Omar El-Halwagi ’11 hopes to parlay his Harry S. Truman Scholarship into a law degree so he can specialize in employment discrimination or civil rights.
The Truman Foundation funds the $30,000 scholarships for students pursuing careers in public service. El-Halwagi is the first Texas A&M student to receive the honor since 1994.
Truman Scholars are selected on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability and likelihood of “making a difference.” El-Halwagi is one of 60 scholars selected from among 602 candidates nominated by 264 colleges and universities.
El-Halwagi, a graduate of A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, is a management and business honors major with a minor in communications. He is the president of the Texas A&M Speech and Debate Team and was the 2009 Pi Kappa Delta national champion in extemporaneous speaking.
El-Halwagi received All-American awards at two national speech and debate competitions. “All the speeches and debates I give are based on things I really care about,” he says. “I see it as a way to learn more about certain topics and to teach others about them.”
He has been the administrative coordinator the Freshman Business Initiative and has proposed and led his own special topics course for the Mays Business School. He participated in the 2009 China-U.S. Relations Conference, and has interned with the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Public Policy Internship Program.
El-Halwagi co-founded Global Law Brigades at Texas A&M, and plans to take a group of students to Panama to work with a non-governmental agency. He also coaches middle school students in speech and debate and has volunteered in Teen Court.
He plans to take his Law School Admission Test in June, then he hopes to pursue a joint degree in law and social policy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In the long term, he hopes to build a career as an employment discrimination lawyer and, later, a public official.
“I’ve always known I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. He attributes his habit of “fighting for what I believe in and speaking up,” from his family members, who are all engineers. He says he surrounds himself with “change agents,” including his debate partner Audrianne Doucet, whose Project Yogurt shop gives 20 percent of its earnings to nonprofit agencies.
El-Halwagi is particularly interested in the civil rights infringements against Muslim Americans. “I get really worked up about civil rights issues, particularly against Muslim Americans,” he says. “My personal experiences have made me pursue this issue, especially post-9/11.”
In addition to the scholarship funds, the scholars receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Recipients must be U.S. citizens, have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills, be in the top quarter of their class and be committed to careers in government or the not-for-profit sector.
El-Halwagi is the first Texas A&M student selected as a Truman Scholar in more than 15 years. The most recent Texas A&M student to be selected as a Truman Scholar was Kellie (Sims) Butler, in 1994. In the last 10 years, nine Aggies have progressed to finalist, the most recent being international studies major Karthik Venkatraj ’10.
About the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation
Established by Congress in 1975, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation is the official federal memorial to the nation’s 33rd president. Truman Scholars are recognized as “change agents” and have the “passion, intellect, and leadership potential that in time should enable them to improve the ways that public entitiesâ€¦serve the public good.” Notable Truman scholars include Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, broadcaster and political advisor George Stephanopoulos, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice and Ford Foundation President Luis UbiÃ±as.