Scholarship nominees are often nominated for outstanding academic prowess or excellent character, both of which Flushing senior Rebeccah Woodke has in spades.
But professor Phame Camarena, director of the National Scholarship Program and Honors Program, said Woodke was nominated by Central Michigan University for an entirely different purpose: her ability to change the world.
“For this scholarship, we were looking for one specific individual, a world-changing agent; we wanted to nominate (someone) who we thought would go out and change the world,” Camarena said. “We found that in Rebeccah.”
Each applicant must be nominated by his or her university. In their applications, candidates completed a series of essays, including a proposed solution to a major public policy issue.
Woodke, though, is a unique choice for the nomination. Camarena said Truman nominees traditionally have a background in political science. Woodke doesn’t fit the mold; she’s aspiring to go into public health, and with a major in biomedical sciences, she has a background in sciences.
“From the faculty perspective, Rebeccah has a unique and compelling story,” Camarena said. “She started by saying, ‘I’m going to be a scientist or a doctor,’ but as she continues to study, she realized that there are other ways to help people.”
Camarena said although Woodke is a unique choice, she is by no means as a risky one. She currently holds a 4.0 GPA, has spent time abroad doing service work in Oaxaca, Mexico and Belize, she has been a participant and site leader for the Alternative Breaks program, and has volunteered at the McLaren Central Michigan Free Clinic, 2012 E. Preston St.
Additionally, Woodke is secretary of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, where she has worked with students and university officials to make medicines and medical procedures developed by the university more accessible to lower-income families around the world.
But even Woodke’s background in biomedical sciences is a strength, not a weakness, according to Camarena.
“There is a tendency among leaders today to ignore statistics and research when drafting policies,” Camarena said. “Woodke understands the importance of statistics and research. She knows you cannot draft effective policy without them.”
Woodke said she knew she wanted to address health problems as soon as she entered the university and has never strayed from that path.
“During my childhood, I had an idealistic draw to making the world a better place, but I needed to narrow my focus more, so I decided to focus on health,” Woodke said. “In my mind, without health, what else have you got? How can someone address economical or social problems when their most basic needs are not taken care of?”
Woodke is interested in developing policy which will help address health disparities among ethnic and racial groups, specifically within the United States. Woodke said she changed her focus from scientific research to public health because of her desire to make that difference in people’s life.
“I just knew that I didn’t want to make a living being in a lab; I wanted to interact and be with people,” Woodke said.
Camarena said he has no doubt Woodke will make a large impact when she graduates.
“Whether or not she wins the scholarship, she’s just a top-notch academic student and has all the capabilities to be a national leader,” Camarena said. “I fully expect her, 20 years down the road, to be leading an institution.”