School's in for Summer: EMU student Odia Kaba embraces summer studies, is chosen for two selective academic programs

The Honors College student is also a finalist for the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship

Odia Kaba walks around campus on a sunny day.

Odia Kaba is making the most of her college experience. A member of the Honors College majoring in quantitative economics, Kaba has eagerly pursued summer academic opportunities, landing spots in two selective programs in as many years.

Last summer, Kaba took part in the Keith Sherin Global Leaders Program, hosted by the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE). Originally scheduled to be held at the University of the Hague, Netherlands, the 2021 version ended up being virtual, but Kaba made the most of that, too.

“Unfortunately we weren’t able to travel, but it was still an amazing program,” she says. “It was really cool to be in a Zoom room with people from different countries and different experiences.” 

The students all shared a passion for global issues, she says, and met for sessions featuring guest speakers, activities and lively discussions twice a week for two weeks.

“It was refreshing to be in a room full of people who care about issues that I care about, and hope to do something about," she says.

The 2021 participants also heard from students who had experienced the travel aspect in prior years.

“I’m really sorry we didn’t get to travel, but you know – Covid,” she says.

Though there is the potential for the 2021 group to travel with next summer’s program, Kaba says for her, it wouldn’t work.

“This summer I’m going to Princeton to study public policy and international affairs,” she says, “so I wouldn’t have time.”

More specifically, Kaba will be a Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute Fellow at Princeton University, one of the institute’s six locations. According to its website, the PPIA Junior Summer Institute is a graduate-level preparation program for undergraduates committed to public service careers, and was established to address the lack of diversity in professional public service including government, nonprofits, public policy institutions and international organizations. Students selected for the fellowship embody the organization’s diversity goals, are committed to public service and demonstrate a drive to succeed in graduate school, among other qualities.

“It’s going to be an opportunity to take classes, get experience in the professional field and make research connections,” she says. Kaba’s research interest lies in health care disparities in quality and availability of care, particularly in Africa. Her parents are originally from Guinea, and she’s seen first-hand the need for better healthcare.

“It affects so much – mental health, physical health – and I feel like I can do something from over here,” she says. “So, I want to do something.”

And while she prepares to travel to Princeton, Kaba is engaged in another project: competing for the elite Harry S. Truman Scholarship, an award for students planning a career in government or other public service. Truman Scholars represent the top students in the country, with one chosen from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. protectorates. Students must be nominated by their institutions to apply, and Kaba is currently one of 189 finalists chosen from 705 applicants.

“I was very surprised that I was chosen as a finalist,” she says. “It feels pretty surreal, being this close to the scholarship.”

The next step is an interview with a panel of judges, for which EMU faculty and staff are helping her prepare according to Ann Eisenberg, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College and EMU’s faculty representative for the Truman Scholarship.

“Only 25 percent of applicants are invited to interview, and only about 25 to 30 percent of those are offered a scholarship,” Eisenberg says. “Odia belongs to an elite group.”

The Truman Foundation provides some mock-interview questions for competitors to review, she says, as well as information on how the panel formulates its questions. Kaba recently attended an informational meeting, and says the foundation stressed that judges don’t want the interviewees to sound rehearsed.

“They just want to get to know us and the issues we’re passionate about,” she explains. “I’ll be practicing just because interviews are intimidating, and I want to eliminate some of that by exposing myself to the scenario.”

Once the interviews are complete, Truman Scholars will be chosen based on traits including leadership potential, intellectual strength, analytical ability and the likelihood of making a difference in public service. Recipients of the 2022 Harry S. Truman Scholarship will be announced by April 15.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

March 09, 2022

Written by:
Amy Campbell

Darcy Gifford