Engineering student named Truman Scholar


Sarah Hartman
Courtesy of Kathy Atkinson.
Sarah Hartman named a Truman Scholar.

Sarah Hartman dedicates her time to improving water quality and sanitation internationally, serves as the project manager for the Engineers without Borders project in the Philippines and works as a peer mentor at the English Language Institute. For these efforts, and others, she was recently named a Truman Scholar.

Hartman, who is from Wilmington, is a junior majoring in environmental engineering with minors in French and political science. Though she received the news last week, Hartman is still reeling.

“I was waiting for my class to start, and I see this man walk in who looks kind of familiar, and then I see Nancy Targett and a couple of directors for things on campus,” Hartman said. “I was like ‘oh my God, I know why they’re here.”’

In order to be selected for a Truman scholarship, candidates must be in their junior year of academic study and seek to be a “change agent” by improving the way agencies, organizations and institutions serve the public. Scholars must also embody strengths in leadership, public service and academics, Kristin Bennighoff, senior associate director of the Honors Program and faculty representative for the Truman Foundation, said.

While university students have had great success in winning Truman scholarships in the past few years, Hartman is the first winner from the college of engineering since 2006, Bennighoff said.

Hartman said she incorporated policy into her engineering studies by focusing on water and sanitation.

According to its website, the foundation reviewed 775 applications, narrowed it down to 197 finalists and finally selected 54 students as scholars for 2016.

For Hartman, this news comes after spending nearly a year preparing for the application and interview process. It began when she applied for the university’s nomination last April, and after being endorsed, she sent her application to the Truman Foundation in February. When she found out in March that she was a finalist, interview preparation began.

Bennighoff and Raymond Peters, assistant director of the Honors Program, helped Hartman prepare. Peters described Hartman as a bright and enthusiastic student with a variety of interests.

In addition to engineering, Hartman is fascinated by language. While it isn’t unheard of, it is unusual for a student to work in both fields, Peters said. This interest with language, as further demonstrated by her French studies and work at the English Language Institute as a peer mentor, makes it possible for her to discuss the topics that most people tend to ignore, he said.

“You can’t say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ to her because we do really need to talk about these things,” Peters said. “She’s a woman on a mission, and I think she’s good at communicating that mission.”

Hartman has also been involved with university’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders since her freshman year. Melissa Landman, a junior mechanical engineering major, is a fellow member of the registered student organization and described Hartman as both bubbly and outgoing.

“She really draws people to the club,” Landman said. “She just has this leadership quality that I really admire about her.”

As a project manager, her first job was to find a project for the chapter. After reaching out to several communities around the world, Hartman made a connection with a man in the Philippines and deemed it the perfect fit for a partnership.

“That was a huge moment for me because here we had gone from nothing and now we have this commitment to 1,200 people on the other side of the world to improve their lives,” Hartman said.

She has since made two two-weeklong trips to the Philippines in an effort to gather data about their water supply, which failed every test, most notably for fecal matter. The next phase involves devising a plan to deal with this issue, but Hartman recalled how difficult it was to relay the disappointing news to the community and then leave them.

“The guilt that I felt when we left…we were flying home to America where we have clean water,” Hartman said. “We don’t have to worry about there being poop in our water. That was a very long lasting feeling.”

As for life after this award, she remains unsure about what will come next. Truman Scholars complete a three-month internship in Washington, D.C., but her plans for beyond that remain ambiguous. Originally wanting to work for a year or two following graduation, Hartman said she thinks that graduate school might instead come first.

One thing is for certain — her work in the future will focus on “policy, water and poop.”

“I love water,” Hartman said. “Water and poop are my thing, so that’s my research. We joke that you need a level of humor to work with poop.”

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