Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson April 12, 2019
UD junior Natalie Walton selected as future public service leader
Natalie Walton, a University of Delaware junior with a double major in sociology and criminal justice and a minor in political science, has been named a 2019 Truman Scholar, a highly competitive national award created to support the next generation of public service leaders as they pursue graduate studies.
Walton, of Newark, Delaware, is one of 62 new scholars chosen nationwide from a record number of applicants this year, with selection based on a student’s record of leadership, public service and academic achievement.
Truman Scholars receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for leadership careers in public service.
“Natalie is a scholar who embodies academic excellence, devotes herself to service within the University and demonstrates a clear commitment to advancing social causes within her community,” said Ellen Donnelly, assistant professor of sociology. “Natalie’s passion for justice is striking.”
Walton, who plans to pursue a doctorate in sociology with a concentration in sexuality and gender studies, has a longstanding interest in that subject.
Beginning while a student at Newark High School, she has worked with educational, public service and advocacy programs. She is particularly passionate about policies to make sex education more comprehensive and more widely available to young people and about supporting victims of sexual assault.
She has worked as a volunteer with Planned Parenthood’s Sex Education Training Institute in Delaware, which provides programs to youth organizations that request educational information. In observing programs for middle-school-age youngsters, Walton said, she realized the need for expanded outreach and access.
“I’ve always felt open to sex education classes and discussions, but I know that’s often not the case for everyone,” she said. “I heard kids asking so many questions — completely valid questions — and I realized that they need more comprehensive information.”
Eventually, she said, she hopes to help change the way sex education is taught, through programs that provide inclusive information and that replace what is sometimes “scare tactic methodology” with an emphasis on making positive choices.
“Sex is often considered a taboo topic in the United States, especially in our education system,” Kristin Bennighoff, senior associate director of UD’s Honors Program, wrote in nominating Walton for the scholarship. “Natalie wants to change that.”
Walton “shows poise and maturity when talking about these topics,” said Bennighoff, who is the UD representative and adviser for the Truman Scholarship and similar prestigious scholarships and fellowships.
Ray Peters, assistant director of the Honors Program, who helped guide Walton through the rigorous application and selection process, also praised her maturity and dedication to public service.
“Natalie is unafraid when it comes to difficult subjects,” Peters said. “[She] has a strong desire to serve as a change agent for sex education. I am confident she will make a difference.”
At UD, Walton has taken part in a long list and wide variety of activities, including those that address the issue of sexual assault. She founded the UD chapter of “It’s On Us” in 2017, continuing to serve as its president, and is a victim advocate with the University’s Sexual Offense Support (SOS) program.
It’s On Us aims to end sexual assault on campus and in the community by raising awareness and educating the public, while offering support to survivors. With SOS, Walton helps staff the program’s 24/7 crisis help line.
In information she supplied to the Truman Foundation, she described the intensive training that victim advocates undergo and what it’s like to be on call with the hotline.
“As advocates, our phones have to be on us for 24 hours, no exceptions, and the sound must be on so we can catch the phone calls,” she said. “Most of us barely sleep during these shifts because we’re so worried that we won’t hear the sound go off. But every meeting, every phone call, every shift that I take is meaningful.”
Academically, Walton is pursuing a degree with distinction when she graduates in May 2020, planning to write a senior thesis on sexual harassment and the media in the context of the #MeToo movement. This summer, she will be a Summer Scholar in the Undergraduate Research Program, working with Chrysanthi Leon, associate professor of sociology, also on the subject of sexual harassment and the media.
Walton’s many other activities at UD have included holding several positions, such as senior reporter and managing news editor, at The Review student newspaper; volunteering with the HenMUN (Model United Nations) and Youth in Government programs for high school students; and as a volunteer coordinator with the Alpha Phi Omega coed service fraternity.
She has part-time jobs as a peer tutor with the University Writing Center and as an undergraduate assistant with Special Collections in UD’s Morris Library.
And, just in case those activities didn’t demand enough time, she has recently completed writing a young-adult novel, Revenge of the Sluts, that takes on the issue of revenge porn and technology as a vehicle for sexual offenses.
For Walton, no matter what she’s pursuing, the goal of public service is always on her mind:
“I’ve always wanted to volunteer, to get involved, to be part of the community — and just trying to make things better,” she said.
About the Truman Scholarship
Walton was unfamiliar with the Truman Scholarship until recently, but once she and Bennighoff discussed it and she did some research, she said she knew it was just what she was hoping for in terms of academic support and career development.
She described the multi-stage application process, including a great deal of written material and a series of interviews, as “daunting,” but she said she was cautiously optimistic about her chances.
“If I hadn’t gotten it, my goals and my plans for graduate school wouldn’t have changed,” Walton said. “But now that I was fortunate enough to be selected, I feel like everything is different. It’s such a great opportunity.”
She said she’s looking forward to joining the family of current and future Truman Scholars and taking part in networking events the program provides.
She plans to spend her senior year researching doctoral programs to find the best fit for her specific area of academic interest.
Bennighoff and Peters say that Walton has all the qualities the Truman program looks for. At UD, although the Honors Program handles with such scholarships and fellowships, they are open to any student who qualifies. Walton, for example, is not a student in the Honors Program.
In announcing Walton’s selection, the Truman Foundation extended special thanks to Bennighoff, as UD’s Truman Scholarship representative, and others “for everything done to advise and encourage your new Truman Scholar through the arduous application process.”
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Truman, with a mission to select and support the next generation of public service leaders.
In 2019, there were 840 candidates for the award nominated by 346 colleges and universities, a record number of both applications and institutions. The 199 finalists were interviewed in March and early April, and 62 new Truman Scholars were selected. They will receive their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum on May 26.