VERMILLION, S.D. -- Joshua Arens grew up on a farm just north of Yankton, South Dakota, where his family raised cattle, corn, beans and alfalfa. And, like many a Midwestern farm boy, “I had my share of chores,” he said.
In part to avoid a future of manual labor on the farm, Arens decided to major in chemistry -- and aim for an eventual job in a laboratory or an office -- when he enrolled at the University of South Dakota three years ago. He hasn’t completely strayed from his agricultural roots, however, as Arens’ research interests focus on the effects of climate change on agricultural communities worldwide. His academic success and leadership accomplishments have earned him a 2016 Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which provides up to $30,000 for graduate study.
Arens is one of only 54 college juniors nationwide who were named Truman scholars this year out of a pool of 775 candidates nominated by 305 colleges and universities. The Truman Scholarship Foundation was established by Congress in 1975 as the federal memorial to our thirty-third president. The foundation awards scholarships for college students to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in government or elsewhere in public service.
An honors student, Arens also has a second major in math and will start his senior year in the fall. This summer, he will perform research at the University of California Berkeley Center for Sustainable Polymers. On previous summer breaks, Arens held an internship at the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry at Oregon State University and spent more than a month at the University of Exeter through the US-UK Fulbright Summer Institute. Traveling to these summer positions helps Arens gain experience on different research projects but also helps satisfy his wanderlust. “Because of my chemistry courses, I’m not really able to travel abroad during the school year,” he said. “And, otherwise, I’m not sure what else I would be doing with my summers.”
On campus, Arens works in the chemistry lab of associate professor Hoaran Sun, developing novel fluorinated compounds that have applications in solar cells, batteries and various sustainable technologies. This research makes up the backbone of his honors thesis.
Capitalizing on his interest in and knowledge of politics -- he has also interned in the Sioux Falls office of former U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson -- Arens said he hopes to use his scientific training to inform policy decisions while working at a public policy institute or a non-governmental organization. “I want to be able to understand the research behind all the important issues that affect the environment and agriculture and try to translate that to those in the public sphere and in politics,” he said. “You see a lot of politicians these days that don’t have any idea about what they’re talking about when it comes to science. Maybe we need some people to bridge these worlds.”