VERMILLION, S.D. -- – Zach Crago thought it was just another typical phone call when he was talking to “Jim, from The University of South Dakota.” However, the phone call turned out to be anything but typical and the person on the other end of the phone was actually James W. Abbott, president of The University of South Dakota, calling to congratulate Crago on becoming USD’s 12th Harry S. Truman Scholarship recipient.
"He called and asked me how my spring break was going," recalled Crago, who was in the Black Hills at the time. "When he told me I had received the scholarship, I said, 'that’s great' rather nonchalantly, and then we talked a little bit longer before saying our goodbyes. I mistook it for a joke," he said with a smile.
Seeking further evidence that the $30,000 award from the Truman Scholarship Foundation was anything but a laughing matter, Crago e-mailed Susan Hackemer, associate director of the honors program and coordinator of competitive scholarships at USD, to find out more information. Her reply confirmed that the caller was indeed the president of USD and he knew exactly what he was talking about when he congratulated Crago on being named the only Truman Scholar from a South Dakota institution in 2008.
"When I first arrived at USD, I didn’t envision anything like this," admitted Crago, a graduate of Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, S.D., who will graduate from USD in May 2009. "I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the public sector, and as my college career progressed, my interests became more defined, and I was better able to devise clear plans and goals for my future."
Raised by deaf parents in Sioux Falls, Crago is used to overcoming challenges in his life. Seeing the challenges his parents faced left an impression on him to seek help for those who were marginalized by society or what he believed were social inequities.
"The deaf culture has been a part of my culture for a long time," said Crago, whose mother, Patricia Kuglitsh, resides in Sioux Falls while his father, Michael Crago, lives in Tucson, Ariz. He also has a sister, Zarah, who is a sophomore at Augustana College. "It helped me realize that I had the responsibility to serve the deaf community."
Originally a finance major when he enrolled at USD, Crago wanted to work for the investing arm of a nonprofit organization and manage its finances. His goals changed during a study abroad trip at the beginning of his sophomore year when he traveled to Chile and studied economic development. "I found out that I loved economics," he added, but it was his preparation for the Chilean experience that demonstrated the type of student Crago was destined to become.
"Zach is an amazing student," Hackemer said. "He taught himself the first semester of Spanish in order to have the necessary language background to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, and he seeks classes outside his major in order to strengthen his skills and broaden his perspective."
In addition to changing majors from finance to economics, Crago added political science becoming a double major. Even though his workload increased, his career choices in the public sector had narrowed. He was now certain that his education, coupled with his desire to serve the public, would lead him to work for the United Nations as an economics researcher for food and agriculture. He will spend this summer as an intern with the USDA Economic Research Service, “my first foray deep into economic analysis,” he described.
"Zach has, in a very short time, impressed me with his dedication to community activism, his willingness to take on leadership roles in student organizations, and his intelligence and thoughtful approaches to combating both poverty and the problems that have emerged from overuse and overconsumption of natural resources," stated Christopher Ervin, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at USD. "Zach has big ideas and the intelligence and perseverance to make those ideas come to fruition."
Just because he’s busy juggling two majors doesn’t mean Crago is limited from other campus activities. Crago is a member of USD’s Political Economy Club, an organization devoted to promoting intellectual and social development of students and to provide business and social contact for students, faculty and alumni. He’s also past president of Coyote Capital Management, a student-managed investment fund that operates under faculty guidance; and he founded Armonia, an environmental service group at USD.
"When I was in high school, I decided early on that I wanted to go to a good business school close to home and that was USD," he said. "But the school became more than that. It’s really a case where you have professors who want you to succeed and if you’re willing to allow them, they will walk with you."
In 1975, Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation as the federal memorial to Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States. To date, 2,610 Truman Scholars have been chosen since 1977. Sixty-five students from 55 colleges and universities throughout the United States were selected as 2008 Truman Scholars on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability, and likelihood of “making a difference.” The 2008 class of scholars will assemble at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. on May 13 for a leadership development program. They will receive their awards in a special ceremony at the Truman Library, which is located in Independence, Mo., on May 18.
"Zach is richly deserving of this honor," added Hackemer. "The Truman propels him into a unique circle of young people who are striving to make the world a better place."
A photo of Crago is available for download at www.usd.edu/urelations/images/Zach_Crago.jpg.