It is often in the mind of an F&M student to accomplish what is asked, but Akbar Hossain, a senior Government major with remarkable ambition, did not settle for this notion. Instead, he asked what could be accomplished. His diverse presence on campus has ranged from the House Advising staff, Brooks College House Congress, John Marshall Pre-Law Honor Society and myriad others, but involvement alone does not account for Akbar’s F&M experience. His ideas for enacting positive change throughout the campus and community have come to fruition in many ways during the past year, and his message of proactivity was reflected in an incredible honor: he is the first student in F&M history to be awarded the Truman Scholarship, a highly competitive, national post-graduate scholarship for students interested in a career in public service. Akbar has earned $30,000 toward his graduate school education, as well as a versatile perspective on the applications of leadership. Even more, he recognizes the value of hard work and dedication to principles as the best means for high achievement in scholastic and professional environments.
What would you say are the three most meaningful roles you’ve had on campus?
I would first say being the President of Brooks College House, since I was able to serve the people and access other leaders within the school. It was also a great networking tool and gave me a chance to make projects happen through those connections. Being a co-founder of the Muslim Student Association has been a powerful experience as well. It really requires a group of like-minded students and has had a lot to do with my personal development, both spiritually and mentally. The third role would be my work with VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance organization. I come from a low-income family, and there was always a sense of joy when our tax return came, so giving that sense of security to people in the same situation in Lancaster is pretty amazing. My first year we helped put $800,000 back into the community, and that’s incredible to me.
What motivated you to apply for the Truman Scholarship?
Well, I knew I wanted a career in public service after taking the class Human Rights, Human Wrong, taught by Professor Susan Dicklitch. Part of the class dealt with working alongside attorneys at PIRC, the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, and being assigned the case of a refugee who was seeking asylum in the United States. My partner and I did the research for a 23-year-old man from Darfur. He was eventually granted asylum, and we were at the trial watching him cry tears of joy because of his freedom. That experience really solidified my aspiration to be an advocate for these people. Part of the application for the Truman was creating a public policy, so I modeled mine after what I learned, since the class revealed a lot of inadequacies within the immigration system. The problem is that those seeking asylum are detained in prisons, but because they are not citizens, they are not provided free legal aid. So a lot of money is being spent on sheltering them in the prisons, but nothing is spent on their representation and they are often sent back home. I proposed a policy that advocated for alternatives to detention and free legal representation and aid for asylum seekers.
What has come of your experience as a Truman Scholar?
I met a lot of really interesting people because the interview process for the scholarship involves traveling to meet everyone you are competing against and having dinner together. It was intimidating because everyone is so qualified and passionate about their issues, but I’m glad about the experience. Another thing about applying for a national scholarship is that you want to know everything you can about it, so I remember searching online to see how influential people, including President Obama felt about refugee policies, which eventually led me to the White House website, where I found information for internship opportunities. That was before I heard back from the Truman Foundation, but I decided to apply and ended up getting a call back. So, this summer, I interned at the White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. It was both a thrilling and inspirational experience.