Kristiana Yao is not your typical college junior.
Yao’s work experience rivals that of a young professional making waves in the public sector. White House experience? Check. U.S. Senate committee experience? Check. Stamps Scholarship recipient? Check. Now, Yao will have a new accolade to add to her résumé.
Yao was recently named the recipient of the Truman Scholarship, one of the most prestigious scholarships awarded to college students nationally. Yao became just the second University of Miami student to be selected as a Truman Scholar in the last 33 years.
“This scholarship reaffirms my goal of improving public health through the public sector - there are so many civil servants at all levels of government working hard to keep their communities healthy and safe,” Yao said.
The Truman Scholarship is awarded to college students who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service, and includes up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school.
Yao’s interest in public health drew her to UM because of how engaged the “undergraduate public health program is in the community,” and the “opportunity to major across two schools,” she said.
The junior is a double-major in Public Health at the School of Nursing and Health Studies (SONHS) and Health Sector Management and Policy at the School of Business Administration (SBA), and attributes much of her success to her professors who have patiently answered her questions and encouraged her to pursue opportunities from the first day she stepped foot on campus.
“I feel like my professors have been invested in my success from day one, encouraging me to pursue new opportunities and patiently answering my questions or making themselves accessible to discuss the latest developments in health policy,” Yao said in a recent interview with UM News.
Gaining experience at different levels of government has been Yao’s calling card throughout her young career. Early internships with county health departments shaped her understanding of how local public health authorities improve community health. Following her sophomore year at UM, she landed an internship with the Domestic Policy Council at the White House, where she met several Truman Scholars who inspired her to apply for the award.
Yao admired her fellow interns’ passion for change and “wanted to join a group of people who would share my passion for policy and challenge me to think critically about my plans for the future.”
Upon arriving back on campus in Miami, Yao began working closely with the director of the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships, April Dobbins, who helped her apply for the Truman Scholarship.
With Dobbins’ help honing her application, Yao was selected as one of two applicants from UM to submit for the Truman Scholarship and eventually earned the scholarship after a rigorous interview in Chicago.
“Kristiana was really able to maximize her application by soliciting feedback from former Truman Scholars, from faculty members, and from me. She’s really good at that,” Dobbins said.
Dobbins knew the first time she met Yao that there was something about her that stood out. “When you meet and talk to her, you just know there is something special with her.”
Yao’s experiences in politics have only strengthened her passion and curiosity for public health. Moving forward, she hopes to learn more about the state perspective on health reform and the administration of vital programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Her long-term goal is to improve the health system by aligning payment and delivery innovation with social determinants of health.