Third-year Samuel Boland wins prestigious Truman Scholarship

Public policy major combating Ebola in Africa seeks career in global health

Mary Abowd
News Officer for Arts & HumanitiesUniversity Communications

Third-year Samuel Boland has won a Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a nationally competitive award that supports exceptional students pursuing careers in public service.

Boland is one of 58 undergraduates selected from a pool of nearly 700 undergraduate candidates nationwide to win the prestigious award, which provides up to $30,000 for awardees’ graduate education.

“I am absolutely thrilled,” Boland wrote in an email from Sierra Leone, where he is working in an Ebola response program. “But more than anything else, I feel deep gratitude for the support I have received from the University, my family, friends and mentors.”

Boland has been living in Sierra Leone since early January, engrossed in the work he would like to pursue as a career—global public health, with a focus on maternal mortality. Stationed in the northern city of Kambia with the nongovernmental organization GOAL, Boland supports Ebola surveillance efforts and helps manage government teams responsible for tracking down suspect cases of the disease for referral to treatment centers.

Upon graduation in June 2016, Boland, a public policy major, plans to enroll in an accelerated one-year post-baccalaureate, pre-med program, followed by a dual graduate degree in medicine and public health. The choice to pursue both degrees is based on Boland’s past experiences working on public health projects in South Sudan, Kenya and Sierra Leone.

“The individuals I see effecting the greatest public service have consistently been dual-degree graduates,” Boland said. “Without an understanding of both human physiology and an appreciation for the socioeconomic determinants of health, public service through political advocacy and health policy is bound to fail.”

Recent Ebola outbreaks in Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea and Liberia, are the largest and most complex in history, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have severely compromised the public health infrastructure.

Boland says comprehensive maternal care has all but disappeared from Sierra Leone due to the risk of Ebola transmission during managed births, and the country is currently experiencing the highest rate of maternal mortality worldwide. “I believe the best way to address maternal mortality in Sierra Leone is to eradicate Ebola,” he said.

In addition to his overseas global health work, Boland worked as a health educator and leadership council member at Peer Health Exchange, a Chicago nonprofit, where he taught sexual health workshops to teens and trained other university students to do the same. He also volunteered at Featherfist, an anti-homelessness organization on Chicago’s South Side, where he worked with a nine-person team doing policy review, spatial analysis and map-making and conducting interviews with Featherfist staff.   

"Sam possesses an extraordinary commitment to public service, an uncanny work ethic and an absolutely first-rate analytical mind,” said Chad Broughton, a senior lecturer in Public Policy Studies who, as Boland’s instructor, oversaw his Featherfist experience. “He is nearly perfectly equipped for the next stage in what I am certain will be a successful career in medicine, research and international public health.” 

Boland will finish his stay in Sierra Leone in July and will return to UChicago in the fall for his final year in the College. He says he is already looking forward to his next chance to embark on a public health project in the developing world—perhaps one day working with the World Health Organization or a nongovernmental organization.

The Truman Scholarship will help him meet those goals through its generous financial support, but it offers even more than that, he said. “This award supports me in my graduate education,” Boland added, “but even more so, it links me with an amazing community of individuals whom I look forward to calling lifelong friends and colleagues.”