Vol. 20, No. 13

April 5, 2001

David Kovara receives 2001 Truman award

David Kovara has enriched his University of Delaware education by taking time off to explore monastic life in Greece and do good works in Africa.

On March 23, his unconventional route to a bachelor's degree paid off when he was named one of 70 select college juniors to be awarded a prestigious Truman Scholarship.

The scholarship provides him with $3,000 for his senior year of college and $27,000 to apply toward graduate school. Truman Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at premier graduate institutions and have access to special internships within the federal government.

Kovara, 23, son of Jane and Jon Kovara of Flemington, N.J., said he left his Truman interview "sure that I had done everything possible to convince the committee not to vote for me."

First, he had to explain to committee members, including a former mayor of Philadelphia and a former president of Swarthmore College, why he was no longer interested in becoming a doctor as his application said.

"It was only a week before the interview that I decided I didn't want to be a medical doctor," Kovara, who also at one time planned to be a priest, said. But changing his mind is part of his charm.

After high school, Kovara applied to nine colleges–most of them small and private. UD was one of the few public institutions that attracted him, and when he was offered a DuPont Scholarship and admission to the University Honors Program, his decision was made.

"Once that offer was made, I just couldn't imagine going to one of the private schools and graduating $30,000 in debt. Having my education paid for would leave my options wide open after graduation," he explains.

"As it turned out, the resources here far exceeded those of the other places I was interested in, and the honors environment has been wonderful," he said.

After completing his freshman year and the fall semester of his sophomore year, Kovara found himself still undecided about a major and decided to take some time off and travel.

"It made no sense to burn through a university education in four years without a plan, a concentration," he said.

On a journey of self-discovery, he traveled to Greece with Douglas Mauro de Lorenzo, UD's 1999 Rhodes Scholar, and lived in a monastery for three months.

He and DeLorenzo then traveled to Africa, where they worked in an orphanage for children infected with HIV. Kovara then took a job with Doctors Without Borders and spearheaded a children's rights project in Kenya.

"Basically, there weren't a lot of legal options for abused children in Africa. My job was to recruit lawyers for what eventually became the Children's Legal Action Network (CLAN)," he said.

His travels inspired Kovara to a career in theology and medicine and through the Honors Program, with the aid of a Dean's Scholar proposal, he was able to structure a major for himself that integrated both interests.

But, when he learned of a little known scholarship opportunity at UD that offers a year of study in German, wanderlust set in again.

He applied for and was granted an academic scholarship offered by the German American Federation that fully funded a year of study at one of 30 colleges and universities in Germany. Although he was far from fluent in the language, Kovara eagerly grabbed the opportunity and chose the University of Tuebingen for its world-renowned theology program.

During an internship as a hospital chaplain, Kovara found that "all patients have a strong reaction when a priest enters a hospital room. They can be open to a visit, but they can also be defensive, nervous, excited. I realized that, as important as religion is in a hospital, it's important to keep the job of doctor and chaplain separate." He shelved his idea of combining religion and medicine and decided to concentrate on a medical career.

Meantime, in between finishing his year in Germany and returning to UD, he worked in Africa again, establishing a chapter of CLAN in Uganda. He also created a website for the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect that can be accessed at [www.anppcan.org].

That experience helped him explore children's rights in a medical context, and he realized how very often child rights issues crop up for organizations like Doctors Without Borders who strive to provide medical care in indigent areas. Kovara decided that his new career focus would not be medicine after all, but international human rights law with an emphasis on child rights.

"Not surprisingly, all my unpredictable changes of mind were sort of a theme running through the Truman interview," Kovara said.

Following this new path to international human rights law will probably lead Kovara to the University of Essex, which, he said, has a very impressive human rights program and a Children's Law Center. After completing a one-year program there, he said he most likely will consider a full fledged law program in the US.

A former UD soccer player who lives with his sister and works at the Eagle Diner, Kovara considers Lawrence Duggan, UD professor of history, and his wife, Devon Miller Duggan, who works with the Global Episcopal Missions Network, as his close mentors and friends.

"The problem with trying to say something about David is that there is so much to say," Miller Duggan said. "Essentially, he's kind of radiant. He has an unusual combination of intellect and spirit. There's a sort of lightness to David. He has a wonderful combination a really profound seriousness and great whimsy. It's very easy to see him changing the world."

This summer, Kovara said he hopes to obtain a two-month internship with Human Rights Watch in New York, helping the watchdog group compile reports of human rights violations across the world.

Meantime, he is exploring UD's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, contemplating a degree to complement his bachelor's degree in philosophy when he graduates from UD in 2002.

–Beth Thomas