Two Duke Students Selected as Truman Scholars

The selection of Truman Scholars is based on leadership potential, high academic achievement and a commitment to a career in public service and advocacy sectors 

Jacob Tobia (left) and Patrick Oathout
Jacob Tobia (left) and Patrick Oathout

Patrick Oathout and Jacob Tobia, juniors at Duke University, are among 62 students selected this year as Truman Scholars.

Truman Scholars are chosen on the basis of their leadership potential, high academic achievement and a commitment to a career in public service and advocacy sectors. 

The Truman Scholarship Foundation received 629 nominations from 293 schools.

"Duke University is proud to have two students named as 2013 Truman Scholars," said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. "Jacob and Patrick have both demonstrated leadership as advocates for human rights and equality. Their commitment to public service is exemplary and will have an impact far beyond our campus."

A double major in public policy studies and philosophy, Oathout plans to pursue a joint graduate degree in law and foreign service. His focus will be international relations, security and refugee and humanitarian emergencies. 

Oathout plans to work in the Populations, Refugees, and Migrants (PRM) Bureau in the U.S. State Department for the 2014 Washington Summer Institute. There, he hopes to work at the Domestic Resettlement/Refugee Admissions desk.

"I also want to establish connections with specialists within PRM so that I can expand the research I will have initiated in my thesis on refugee resettlement in Texas," said Oathout, who is from Houston.

Oathout intends to address the plight of LGBTQ refugees.

"LGBTQ refugees face continued persecution and violence across the globe, whether it is in Kenyan refugee camps, on the streets of Baghdad, or in Uganda’s parliament," Oathout said. “I plan to use a nuanced perspective to push for more effective resettlement programs for LGBTQ refugees and greater attention to refugee issues generally." Ultimately Oathout wants to serve in a leadership role with the U.S. State Department and Foreign Service, to advocate for refugees.

Oathout is executive vice president of Duke Student Government and served as a student senator for two years. He writes a biweekly column for Duke's student newspaper, The Chronicle, discussing student leadership, campus politics and international affairs. Additionally, he is a Point Scholar, a scholarship that recognizes LGBTQ leaders.

Oathout is the founder and president of Duke Colloquium Fellows. Last summer he served as an English teacher for the Women's Federation for World Peace in Amman, Jordan. He was recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative University for "Uhuru," a mobile application Oathout developed for refugees to advertise entrepreneurial activity.

Tobia, a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar and Point Foundation Scholar, is a native of Raleigh, N.C. He is pursuing an undergraduate degree in human rights advocacy. He intends to use the Truman scholarship to pursue a joint graduate degree in law and public administration, with a concentration in international human rights law and international relations.

"In pursuing a joint degree I hope to bring a unique perspective to policy questions facing the United States -- mainly, what role the U.S. can play in advocating against homophobic and transphobic violence globally," Tobia said. 

Tobia would like to work at the State Department for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs or the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

"Working within the federal government would give me an invaluable understanding of how the federal government approaches issues affecting the LGBT community," Tobia said. "As the U.S. makes progress toward greater LGBT equality, I hope to help the U.S. LGBT movement adopt a more global perspective by advocating against the violence faced by LGBT communities globally." 

In December 2012, Tobia gained national media attention through his Run for Shelter campaign, during which he ran across the Brooklyn Bridge in high heels to raise money for homeless LGBT youth impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Tobia founded a coalition, Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination, to stand against the North Carolina General Assembly's call for a referendum on Amendment One, an amendment to the state constitution that denies same-sex couples legal recognition.

On campus, Tobia is president of the undergraduate LGBT student group Blue Devils United, former director of LGBTQ Policy and Affairs for Duke Student Government, and co-president and founder of Duke Students for Gender Neutrality. He worked as a human rights intern for the United Nations Foundation during his junior year and has also worked at Sonke Gender Justice Network in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action in Johannesburg. 

Chosen scholars for the Truman Scholarship receive $30,000 for graduate study, priority admission and supplemental financial aid to top graduate programs.