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Two Rutgers students named as finalists for $30,000 scholarship

Hamza Choudhry, a Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior, and Maddison Van Der Mark, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, are finalists for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship. – Photo by Courtesy of Madison Van Der Mark and Hamza Choudhry

Two Rutgers students have been selected as finalists for the national Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, a federally funded scholarship that awards up to $30,000 to undergraduates pursuing graduate or professional school in public service, according to the website.

Of the 705 applicants from 275 institutions, the foundation selected 199 finalists to interview for the scholarship, according to the website.

Hamza Choudhry, a senior in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and one of the finalists, cited his work as an EMT as part of his dedication to public service.

He said he became a certified EMT for the River Road Rescue Squad in Piscataway during his sophomore year at Rutgers while the pandemic was ongoing.

Choudhry said he increased his commitment to the rescue squad when he saw a need for instructors for new EMTs.

"I was determined to keep my agency alive," he said. "I dedicated nearly all my free time to educating myself on how to be the best EMT while acquiring over 1,000 hours in my first year by picking up nearly every open shift."

Choudhry trained new members of the squad by familiarizing them with agency-specific operations. Due to his initiative, he was promoted to sergeant and continued to educate members and other officers through weekly training.

Choudhry said he learned about the scholarship while working with the Jersey City Board of Education President involving former Truman Scholar Mussab Ali, for whom Choudhry created a campaign video as one of his filmmaking projects.

He then applied when the University announced it was looking for applicants. Rutgers only nominates four students, and he is glad to be among the four.

"This was very exciting news for me, and I am looking forward to my finalist interview with the Truman Foundation for them to select a final recipient in April," he said.

Choudhry said he hopes to attend medical school and obtain a dual Master's degree in Public Health. He also said he wants to become an EMS physician after his undergraduate studies.

He said he encourages students who are active in volunteerism and public service to apply for the scholarship because it helps students reflect on their contributions and the lessons they gained from them.

Fellow finalist Maddison Van Der Mark, a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences, said her public service includes coaching youth and tutoring veterans.

She is an army veteran and a member of the Rutgers Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps as well as the program director for a non-profit called the New Jersey Give a Kid a Dream Foundation, which provides mentorship and assistance for children.

Rutgers nominated her as a finalist after she completed an application process that she described as a 12-page application that included letters of recommendation and essays about acts of service.

"The Truman Foundation requires you to dig into your life for the next 20 years," she said. "So I've been able to narrow down and be able to explain my thought process and how I want to take on my life."

Van Der Mark said she plans to return to the army for at least four years after graduation. After her military service, she hopes to pursue a career path as a history teacher. To accomplish this goal, she said she wants to obtain a degree in education with a concentration in transformational teaching.

Van Der Mark said transformational teaching aims to help students become well adverse in critical thinking, reflection and goal setting in and outside the classroom.

She said applying for the scholarship is a worthwhile endeavor for Rutgers students because the process personally aided her introspection and proved valuable in helping her learn what she wanted to do after college. Van Der Mark said she wants students to know that public service is as simple as helping somebody.

"The world of public service will take you down pathways you never knew would fulfill you in some sort of way," she said. "If you feel like you're drawn to it because it provides a sense of fulfillment, or you can connect to it, go for it."

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