Bob Atkinson ’24 is the first student in the Eli Whitney Students Program for nontraditional students to win the scholarship.

Yale College student Bob Atkinson ’24, a first-generation college student and U.S. Air Force veteran who earned two Bronze Stars, is among 62 students selected as 2023 Truman Scholars. Atkinson is a Global Affairs major and a student in the Grand Strategy program.

Atkinson is the first student in the Eli Whitney Students Program — which helps nontraditional students earn Yale undergraduate degrees — to win the Truman. The scholarship for aspiring public service leaders in the United States provides funding for graduate studies, leadership training, career counseling, and special internship and fellowship opportunities in the U.S. government.

This year’s winners were selected from 705 candidates nominated by 275 colleges and universities on the basis of academic success, leadership accomplishments, and public service leadership potential.

“We have confidence that these 62 new Trumans will meet their generation’s challenges together,” said Terry Babcock-Lumish, the Truman Foundation’s executive secretary and a 1996 Truman Scholar. “Selected from across America, the 2023 Truman Scholars reflect our country as innovative, purposeful, patriotic problem-solvers, never shying away from a challenge.”

Atkinson is originally from Janesville, Minnesota. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and undertook Special Warfare training. He was the first USAF member to be selected and directly assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Regimental Reconnaissance Company. He conducted combat deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and twice received the Bronze Star medal for heroic or meritorious service.

Atkinson wants to help shape U.S. drug policy, particularly by improving access to medication-assisted treatment and by eliminating the domestic opioid epidemic. He has been an intern with the Department of State’s Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, focusing on illicit drug supply reduction, and plans to pursue graduate studies in public policy and law.

“I am so excited for Bobby and so glad that the Truman Foundation is recognizing his record of leadership and deep commitment to public service with this award,” said Jill Carrera, associate director of the Office of Fellowships & Funding and Yale’s Truman Scholarship representative. “Truman advising introduces me to so many inspiring students who are dedicated to careers in government or the public sector, and who choose to pursue this award because of that dedication.”

The Truman Scholarship was established by Congress in 1975 as a living memorial to President Harry S. Truman and a national monument to public service. This year’s Truman Scholars join a community of 3,504 Truman Scholars since the first awards in 1977. Prominent Truman Scholars include current National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan ’98,’03 J.D., U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, and Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams ’99 J.D.

This story originally appeared in YaleNews