VERMILLION, S.D. -- Heather Fluit isn’t taking her opportunity as a college student for granted. The University of South Dakota junior studied abroad in Italy for a semester; is the managing editor for The Volante, USD’s student newspaper; is one of only two dedicated students from campus to serve as a community Welcome Table Core Team member; served on the Student Government Association Election Steering Committee; and was recently elected president of the Cross Media Council – a conglomerate of U. Radio, U. News and The Volante that promotes multiplatform coverage of news and encourages civic engagement at USD.
Her academic prowess as well as her leadership in the campus community hasn't gone unnoticed as the political science major from Sioux Falls, S.D., was recently named as USD's 13th Harry S. Truman Scholarship recipient (seventh in the past 10 years).
"Heather is an extraordinary young woman, immensely talented and intellectually curious," said Mary Pat Bierle, an instructor with The U's department of political science. "She has taken advantage of multiple academic and service opportunities here at USD – and she has generously given of her time and skills to our campus community."
Success isn't out of the ordinary for the daughter of William and Laurie Fluit of Sioux Falls. Even before she was a college student, Fluit was a decorated high school student at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls. A 2005 Miss South Dakota National Teenager and a member of the all state orchestra, Fluit originally came to USD to play volleyball after a stellar prep career. Despite achieving a perfect grade point average as a freshman as well as earning playing time in her first year as a Coyote, Fluit battled injuries on the volleyball court and felt like she didn't fit the program. But through that adversity, Fluit found something worth investing more time in: political science.
"What drew me here was volleyball," said Fluit, who spends more than 30 hours a week managing The Volante staff. "But after a while, I got injured, grew frustrated and looked at different options. I knew that I really wanted to study abroad someday."
Inevitably, her classes in political science as well as teachers in the department were reasons she maintained her focus and remained a student at USD. Her opportunity to study abroad would also come when she spent the spring semester in Florence, Italy, as a sophomore.
"It was interesting and a great opportunity," admitted Fluit, who has been part of The U’s Honors Program since enrolling as a freshman. "It was a lot of fun to travel around Europe, meet new people and study in a foreign country."
If there's an opportunity to learn, then traveling isn’t a setback to Fluit, who will spend her second consecutive summer in Washington, D.C. as an intern. Last year, she interned in the press office of U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. This summer, Fluit will intern with the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs.
"Heather's tenacity of purpose, focused passion and confident presence set her apart from many students her age," explained Susan Hackemer, associate director of the Honors Program and Competitive Scholarships Coordinator at USD. "She is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of the exceptional leadership training and networking opportunities that the Truman Foundation offers to her in her quest to become a public servant."
As a recipient of the Truman Scholarship, Fluit will receive a $30,000 award from the Truman Scholarship Foundation for graduate study. While she’s not sure where graduate school will be at this point, Fluit is hoping for a career as a foreign services officer, so studying abroad as a graduate student is a possibility.
"Some of my friends in high school were getting national merit scholarships to go to private schools, but I never saw myself as a national scholarship winner," said Fluit, who credits Bierle and Hackemer for helping her to achieve success during the Truman Scholarship application process. "But it just goes to show you that at a school like USD, anything’s possible."
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, 2,670 Truman Scholars have been chosen since 1977. Sixty 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 2009 class of scholars will assemble at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., on May 26 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 31.
"USD's Truman Scholars illustrate the wide range of opportunities available to all students on our campus," added Hackemer. "No two Truman Scholars are alike. There's great diversity in the organizations they have led and in their off-campus experiences and career objectives. We've had scholars who have wanted to reinvigorate domestic rural development, enter the Foreign Service, win elected office, advocate for the disabled and pretty much everything in between. Several of them continue to directly serve the state of South Dakota."
A photograph of Heather Fluit is available for download at www.usd.edu/urelations/images/Heather_Fluit.jpg.