Rochester resident, grassroots activist becomes UB’s first Truman Scholarship winner

Madelaine Britt, UB's first Harry S. Truman Scholar.

Madelaine Britt has been named UB's first Harry S. Truman Scholar, the nation's most prestigious academic honor for undergraduate students.

Release Date: April 21, 2016 This content is archived.

“Madelaine is a remarkable individual. She is a thoughtful and insightful leader. She is passionate about grassroots activism and its ability to impact how neighborhoods are planned and protected.”
Elizabeth Colucci, coordinator of fellowships and scholarships
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Madelaine Britt, whose family roots fueled a fierce commitment to urban revitalization activism, became the University at Buffalo’s first Harry S. Truman Scholar today, an honor UB officials say is the country’s most prestigious academic honor available to undergraduates.

Britt, 20, a double major in environmental design and political science who will finish her junior year in May, was one of 54 students selected from 200 finalists to receive the Truman Scholarship following a rigorous multi-stage selection process.

Britt will receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in a professional development program next summer in Washington, D.C., to help prepare for a career in public service leadership.

The 200 finalists were chosen from among 775 candidates for the award nominated by a record 305 colleges and universities. The Harry S. Truman Foundation, which administers the scholarships, was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. The foundation’s mission is to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. The awards target individuals aiming to be leaders and agents of change in the public sector, which includes education, government and non-profit work.

“I am so pleased that Madelaine has been awarded the very prestigious Truman Scholarship,” said Elizabeth Colucci, coordinator of fellowships and scholarships at UB, whose office has fostered a dramatic increase in the number of UB undergraduates chosen for nationally competitive scholarships.

“She is UB’s first winner and truly deserving of this scholarship. The competition for this scholarship is very competitive.

“Madelaine is a remarkable individual.  She is a thoughtful and insightful leader.  She is passionate about grassroots activism and its ability to impact how neighborhoods are planned and protected.”

This past year UB students have won a Marshall Scholarship to the United Kingdom, a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, six National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, three National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships, a Boren Scholarship to India, a Goldwater Scholarship, two Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Awards and a Critical Language Scholarship.

Britt’s selection as a Truman Scholar means UB now has a student who has earned what Colucci called the most prestigious undergraduate academic honor in the U.S.

“Truman Scholars are selected because of their potential to be leaders in the future based on their current work.  They are committed to work in public service,” says Colucci. “Madelaine exemplifies what it means to be a Truman Scholar.   She wants to change the world through public service to others and has a passion for making a difference at a community level.”

Britt is the daughter of Margaret and Eric Britt of Rochester, which she considers her hometown because so many members of her family live there. She graduated from Marcellus High School in suburban Syracuse when her parents lived there.

She and the other Truman Scholars will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Liberty, Missouri, on Sunday, May 29.

“I couldn't be happier to represent my hometown Rochester and now my newfound home of Buffalo as a Truman Scholar,” said Britt. “The love and support I have received from both cities has been outstanding, and I can't wait to bring what I learn back to my own community. Thank you, everyone at UB, who has helped get me here.”

Britt’s passion and commitment revolve around urban revitalization activism centered on community-oriented solutions. She says she would like to work in the District of Columbia’s Department Housing and Community Development, eventually earning a dual degree in urban planning and law. She is determined to help low-income people find access to safe and affordable housing. Britt then wants to return to Rochester, and run for the Rochester City Council.

Britt’s honors and activities while a UB student include: Dean’s List, named a Western New York Prosperity Fellow and co-founder of the University Community Laboratory, or CoLab, which provides free, skill-based training classes for University Heights residents. Britt organized a hugely successful volunteer fair while a summer associate for AmeriCorps Vista working at Rochester Cares, a non-profit agency that connects volunteers with agencies that need their help.

Britt served as student sustainability coordinator with UB’s Campus Dining & Shops. She also helped start a tenant association while working as an intern for the Southeast Neighborhood Service Center in Rochester.

Britt’s mother grew up impoverished, and her grandmother instilled a passion for helping low-income urban residents by telling her granddaughter stories of the hardship of raising a family as a single mother.

“I pursue public service almost selfishly,” Britt wrote in her Truman Scholar application. “I don’t understand why I’ve been fortunate to receive what I have. I can picture my mother there, and I realize that I’m separated by just a generation.

“A career in community development allows me to feel in some strange way a sort of control of the situation, giving me the ability to feel as if I’m part of a solution for mothers and grandmothers like my own. It hammers away at that pit in my stomach, and reminds me of the importance of knowing where you come from and where you need to take your story next.”

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