Stony Brook University student Yaseen Eldik has been named a 2011 Truman Scholar. The prestigious award is given each year by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation to college juniors with “exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, nonprofit or advocacy sectors, education or elsewhere in the public service and to provide them with financial support for graduate study, leadership training and fellowship with other students who are committed to making a difference through public service.”
“The Truman award speaks to Yaseen’s numerous and wide-ranging accomplishments and to his commitment to being an agent of change,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., who invited Eldik to his office presumably to congratulate him in person as a Truman Scholar finalist, which in itself is a high honor. Dr. Stanley then surprised Yaseen by bringing him into a room filled with his family and mentors, and told him that, “It’s obviously great for Stony Brook that Yaseen is a Truman Scholar finalist and that’s fantastic, but actually something even better than being a finalist is being one of the winners, so Yaseen, allow me to congratulate you.”
Also present for the announcement was Eldik’s mother, Sanaa Nadim, Instructor and Muslim Chaplain at Stony Brook University, and his brother Hysem, also a junior psychology major at Stony Brook.
Eldik’s first reaction was disbelief. “I can’t believe I’m a Truman Scholar winner, I didn’t think I got it.”
Eldik thanked his mother, his mentors and supporters, including those who were in attendance, Charles L. Robbins, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education; Donna DiDonato, Assistant Provost and Director of Undergraduate Academic Affairs; Karen Kernan, Director, Programs for Research and Creative Activity; Susan Scheckel, a professor in the English Department, a mentor, and many others who were not in the room including all the Stony Brook faculty members who dedicated time to preparing him, working with him on mock interviews, and/or writing letters of support including Michael Barnhart (History), Elizabeth Bass (Journalism), Susan Hinely (History), James Klurfeld (Journalism), Gallya Lahav (Political Science), Marci Lobel (Psychology), Peter Manning (English), Catherine Marrone (Sociology), Frank Myers (Political Science), Tony Phillips (Math), and Wolf Schafer (History).
“This is truly a monumental moment in our lives,” said his proud parents, Dr. Elsayed Eldik and Sanaa Nadim. “Having watched Yaseen create his own legacy of social justice and now being able to celebrate it on a national level, is an honor.”
Eldik’s older sister Marwa, an alumna of Stony Brook said, “I always hoped that Yaseen’s passion and perseverance would be rewarded.”
The Truman Scholarship will provide Eldik up to $30,000 for graduate study toward a public service-related degree following his graduation from Stony Brook University in 2012. The Foundation has supported Truman Scholars in many fields of study, including agriculture, biology, engineering, environmental management, physical and social sciences, and technology policy, as well as traditional fields such as economics, education, government, history, international relations, law, political science, public administration, nonprofit management, public health, and public policy.
Eldik hopes to use the assistance from the Truman Foundation to pursue a joint degree in law and public policy. “While the J.D. will provide fundamental understanding of laws governing civil rights, the Master’s in Public Policy will give me the quantitative analytical tools that will enable me to develop and implement social policy,” said Eldik. “My ultimate goal is to be someone who not only practices law but shapes it.”
Ultimately, Eldik hopes to become an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, focusing on promoting tolerance and defending the civil rights of those affected by discrimination.
“Prejudice can lead to devastating effects, including suicide and hate crimes,” he said. “Enacting laws that forbid discrimination is often not enough to bring it to an end; education is a significant force for change. Programs such as It Gets Better, initiated by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, illustrate how civil rights law and educational reform can work together. I would like to work within the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to develop similar programs against religious, racial, or sexual discrimination.”
After a summer of study and research at Harvard University in 2010, Eldik wrote an article, “Islamophobia: Is She A Terrorist?” which focused on attitudes toward Islam and the media images of Muslims in the United States.
“Just as activism, education, and legal reform have diminished the prevalence of racial prejudices and anti-Semitism in the United States, I hope that my future research and activism will strike at the root of Islamophobia,” he said.
“Mr. Eldik is engaging, articulate, and passionate,” said Stony Brook’s Truman Faculty Representative Charles L. Robbins. “His vision of a better world may be ambitious, but I have no doubt that it is something he will spend his life doing.”
Eldik has been recognized by Stony Brook University with the Humanities Institute Undergraduate Research Award and the Tepper Award for the Outstanding Undergraduate in Public Sociology. He has been involved in many significant activities, including working with Jewish and Palestinian youth in Jerusalem in order to facilitate their movement beyond long-simmering hostilities between the groups.
“Wherever you look today, you are confronted with a dramatic increase in intolerance for everything that is seen as ‘different’ or ‘other,’ said Robbins, who submitted the institutional nomination letter in support of Eldik to The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. “This is especially true in the overt expressions of Islamaphobia. Mr. Eldik recognizes the power of education and believes he can use education to change the views of young people throughout New York City and beyond. He wants to demonstrate the ability to change the world one young person at a time.”
A 2008 graduate of Kings Park High School, Eldik is pursuing a double major in psychology and sociology at Stony Brook. A Global Studies Fellow and Student Ambassador, he is also President of Stony Brook’s Science and Society Council.