A University of Colorado Boulder student has been awarded a 2019 Truman Scholarship, marking the second year in a row that a student from the university has won the prestigious graduate fellowship.
Jake Reagan, a 20-year-old junior who is double majoring in political science and Spanish and minoring in philosophy, this week was one of 62 selected from 840 candidates to win the award, which includes intensive leadership training and $30,000 for graduate studies. Last year, CU student Serene Singh was among those selected, and she went on to be named a Rhodes Scholar.
Reagan was at a PeaceJam Foundation gun violence prevention summit in Tallahassee, Fla., when he got a call from Chancellor Phil DiStefano informing him he'd been selected for the scholarship program named for President Harry S. Truman.
"It was awesome," Reagan said. "It was a great feeling."
Reagan was born in Boulder and attended Boulder High School, and he decided to attend CU after touring other institutions and realizing the school in his backyard was the best fit, he said. He began his freshman year as a pre-chemical engineering major but has come to have a passion for public policy and public service.
It was during his freshman Spanish class in fall 2016 that he received a text message warning of an active harmer on campus. On Oct. 5 of that year, police officers shot and killed a machete-wielding suspect inside the Champions Center at CU's Folsom Field, and then contradictory reports of a campus shooter sparked widespread confusion on campus.
"We go to lock our classroom door, and we find that there's no lock on our door, nor blinds on our windows," Reagan said. "There's no clear procedure as to what to do."
That incident cemented his desire to get involved in student government and policy — the looming threat of school gun violence always in the back of his mind. He described it as a watershed moment in his life.
"When you go to school, no matter what age level ... your focus should be on school, not on what to do if someone walks in here trying to harm us all," he said. "That's just sad."
He ran and later withdrew from a student government election that school year to get to know the university better and build experience before seeking office. This year, he is one of CU's three student body presidents.
They are in the process of incorporating active harmer training in the student orientation process, he said. He's also worked with state representatives to explore the process of standardizing active harmer training in universities across Colorado. Although he doesn't expect a bill this session, he hopes to continue the work.
"Hopefully that prompts some action," he said.
He's also in the process of formalizing United Against Gun Violence, an organization to bring together youth leaders to identify solutions.
Beyond that, he also is fluent in Spanish and has previously served as an interpreter for the Emergency Family Assistance Association. This summer, he will serve as a Teach for America Accelerate fellow, a summer internship for undergraduates that will take him to Chicago and rural Texas. He also is a jazz pianist, something that has shaped his life views, too.
"That's helped shape my understanding of politics to some degree," he said. "In my mind, you think of a group of jazz musicians playing together, they constantly have to be listening to each other, being aware of what's going on."
When they don't, he said, they fall into discord and dissonance, and the same is true in government. He has experienced that firsthand in his role as a student government leader, he said, including in ongoing negotiations between the student government and the administration over control of student fees.
"If we aren't truly making a concerted effort to listen to people who are different from us, then our democracy begins to fall apart," he said.
He's not decided yet which graduate school he'd like to attend, though he likely will study either public policy or public administration, he said.
Deborah Viles, director of CU's Office of Top Scholarships, said Reagan has a deep interest in serving the public good, and she cited his previous internships for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Colorado State Rep. Edie Hooton.
"What really impresses me about Jake is that he identified that he wanted to be a public servant in the last couple of years," Viles said. "Ever since that time, he has made a really concerted effort to make that a reality for himself.
"It's impressive to see someone with that kind of vision and that kind of clarity moving forward on the path he wants to take."
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, firstname.lastname@example.org