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Pitt Student Awarded 2020 Harry S. Truman Scholarship

Fleisher in a rose top, with the Washington Monument deep in the background of the photo
Kathryn Fleisher, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, has been awarded a 2020 Harry S. Truman Scholarship. She’s one of only 62 college students in the country to win the prestigious award and the 13th in Pitt’s history. The competitive national scholarship awards $30,000 for two to three years of graduate study.

Fleisher expects to graduate from Pitt in April 2021 with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree from the Honors College and the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. She is double majoring in politics and philosophy and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. She is also actively involved in seven student organizations on campus, including serving as executive vice chair of the Community and Government Relations committee on the Student Government Board; cofounder of Pitt Civics; and president of Leading Women of Tomorrow.

Following the Tree of Life massacre of Oct. 27, 2018, Fleisher founded the nonprofit organization Not My Generation, dedicated to gun violence prevention. “After the tragedy, I really struggled a lot with grief I didn’t know how to process. I felt like I needed to channel it somewhere. The only thing that made sense to me was organizing,” she said.

“During her time at the University of Pittsburgh, Kathryn has used her voice and vision to power Not My Generation and its work in the areas of gun violence, intersectionality and diversity,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “I am proud of all that she has accomplished so far and certain that our future—as a society—looks brighter and safer with Kathryn leading the way.”

Fleisher, of Strongsville, Ohio, was chosen as a Truman finalist from a pool of 773 applications from 316 colleges and universities. Finalists were selected on the basis of their records of leadership, public service and academic achievement.

“Kathryn is an outstanding leader who has taken her experiences with both personal and national tragedies to fuel her passion for social change surrounding gun violence,” said Audrey J. Murrell, acting dean of the Honors College. “I look forward to her continued impact and congratulate this amazing member of the University of Pittsburgh Honors College community.”

With the Truman Scholarship, Fleisher will be pursuing a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University, focusing her studies within its Center for Gun Policy and Research. She hopes eventually to work as a legislative assistant to a lawmaker on Capitol Hill.

For the past two years, Fleisher has worked as a community research fellow in the Office of the Mayor of Pittsburgh, looking at ways to mitigate police violence and provide support to immigrant and refugee communities. 

I am proud of all that she has accomplished so far and certain that our future—as a society—looks brighter and safer with Kathryn leading the way.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher

In addition, she is a research assistant to Pitt’s Kristin Kanthak, associate professor of political science. Together they created a youth civic engagement curriculum and have begun implementing it in high schools across the state of Pennsylvania. They’re looking at how the campaign to lower the voting age to 16 impacts 10th graders’ interest in political involvement. 

“We know that faith in the political system is going down these days,” Fleisher said, “but involvement—things like protests, rallies, campaigns—is going up. I really do think that young people are going to change the world. Seeing themselves as agents of change is powerful.” The research has become Fleisher’s BPhil project, a graduate-level thesis she will defend next spring.

“I have honestly never met a young person I was more certain would be a successful public servant than I am certain about Kathryn,” said Kanthak. “She’s going places, and I feel so fortunate to be raising children at a time when Kathryn will be there to help make the world better for them.”

Fleisher’s organization, Not My Generation, now has active coalitions in 11 states and regional coordinators nationwide. This fall, they held their first national summit in Washington, D.C. It drew 125 young adults and more than 20 organizations from across the country to craft localized action plans for gun reform.

“We really set out to do what we felt like the community needed, which was to create coalitions, working together across lines of difference,” said Fleisher, a Jewish community youth leader in the Reform movement, who said she was heartened by the Muslim and Jewish communities of Pittsburgh coming together in the wake of the Tree of Life tragedy. “Acting reactively in response to a tragedy isn’t enough” to stop gun violence, she said. “We have to do so proactively.”

Last summer, despite having no ties to the state of Nevada, Fleisher landed a congressional internship for U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen after making an impression on the senator at an event. “The internship was an incredible experience that really solidified my desire to do public policy long term,” Fleisher said.

“It sounds cheesy, but the bottom line for me is doing everything I can to create a more just and equitable country and world. Gun violence prevention intersects with pretty much every other issue.

“My experiences with formal education plus informal learning have helped me understand communities that are different from my own. Local organizing is key. But with gun violence issues it’s so important that we have national policy.”

In addition to the Truman Scholarship, Fleisher was most recently named an Elsie Honors Scholar, part of the Elsie Hillman Civic Forum through Pitt’s Institute of Politics.

About the Truman Scholarship

The Truman Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 as the living memorial to President Truman and the Presidential Memorial to Public Service. The foundation’s mission is premised on the belief that a better future relies on attracting to public service the commitment and sound judgment of bright, outstanding Americans.

The scholarship’s selection panels include distinguished civic leaders, elected officials, university presidents, federal judges and past Truman Scholarship winners. Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Recipients must be U.S. citizens, have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills, demonstrate academic excellence and be committed to careers in public service. There have been 3,322 Truman Scholars selected since the first awards in 1977.