UO's newest Truman Scholar goes all-in for public service

Luda Isakharov took an early interest in working to find solutions for the public good. In second grade, she marched into her principal’s office to take issue with her elementary school’s wasteful recycling practices.

This article first appeared in Around the O on April 17,23.

Luda Isakharov took an early interest in working to find solutions for the public good. In second grade, she marched into her principal’s office to take issue with her elementary school’s wasteful recycling practices.

The outcome? Isakharov helped launch a new bottle collection program to raise money for local nonprofits that she ran until she left for middle school.

For the University of Oregon junior from Hillsboro, it was just the start of a tireless pursuit of opportunities for community engagement and helping others, all amid a stellar academic career. Now Isakharov’s dedication and achievements have been recognized with her selection as a Truman Scholar, a highly prestigious award bestowed on only 62 college students across the country this year.

The Harry S. Truman Foundation selects students who have demonstrated leadership in public service and provides them with up to $30,000 for graduate study in pursuit of a career serving the public. In the past three decades, Isakharov is only the third UO recipient of the scholarship, all of which have come in the last nine years.

Following a Truman Scholarship tradition, interim UO President Jamie Moffitt and acting Provost Janet Woodruff-Borden broke the news to Isakharov with a surprise visit to her economics discussion class on a recent rainy Thursday.

It took a while for the news to fully sink in, Isakharov said. As the child of first-generation immigrants who escaped religious persecution in Russia and Uzbekistan, she said as a youth she was taught to distrust major institutions. Her family also valued traditional career-oriented college choices, but they still allowed her to pursue her dream: a social science degree in political science, global studies, and Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies.

“My mom cried when I called her with the news, because she knew how much it meant to me,” Isakharov said. “My family put a lot of blind trust in me to follow this path, and they were so pleased to see it paying off for me.”

Woodruff-Borden said that Isakharov has been “an exemplary and truly impactful student leader at the UO,” taking active involvement in the university tuition-setting process and even serving as a student voice on the search committee for new UO President John Karl Scholz.

Isakharov also has served as president of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon, and worked on issues like uplifting underrepresented student voices, smarter policing, combating anti-Semitism, and adopting culturally informed and inclusive practices towards Oregon’s immigrant and refugee communities.  

“Luda is a strong advocate for her peers both on campus and in the local community, a creative and collaborative problem-solver, and someone who is fully committed to making the university a better place,” Woodruff-Borden said. “We are very proud of her accomplishment in being selected as a Truman Scholar. She has a very bright future ahead of her in public service.”

Isakharov first heard about the Truman Scholarship through former UO recipient Andrew Lubash. She then worked with staff at the UO’s Office of Distinguished Scholarships to prepare her application and then for her in-person interview in Seattle. Lubash and another former UO Truman Scholar, Sravya Tadepalli, helped Isakharov with a mock interview.

Kevin Hatfield, assistant vice provost for undergraduate research and distinguished scholarships, said he was particularly impressed by Isakharov’s work for Boost Oregon, a nonprofit working to increase public awareness and education of the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine, in the summer of 2021. Given her personal background, Isakharov worked on a project finding culturally informed approaches to educating the often-close-knit Russian-speaking communities in Oregon. Many Oregonians don’t realize that Russian is now the third most spoken language in the state, she said.

“Luda is indefatigable in seeking out opportunities for public service and has worked as a culture broker to effect change for communities on the UO campus and throughout the state of Oregon,” Hatfield said. “I appreciate that her academic research and leadership practice has a strong focus on equitable outcomes for traditionally undeserved groups.”

Isakharov plans to move to Washington, D.C. after graduating in 2024 and pursue a Truman-Albright Fellowship to work at a federal agency. Eventually, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, using her Truman Scholarship funds.  

“This scholarship is the product of all the people who supported and uplifted me through the last few years at the UO,” Isakharov said. “I’m so grateful for the privilege I have had to be able to spend all my time pursuing opportunities I am passionate about outside the classroom and not having to work a job to meet my basic needs.”

By Saul Hubbard, University Communications

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