Biren Bhatt, a junior majoring in engineering science at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), was awarded a $26,000 scholarship from the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, one of the most coveted and competitive college scholarships in the nation.
Bhatt was the only student from a New Jersey college this year to be named a Truman Scholar. He’s the first NJIT student ever to apply for a Truman, which ranks in the same league as the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall and the Goldwater.
The Truman scholarships are awarded yearly to college juniors who plan careers in government or public service. Bhatt, 20, of Carteret, won the scholarship for his Truman policy proposal to eradicate tuberculosis from American prisons, and for working to improve public health in cities.
“I was shocked,” Bhatt said, after being told, during a surprise party, that he won the award by NJIT President Robert Altenkirch.
Madeleine K. Albright, president of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, announced today that 77 students from 68 American colleges and universities have been selected as 2004 Truman Scholars. Nineteen panels elected the students on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability and likelihood of ‘making a difference.’
The 77 Scholars were selected from among 609 candidates nominated by 307 colleges and universities. Each selection panel interviewed finalists and generally elected one scholar from each region.
Each scholarship provides $2,000 for the senior year and $24,000 for graduate study. Bhatt will use his scholarship to attend medical school at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. After medical school, he intends to do his residency program in public health and preventive medicine, possibly in Jersey City, where he was born.
Congress established the Truman Scholarship Foundation in 1975 as the federal memorial to Truman. The activities of the Foundation are supported by a special trust fund in the U.S. Treasury. There have been 2,330 Truman Scholars elected since the first awards were made in 1977.
“Biren is one of the most impressive students whom I have advised during my 38 years at NJIT,” said David Kristol, a biomedical engineering professor who is Bhatt’s academic adviser. “He not only has an extraordinary academic record, but he also volunteered to start research in his freshman year, something that few students ever have the maturity to do. Biren has completed research on five differe1nt aspects of blood coagulation. That’s uncommonly brilliant for an undergraduate.”
Bhatt said his older brother, who knew about the Truman Scholarship from a friend who once won it, encouraged him to apply for it. To be selected, finalists for the Truman must sit for an intense interview in Philadelphia. Bhatt recalled how intimidating it was, during the interview, to be seated at a huge oak table, around which gathered two previous Truman winners, a federal judge, a state judge and former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode. They hammered him with questions about the policy paper he submitted – the one proposing ways to eliminate TB in American prisons.
“All of the finalists had to sit together in a room from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Bhatt recalled. “It was so tense in that room. When I was called in for my interview, former Mayor Goode hit me with questions like, ‘why do you want to help prisoners? Why not children? Why not the poor? Why prisoners?’ It was so intimidating. I thought for sure I didn’t answer right.” But Bhatt must have had the right answers; he won the scholarship.
And it’s not the first prestigious scholarship he has won.
Last year, he was one of 300 Goldwater Scholars. The $15,000 Goldwater Scholarship, as prestigious as a Truman, is awarded to top undergraduate students in math, science, and engineering. Bhatt is the only student at a New Jersey college or university to win both a Truman and a Goldwater.
Both of Bhatt’s parents are immigrants from India. His father is a mechanical engineer, his mother a lab technician. He has one older brother, who graduated from Princeton University and now works for a bank.
Bhatt attended Carteret High School, graduating first in his class. He won a scholarship to attend NJIT’s Dorman Honors College, which attracts some of the brightest students in the state. He was accepted into Dorman’s accelerated B.S./M.D. program, in which students spend three years at NJIT and four years at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). Bhatt will start medical school at UMDNJ in the fall.
At NJIT, Bhatt has a perfect cumulative average of 4.0. He majors in engineering science, with a concentration in biomedical engineering. He has a double minor in history and chemistry. Last year, he served as NJIT’s sophomore class president and spent a semester studying at the University of Hong Kong, where he did volunteer work with the Hong Kong Tuberculosis Association. While he was studying in Hong Kong, the SARs outbreak occurred, spreading panic across the world. Nonetheless Bhatt stayed there as long as he could, working on his public health project. He left for America only when a student in his dorm showed symptoms of SARs. “When I woke up one morning and saw men in space suits cleaning the entrance to my dorm,” Bhatt said, “I knew it was time to leave Hong Kong.”
In the summer of 2003, he worked as a summer intern for the Drug Enforcement Administration’s drug analysis laboratory in New York City. In his free time, he tutors Newark school children and leads a Boy Scout troop.
His future is blindingly bright. In the fall, he begins medical school, and he has an internship this summer working on anthrax research at Los Alamos National Laboratory in California. But before he leaves for Los Alamos, he has a date in Missouri.
All of the 2004 Truman Scholars will assemble May 16 for a weeklong leadership program in Liberty, Missouri, and receive their awards in a special ceremony at the Truman Library on May 23.
“I’m so shocked I won,” Bhatt said, during his surprise party at NJIT. “I’m very grateful to all the professors at NJIT who helped me. I tried calling my parents to tell them I won, but my dad’s phone was busy and my mom was on her way home. I can’t wait to tell them.”