This past October, Yaseen Eldik began working on his application for the Truman Scholarship. He was the first student from Stony Brook to apply. After months of hard work, Eldik completed the application, which consisted of over 15 essays and an intense interviewing process. That itself was an accomplishment. Then, he said, he waited.
“I really thought my anxiety was going to kill me,” Eldik said.
But five months later, Eldik became one of 60 students throughout the United States to be awarded the Truman Scholarship. He was chosen out of 660 applicants and was one of 11 finalists in New York State and Stony Brook’s first Truman Scholar, placing Stony Brook University on the map with the best schools in the country.
“I thought the president was lying to me,” Eldik said of the moment he was told he won the award. “I really did.”
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation honors juniors with leadership potential who want to pursue a career in public service. The award provides “up to $30,000″ in financial support for graduate study and offers leadership training and fellowship with other students who want to make a difference through public service.
Eldik, 20, is a junior pursuing a double major in psychology and sociology and a minor in English. He is a global studies fellow, student ambassador and president of Stony Brook University’s Science and Society Council.
“The Truman award speaks to Yaseen’s numerous and wide-ranging accomplishments and to his commitment to being an agent of change,” President Samuel L. Stanley said.
Eldik’s passions lie in eliminating Islamophobia in America because he believes it threatens the backbone that this country was built upon. He said when he first came to Stony Brook, he soon noticed a disconnect between Muslim and non-Muslim students.
Eldik is “absolutely passionate” about devoting his life to “overcoming the barriers…between religions and groups,” Susan Scheckel, an associate professor of English who led Yaseen through the application process, told Newsday.
Ultimately, Eldik plans to use the scholarship to get his Master’s degree in law and public policy. He said he dreams of becoming an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, focusing on promoting tolerance and defending the civil rights of people affected by discrimination.
“His vision of a better world may be ambitious, but I have no doubt that it is something he will spend his life doing,” said Charles L. Robbins, vice provost for undergraduate education and the university’s Truman faculty representative.
Though the application process was rigorous, it helped Eldik direct his passions and make them more concrete. To Eldik, the award was not about the honor, but about his desire to influence the world.
“I just wanted to be a part of a larger community that dedicated their lives to public service,” Eldik said.
Eldik’s brother, Hysem, is also a junior psychology major at Stony Brook, and worked side-by-side with Eldik during the application process. He said he has watched his brother apply to other scholarships before, but the Truman Scholarship application was different — It was about his whole life experience.
“We had to start somewhere,” Eldik’s brother said. “So… we started with the first question.”
The application took Eldik all the way back to childhood and made him learn about who he is and what he really wants to do.
The brothers said the application was an accomplishment in itself.
“We kept telling him, ‘Yaseen, you already won, you already won,'” his brother said. “But he was not fulfilled.”
But, handing the application in initiated a lot of anxiety for Eldik. He never thought that he had a shot at winning.
The two brothers were in Stanley’s office when they found out Eldik had won.
“My jaw dropped,” Eldik’s brother said. “I was so excited, so honored, so proud of him. This is such a monumental moment of his life.”
For Eldik, the award is just the beginning of his public service involvement. He plans to continue his research and involvement with Stony Brook.
Eldik said he could have never made it through the process without the support of his family and the Stony Brook community. He added, he will be forever grateful for the help that Stony Brook’s faculty has given him.
“I hope I set the precedent for incoming students,” Stony Brook’s first Truman Scholar said. “Stony Brook can open so many doors.”