WORTHINGTON - Andrea Duarte-Alonso, a 2015 graduate of Worthington High School, was named a 2018 Truman Scholar earlier this month.
Currently a junior at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Duarte-Alonso is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science, with minors in women’s studies and communications/journalism.
The prestigious Truman Scholarship awards Duarte-Alonso $30,000 for graduate studies, which she intends to direct toward either a master’s in public policy or a law degree.
“Even before I knew I was a finalist, I thought it would be so cool if I got it,” said Duarte-Alonso. “Before, I was uncertain about my post-graduate plans and not confident that I could afford what I hoped to do.
“Now I know I am going to grad school - it’s not a question anymore but a definite answer.”
Duarte-Alonso survived a lengthy and rigorous application and selection process en route to this impressive award. She is one of 59 2018 Truman Scholars, chosen from a national pool of 756 students, and Minnesota’s lone Truman designee this year.
“I’m definitely energized,” said Duarte-Alonso. “It’s been a really, really tough year, with a full credit load, two internships [at the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota and at America Votes in St. Paul] and the Truman process, but getting this scholarship confirms that all this hard work really does pay off; it was worth it to see this result.”
Duarte-Alonso is the daughter of Gabriela and Leonardo Duarte, Worthington. Her younger brother, Leo, is a freshman at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
When Duarte-Alonso graduates in May 2019 from St. Kate’s, she will be the first person in her family to ever achieve a bachelor’s degree. Her parents are hard-working Mexican immigrants, and the Truman Scholarship Foundation noted Duarte-Alonso’s status as a first-generation college student who grew up in “seven diverse rural towns in five states.”
As a high school student, Duarte-Alonso earned academic honors, was a National Honor Society member and demonstrated her considerable leadership abilities in numerous other activities.
At St. Kate’s, she has continued to prove herself, and last year she received a $16,500 Minnesota Private Colleges’ Phillips Scholarship for her project proposal to prepare “Stories from Unheard Voices” in collaboration with the Nobles County Integration Collaborative and St. Mary’s Catholic Church.
In addition, Governor Mark Dayton appointed Duarte-Alonso to the state’s Young Women’s Initiative Cabinet, and she fulfilled an internship in the communications department of the governor’s office last summer.
“It’s neat to have that connection,” said Duarte-Alonso, who is now considering a gap year working in Washington, D.C., before hopefully beginning graduate work at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
At the end of May, Duarte-Alonso will attend a Truman Scholars week in Missouri, where she will learn more about the opportunities and obligations associated with her scholarship.
Duarte-Alonso is the first to acknowledge her path to being a Truman Scholar has not been walked alone. Above all, she is grateful to her parents for their support, and to the educators who have encouraged her along the way.
But without the aid of the professor she calls her mentor - Sharon Doherty of St. Kate’s Women’s Studies Program - and Lynda Szymanski, the interim dean of the college’s School of Arts, Humanities and Sciences - Duarte-Alonso is certain she’d never be in this fortuitous position.
“They really started talking to me about this a year ago, in last March or April,” Duarte-Alonso revealed. “Sharon thought I might have the potential for this, and then Lynda Szymanski helped me through the whole process.”
As she describes it, the application is lengthy and rigorous, requiring intense self-examination and goal-setting to best present oneself as a potential Truman Scholar.
“Linda asked me if I was sure I wanted to go through the whole process, but I knew I needed financial aid and support if I wanted to go to grad school,” Duarte-Alonso explained. “During the summer, I thought about answers I could apply to the questions, and in September/October I really started digging into them.
“I had to have a clear mind about what I wanted to do because it asked me about plans of study at specific graduate schools, and yet my answers had to be concise because there were word limits.”
Duarte-Alonso emerged as a finalist, and on April 6 she waited several hours - along with candidates from schools including MIT, Wellesley and the University of Michigan - for her turn to be interviewed by a panel of 11 people.
“They were politicians, professors from various universities, a representative from the Bush Foundation, a former Secretary of State - I was surrounded by people who knew their stuff, to say the least,” said Duarte-Alonso.
Although the interview - and by some lucky twist of fate, the regionally located interview was scheduled to take place at St. Kate’s, Duarte-Alonso’s home turf - lasted only about 20 minutes, Duarte-Alonso had spent hours and hours preparing for it.
That preparation included mock interviews with St. Kate’s faculty members and plenty of research about her primary policy proposal, which involves immigration laws and rights.
“They threw me questions that had to do with who I was, what I knew about immigration, what my stance was on having a limit as to how long a person can stay in a country with a visa - it was quite difficult, but I was honest and that’s all I could really do,” she said.
Duarte-Alonso was surprised with the announcement that she was a Truman Scholar when St. Kate’s president, Becky Roloff, and Szymanski stopped by her economic statistics class on April 9 to share the good news.
Now it’s Duarte-Alonso’s duty to live up to the high expectations demanded of Truman Scholars, including a commitment to dedicate her life to a career in public service. But Duarte-Alonso is passionate about wanting to make life better for people with little power or influence.
“This is more than a scholarship to me,” said Duarte-Alonso. “It’s a recognition of my accomplishments as a student, leader and community member.”
While the busy college student admits her overflowing schedule leaves her tired at times, she is motivated to continue striving, especially with an assured $30,000 scholarship to support her graduate studies.
“I’m grateful for the amazing support of the St. Kate’s community,” assured Duarte-Alonso. “What a privilege it is to receive an education.”