Student Profile: A question and answer session with Jeni Lamb
Q&A By Albert Raboteau
This spring Jeni Lamb became the third Hokie to win the prestigious Truman Scholarship, a national award for students who intend to work in public service. But this University Honors student has already benefited from multiple scholarships created by supporters of the university. Lamb answered questions by e-mail from Kenya, where she traveled for a research project in June 2009. Along with her academic accomplishments, Lamb captains the university's Intercollegiate Horse Show Association western performance team.
What was your reaction on hearing that you are Virginia Tech's third-ever Truman scholar, and what opportunities does this scholarship open up to you?
Honestly, I was very surprised that I was only the third person from Virginia Tech to be selected as a Truman Scholar. Virginia Tech is such a unique and wonderful university because its Ut Prosim philosophy really embodies exactly what the Truman foundation is looking for -- people who wish to use their talents to serve.
For me personally, the scholarship has made a lot of the dreams I once had about graduate school and thought unattainable -- because of finances or the sheer competitiveness of the programs -- a definite possibility. Most importantly, the Truman Scholarship has introduced me to some of the brightest and most talented college students I have ever met. At the end of May, I had the opportunity to meet the entire 2009 class of Truman Scholars -- it was so inspiring to be around a group of people who not only shared a common philosophy about the importance of service in their lives, but also had such a wide variety of backgrounds and issues that they wished to address as public servants. Next summer, I am already looking forward to joining my fellow scholars at the 2009 summer institute in Washington and possibly staying on to work in public service as Truman Fellow in 2010.
It is certainly my hope that in becoming a Truman Scholar I will be able to encourage more individuals from Virginia Tech to apply [for the scholarship] so that they too can have such a powerful experience.
Describe the research project you are embarking on in Kenya.
I am working with a local NGO [non-governmental organization] in the western province called Community Action for Rural Development in [an] effort to use soybeans for the improvement of human health, especially for those suffering from malnutrition and HIV/AIDS.
In the Western region of Kenya, soy is seen as an outstanding opportunity to provide both agricultural and health benefits. This is because soy is a nitrogen fixing legume, allowing it to be grown in rotation with other crops.
Moreover, soy is the only complete source of protein from a plant, and is a less expensive, more easily absorbed protein complex than animal alternatives for people living with HIV/AIDS and malnutrition. The project seeks to develop partnerships with farmers who are already growing soy in the area to allow for value added processing of the raw soybeans into soy flour, soy nuts, soy milk and soy yoghurt.
From the experiences of these local farmers we are also going to work with [both] a somewhat urban and [a] more rural health center on best practices for cultivating soy, processing, and then incorporating soy products into the diets of the clients of the health centers living with malnutrition or HIV/AIDS. I am studying the uptake of soy products within these health centers and measuring qualitative health benefits such as symptom reduction.
You have had many scholarships at Virginia Tech. How have they helped you to maximize your education?
First off, I should definitely say that I am only at Virginia Tech because of scholarships. Out-of-state tuition is just not very much fun, but scholarships made it financially possible for me to have the opportunity to come here.
That said, one of these scholarships, the University Honors Austin Michelle Cloyd Scholarship for Social Justice, has changed the course of my life. A scholarship that requires an internship in public service and a project in social justice, the Cloyd scholarship gave me a structure within which I started thinking critically about my education very early in my sophomore year.
Encouraged by the scholarship, I pursued two internships in public service and then was able to interview for a longer-term position to continue working with agriculture at Virginia Tech. If I hadn’t started thinking about interning abroad doing sustainable agriculture research in the fall of 2007, I definitely wouldn’t be here right now, sitting on my laptop in the tropical downpour on a tin roof living with a Kenyan family and doing research on soy and human health.
Scholarships have also helped me in some smaller ways as well. Due to the scholarships I have been selected to receive and the support of my family, I have had the time to dedicate towards the extra-curricular activities that gave me exposure to the issues of rural poverty that I care about today.
What would you say to someone who was considering establishing a scholarship at Virginia Tech? Why might that be a good decision for them?
I would tell them that establishing a scholarship is the best thing that they could do to give back to the university.
However, I would also ask them to think critically about the kind of scholarship they want to establish, and [would] encourage them to create a scholarship that has the power to change a life, like any of the sophomore scholarships offered by University Honors. ... Too often, I think, people think of scholarships as a means to an end, but really they should be about a beginning.
The best scholarships are the ones that make you think about who you are, where you want to go and how you are going to get there -- not a monetary reward reflective of a high GPA or a laundry list of extra-curricular activities.