Christine Tjahjadi-Lopez, a junior international trade major, wants to start a for-profit organization dedicated to creating safe housing for victims of human trafficking. She works every day to inspire young women.
Her passion for helping humanity earned her a spot as a finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship competition this February. Though she did not win the scholarship, she was UB's third finalist in 20 years.
The scholarship is given to college juniors who are trying to better the world politically or socially, according to Tjahjadi-Lopez. The winners receive $30,000 toward any graduate school of their choice and an internship in Washington, D.C. Winners also attend a week-long leadership training session with other winners from across the country.
The foundation is interested in finding students who possess "exceptional leadership potential" and are "committed to careers in government, the nonprofit or advocacy sectors, education or elsewhere in the public service," according to truman.gov.
The annual competition chooses 50 to 65 students to be awarded the scholarship each year. Tjahjadi-Lopez applied after learning about the scholarship and the application process from Elizabeth Colucci, the assistant administrative director of UB's Honors College. Tjahjadi-Lopez worked on the application for a year.
Tjahjadi-Lopez said the 14-part application forced her to question what she was doing with her life and why she was worthy of the scholarship.
"I feel like it's my mission in life to spread God's love by bringing joy to people," Tjahjadi-Lopez said. "I didn't see how what I was doing was something worthy enough of winning a scholarship, but that was one of the things Elizabeth kept on telling me: 'You are worthy.'"
After being notified of her selection as a finalist, Tjahjadi-Lopez was given the names of the judges who would be interviewing her in March. To prepare for her interview, she worked with Colucci and SamCavalleri, the career programming specialist from UB's Career Services department, to improve her speaking skills and work on her public speaking etiquette.
Tjahjadi-Lopez also contacted several influential people in the Buffalo area and at UB for additional help. Their support and encouragement helped her realize her status as a young business professional and gave her the confidence to communicate on the same level as the judges, Tjahjadi-Lopez said.
All finalists were invited to New York City on March 27 for a pre-interview dinner with past Truman Scholars. Interviews for finalists in the New York and Rhode Island regions were held the next day in Lincoln Center at Fordham University. The finalists were given a chance to mingle, network and make connections with each other while waiting for their interviews.
Tjahjadi-Lopez was then introduced to the panel of eight judges. Although she said many other finalists found the interview scary, her six-month preparation made her unshakeable, and she had no trouble answering the questions. By making the competition a daily focus up until in the interview date, Tjahjadi-Lopez became comfortable with the judges beforehand and was ready for any question that came her way.
She even put pictures of the judges on her wall.
"When I went to bed and woke up, they would be the first things I saw in the morning," Tjahjadi said. "I really wanted to be comfortable with their faces and know their characteristics. I Googled them one day and spent two hours finding as much as I could about them and putting them each on a piece of paper."
Trina Hamilton, an assistant professor of geography at UB, has worked with Tjahjadi-Lopez in the past on research and thought she was the perfect candidate for the Truman Scholarship. In Hamilton's opinion, what makes Tjahjadi-Lopez stand out from other students is her work ethic and interest in learning more and helping others.
"[Tjahjadi]is one of the most enthusiastic students I have ever met," Hamilton said. "She has seemingly endless reserves of energy that she continuously directs to creative social justice projects, and she's exactly the kind of informed, engaged and creative citizen that I think they're looking for."
Although Tjahjadi-Lopez did not win this year's scholarship, she is constantly applying to other scholarships for graduate school, and she has won some - including an essay contest held by WE LEAD for a conference in Washington, D.C.
Tjahjadi-Lopez hopes more UB students in the future will apply for the scholarship so they can benefit from the same practice and make important connections that will help their future.
Regardless of the outcome, Tjahjadi-Lopez believes she left an impression on the other finalists and judges because she shared her plans for the future. She hopes UB will one day have a Truman Scholar because she wants to show a state school can win a prestigious national scholarship.