In September 2001, Akbar Hossain ’13 moved with his family from Saudi Arabia to the United States in search of a better life. A decade later, he has made history as a student at Franklin & Marshall College.
Hossain, a government major at F&M, is the College’s first recipient of the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship. The award, which provides up to $30,000 to students for graduate studies in public-service fields, recognizes college juniors with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, education or elsewhere in public service. Hossain is one of 54 Truman Scholars selected from a national pool of 587 applicants in 2012, and one of two winners out of eight finalists from Pennsylvania.
“Receiving this scholarship is an incredible honor, but most importantly, it means that I have been granted an opportunity to give back to a country that has done so much for me,” Hossain said. “My policy proposal [in the scholarship application] centers on restoring the American values my father admired so much about this country, and the Truman Scholarship is truly the best possible avenue for the responsibilities I want to shoulder in the future.”
Hossain is an active member of the F&M student body, highlighted by his leadership as president of Brooks College House this academic year. He is also co-founder of the Muslim Student Association; a member of the College’s John Marshall Pre-Law Honor Society; an Orientation Planning Director; and a site coordinator with F&M’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a student-run, free tax preparation initiative for low-income families in Lancaster County.
In December 2011, Hossain helped two asylum seekers gain political asylum in the U.S. through his experience in “Human Rights/Human Wrongs,” a course led by Professor of Government Susan Dicklitch, associate dean of the College and director of the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement. In the course, students work in groups and compile evidence, testimony and detainee affidavits that are used in an immigration court of law.
“Akbar is one of the most sincere, hardworking and dedicated students I have worked with in the past 16 years,” Dicklitch said. “I strongly believe that he has a lot to offer and contribute to this government and country. He is incredibly smart, creative, dedicated and passionate about immigration. He is a born leader.”
Hossain and his family moved to the United States through the diversity immigrant visa program, a lottery administered by the U.S. Department of State. On Sept. 9, 2001—two days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks—the Hossains packed everything they owned into boxes and flew to New York. After being stranded at the airport by an unscrupulous immigration facilitator, the family eventually settled in Norristown, Pa. Hossain’s father worked three minimum-wage jobs until passing away unexpectedly in 2004, and Hossain took a part-time job in eighth grade to help his mother support their family.
“My father instilled in me the solid values of independence, integrity, community and the importance of service,” Hossain said. “As I am developing, I continue to learn that my actions can impact the fate of others.”
Hossain enrolled at F&M after participating in F&M’s Collegiate Leadership Summit, a two-day program for high school students from diverse backgrounds and strong histories of leadership. Through the program, administered by the Office of Admission, he received a full-tuition scholarship to the College.
At F&M, Hossain developed an academic passion for international politics and public service. His academic adviser, Assistant Professor of Government Stephanie McNulty, was impressed with Hossain’s engagement in her course “Comparative Politics of the Developing World.”
“It was immediately clear that Akbar is an incredibly strong student, very bright, engaged and intellectually curious,” McNulty said. “He always came to class interested and asked questions. He’s a natural leader, but also very humble and modest. Akbar has worked so hard for this scholarship, and I’m thrilled for him.”
Hossain credits a host of individuals at the College for helping him prepare for his finalist interview with the Truman regional review panel on March 19 in Philadelphia. He participated in a mock interview with several members of the F&M faculty, including professors Laurie Baulig, Monica Cable, Dean Hammer and Stephen Medvic.
Professor Cable, F&M’s director of post-graduate fellowships, assisted and encouraged Hossain throughout the Truman application process.
“Akbar was so impressive in his mock interview—he’s everything I’d tell students to be in an interview,” Cable said. “He answers questions thoughtfully and displays his personality throughout. He’s humble and unassuming, and so deserving of this award. He has a great combination of so many qualities.”
Hossain also met on several occasions with F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield, who provided advice during the application process and put Hossain in touch with a Truman Scholar from Georgetown University, where the president is an alumnus and former senior vice president. “I don’t know how many other applicants were able to prepare for the interview with the help of so many professors and the president of the college,” Hossain said. “It’s especially great to know that the president of your school is so involved in helping you succeed.
“I was shocked when I heard the news because I was competing against some very exceptional, high-caliber students from around the country,” Hossain said. “But I didn’t win this scholarship alone. I won this with the help of so many people at F&M. We won this together.”
As F&M’s first Truman Scholar, Hossain said he looks forward to encouraging other students to apply for the award.
“I feel like I can act as a mentor to other F&M students aspiring to do the same thing,” Hossain said. “I’m here to help in any way I can.”
In addition to providing its scholars with funding for graduate study, the Truman Foundation provides assistance with career counseling, internship placement, graduate school admissions and professional development. Scholars participate in several programs, including Truman Scholar Leadership Week, The Summer Institute and The Truman-Albright Fellows Program.
Read more about Hossain in a previous feature in The Diplomat.