed, but also how do we produce food and think about farms," she said.
This month she will build 30 raised garden beds in Jackson's northwest corner near 200 North and 750 West. Residents of Rose Park and other nearby neighborhoods can reserve plots and each grade at Jackson will have their own bed. The project's name? Cougar Garden.
firstname.lastname@example.org Truman Scholars
Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 to honor the 33rd president. The foundation awards scholarships that come with $30,000 and priority admission to the nation's most prestigious graduate programs and fellowship opportunities with the federal government. Winners are selected by panels made up of a university president, a federal judge, a distinguished public servant, a past Truman scholar and others who have distinguished themselves in public service. Aiming to pick a scholar from all 50 states, the panel selects winners based on academic achievement, public service, policy proposals and leadership potential.
Ashley Edgette is the U.'s sixth Truman Scholar in a row. The others are senior Brandon Peart, who graduates this spring and will intern at the State Department's Office of Terrorism Finance and Sanctions Policy; Cody Rogers is completing his first year of law school at the University of Virginia; one-time student president Patrick Reimherr is a social science research analyst at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2009 graduate Ingrid Price is a second-year law student at Stanford and will intern this fall with Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal correspondent; and 2008 graduate Bryson Morgan, who graduated cum laude last year from Harvard Law School, practices with the Washington, D.C., firm Caplin & Drysdale, where he advises clients on election, campaign finance, pay-to-play, lobbying, and governmental ethics laws and regulations.