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Student named finalist for prestigious Truman Scholarship

Katherine LesterKatherine Lester, right, a senior geography major, is one of 199 college and university students in the nation to be selected as a finalist for a 2013 Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

The Harry S. Truman Foundation awards scholarships to students with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in public service. Each Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study.

Lester, who is one of nine students from Texas to be a finalist, will have her final interview for the scholarship March 8. Winners will be announced by April 11.

Lester is conducting medical geography research with Joseph Oppong, professor of geography. She is mapping the distribution of mental health services in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, using geographic information systems, to determine areas that are underserved by mental health services. Lester said the homeless population may particularly lack access to the services, despite the fact that mental illnesses and addiction often lead to homelessness.

“Services for the homeless cluster in sparsely populated areas of the inner city, far from very rich and very poor neighborhoods,” she said. “However, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the rate of suburban homelessness is rising rapidly in the years following the economic crisis, and most of these newly homeless persons are employed and living with children.”

These newly homeless persons may choose to remain in their neighborhoods and forego services so they can keep their children in their same schools, keep their employment and stay connected with social-support networks, Lester said. She suggests that funding smaller, more spatially dispersed homeless shelters and service hubs will increase access to mental health services.

James Duban, director of the UNT Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships, heads the UNT’s Truman Scholarship Nominating and Mentoring Committee that nominated her and is excited about her prospects.

“She stands to make an enormous difference in forging public policy that will allow our country to deal more productively with the issue of homelessness and with the varied populations that have to navigate such a frightful state of existence.”

Lester also has served as a volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA at the Houston Galveston Institute for a year and as an intern in the office of Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

During the internship, she conducted policy research on urban blight, traffic patterns and tobacco production, and collaborated on a summary of public prekindergarten programs to help Kaine address the rising cost of private daycare.

“A few months later, when Tim Kaine became governor, he quickly implemented free universal prekindergarten based on the model I helped to develop. I have seen how research informs viable public policy and am proud that my work has already helped to advance the welfare of thousands of Americans,” Lester said.

Lester is a student assistant in the Toulouse Graduate School and was named to the President’s List for having a perfect grade point average.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree this December, Lester plans to stay at UNT and earn a master’s degree in applied geography, concentrating on courses in medical geography.

She also plans to earn a doctoral degree in environmental science from the Institute of Applied Science to better understand human interactions with the environment and write her dissertation on mental health geography.

Lester would also like to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Institute of Mental Health and teach health geography as a university professor.

- Nancy Kolsti, News Promotions

Posted on: Wed 06 March 2013

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