Two Charlotte students advance as Truman finalists

Categories: General News Tags: Academic Affairs

Two UNC Charlotte students have been announced as national finalists for the 2024 Truman Scholarship.

Sonia Birla and Grace Cooper, both juniors from Cary and members of the Honors College, have advanced to the regional interview round in Washington, D.C., and are among 191 finalists selected from 709 applications nationwide. Charlotte is the only UNC System university to have finalists this year. The national winners will be announced in April.

“We are thrilled to have two Charlotte students selected as finalists for the Truman Scholarship,” said Andrew Keener, scholars advisor in the Honors College who assists UNC Charlotte students pursuing nationally competitive scholarships. “From research and study abroad to service learning and internships, both students have capitalized on all the opportunities available to them at Charlotte, have demonstrated strong leadership and have a deep commitment to careers in public service. We wish them well as they move forward as finalists for this prestigious scholarship.”

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was founded in 1975 and awards up to $30,000 for graduate study fellowships for U.S. juniors who have shown outstanding academics and leadership and are pursuing careers in public service.

Sonia Birla

Sonia Birla
Hometown: Cary

Studying: Finance, geography, and international studies majors
Honors: Levine Scholar, Business Honors program
Activities: Charlotte Center City Partners internship; Community Innovation Incubator Fellow at urbanCORE; Urban Land Institute Atkins Scholar; “Build Better Cities Fellow” writing sustainability news for multiple publications; transportation planning and development intern; Charlotte Green Initiative committee vice chair; Study abroad semester in Germany, University of Mannheim; Gambrell Fellows research assistant; NSF grant funded trip to Thailand studying tropical crops.

Birla said this recognition has helped confirm that she has chosen the correct career path of service and leadership. She is a member of the Levine Scholars Program, Charlotte’s premier merit scholar program.

“Being selected as a Truman Scholarship finalist is an incredible honor, affirming that I am on the right track to being a leader and change agent in the public realm,” she said. “It means so much to be recognized on a national scale for my dedication to public service and for the work I have been doing over the last three years. Most importantly, I am so proud to have accomplished this not only for myself, but for my family and university. I’ve gotten this far only because of the opportunities UNC Charlotte has provided me.”

Birla has a passion for building better neighborhoods and serving her community through urban planning that provides for liveable and walkable spaces that will support the holistic needs of food, shelter, employment, health and culture in sustainable ways. If awarded, Birla hopes to use the Truman Scholarship as “a stepping stool to have greater impact in the urban development sector” with plans to pursue a master’s in urban planning so she can “push for better neighborhood-level, community-engaged change.”

Grace Cooper
Hometown: Cary

Studying: Political science and economics majors, minor in legal studies
Honors: University Honors program, Political Science Honors program
​Activities: Freshman Class President, Sophomore Class President and Junior Class President; Inside Washington Seminar; Alpha Chi Omega assistant vice president of intellectual development and member of the standards board; internships and work at several law firms focused on criminal law; Mental Health Research and Practice Innovation Lab researcher; “Out of the Darkness” suicide prevention walk organizer; Alternative Spring Break in Charleston, South Carolina focused on social justice.

Cooper said being a finalist is a huge honor for her.

“I am truly grateful to be nominated by UNC Charlotte as well as being selected as a finalist,” Cooper said. “If I am chosen to receive the Truman Scholarship, I would use it toward achieving my J.D. degree. Going to law school has been a plan for a long time, as it’s one of the first steps to being able to accomplish my goal of connecting the legal and mental health field.”

Cooper is passionate about serving her community by ushering people through the criminal justice system in supportive ways, focused on the intersection of mental health and legal policies in society. Through her own personal experiences and while working at law firms, Cooper has seen the impacts to mental health on people moving through the legal system.

Cooper is studying for the LSAT exam for law school applications and would love to attend Harvard School of Law and plans to make strides on legal policy reform to provide support for disproportionately affected communities.

UNC Charlotte was home to 14 national scholarship and fellowship student awardees during the 2022-23 academic year, including Fulbright, Gilman and Goldwater. The Honors College advises all undergraduate students who are applying for nationally competitive scholarships.

Read more: Three nominated for Truman Scholarship