George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Truman Scholarship helps clear a path for Mason junior

April 24, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Joe Russell, a junior majoring in government and international politics, was one of 62 awardees out of 768 applications for the prestigious scholarship. Photo by Ron Aira.

Joe Russell might just run for public office one day. For sure he will be an advocate for civil and voting rights.

“My thought right now,” the George Mason University junior, who is majoring in government and international politics, said of his long-term goal, “is to go back to Arizona and work with folks there before figuring out where else to go.”

Wherever the Phoenix native lands, his path became a little easier with a Truman Scholarship that pays $30,000 for graduate school to students who plan careers in public service.

Combined with a leadership conference and the networking and job resources the Truman Foundation provides, Russell, one of just 62 awardees out of 768 applicants, called the prestigious scholarship “another way to navigate exactly what I want to do.”

“It really blows me away,” Russell’s father, Jim, said. “What’s nice about Joe is he’s self-motivated. He doesn’t have to be pushed. I’m overwhelmed by the success he’s had.”

It is also bittersweet. Russell’s mom, Michelle, who got her son interested in politics, died in December in a hiking mishap in the Grand Canyon. She was 47.

Russell said he remembers watching the 2004 presidential debates on television with his mother, and Jim said his son was always reading books about political science.

Russell, whose sister, Katie, is a George Mason freshman majoring in integrative studies, said he considered continuing his education in Arizona after his mother’s death, but quickly decided against it.

“The opportunities I’ve had at Mason and the things I’ve been able to do here aren’t things I would be able to do back in Arizona,” said Russell, a member of the Honors College and a University Scholar. “I can’t think that my mom would want anything that would keep me from doing what I want to do.”

Russell took the fall semester off to work for the Arizona Democratic Party as a paid senior field organizer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Three staffers and 14 interns reported to him.

“It was a crazy experience that pulled me in a million different ways,” he said.

Russell said he plans to work on Capitol Hill or with political advocacy groups after getting his undergraduate degree and before going to law school.

LaNitra Berger, director of the Office of Fellowships in the Honors College, has no doubt he will be successful.

“He’s interested in a career in politics,” Berger said. “I know he will represent Mason, the Truman Foundation and his constituents with integrity, optimism and focus.”