UC Berkeley junior wins prestigious Truman Scholarship

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UC Berkeley student Rebecca Peters is one of 62 college juniors who received the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

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Rebecca Peters won the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship last week for her research and advocacy for water rights in developing countries.

Peters, a UC Berkeley junior who is pursuing a dual bachelor’s degree in society and environment and international development and economics, is among 62 college juniors nationwide selected by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation on the basis of academic achievements, leadership accomplishments and commitment to becoming a leader in public service.

“The thing that unites us is our passion — we all care so much about what we do,” Peters said of her fellow Truman Scholars. “The Truman itself isn’t the thing that gets you to the next spot. It’s everything you’ve done that has led up to the Truman that will put you on the right trajectory.”

Peters began her freshman year studying environmental science and engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. However, after completing fieldwork in rural Guatemala and witnessing those without adequate resources living in “abject destitution,” Peters said she became inspired to transfer to UC Berkeley to enroll in the global poverty and practice minor.

“You can see connections between political and economic power and resources,” Peters said. “It’s not an issue of scarcity or of just the environment but an issue of justice. I realized that just looking at technology and science wasn’t enough to change the problems — the bigger concern was about poverty, health and unequal access to natural resources.”

At UC Berkeley, Peters has worked to expand water-related opportunities for students by co-founding a DeCal course that focuses on water and international human rights. She also leads the Berkeley Water Group, a student group encouraging discussion of water rights, and worked with faculty to develop the curriculum for a minor in water sustainability, science and policy.

“Rebecca Peters is truly deserving of the Truman Scholarship,” said Ananya Roy, a professor of city and regional planning, distinguished chair of the global poverty and practice minor and Peters’ mentor. “I have the privilege of working with many brilliant and motivated students here at Cal, but Rebecca is unique in her ability to combine the worlds of research, policy, activism — all as an undergraduate.”

Following her graduation and her time in Washington, D.C., with the Truman Scholar Summer Institute, Peters plans to return to South America to do research and community-based work before applying for a dual master’s degree in water science and international diplomacy.

“I want to make sure, as a policy maker, my ideas are rooted in reality and how people maintain their livelihoods,” Peters said, noting the value of working with those whom her policies would affect. “You can’t have policies without being connected to local realities. There needs to be a strong push.”

Contact Mia Shaw at [email protected].