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Prestigious Scholarships

Bridging the digital divide: Jane Drinkwater, 2024 Truman Scholar

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Jane Drinkwater, 2024 Truman Scholar
Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU

Jane Drinkwater is an example of Brigham Young University’s aim to prepare students for “lifelong learning and service.” Drinkwater, winner of a Truman Scholarship, has a unique goal to increase accessibility of government programs by improving the interface of government websites. Her experiences serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, volunteering in public service, and pursuing a faith-centered education at BYU have shaped her path.

After months of applications, reviews, and interviews, Drinkwater, a product and user (UX) design and political science student, received a 2024 Truman Scholarship. The scholarship will support Drinkwater in a master’s degree after graduating from BYU. Drinkwater is the fourth BYU student in four consecutive years to win the Truman Scholarship, a notable achievement for the university, as few institutions have this many consecutive scholars.

Discovering passion for service

While serving a mission in Indiana during the pandemic, Drinkwater was exposed to the challenging interface of government websites. She saw how people in poverty, unable to visit government offices due to COVID, had to rely on frustrating technology to access needed services. She discovered that the digital infrastructure caused a rift between underprivileged communities accessing government programs. She gained a sense of how she could help people through the public sector of the government, particularly by creating solutions through software design.

“Good programs exist, and people aren’t getting them,” Drinkwater said. “There’s a gap that I want to bridge. So, I dove into software design and that’s what I do now. ... [I had] a passion for equity and enhancing social services in particular, but I didn’t have a vision of how I would do that until my mission.”

Drinkwater during her missionary service in Indiana.

After Drinkwater’s missionary service, she continued to pursue her interests in public service. She found her work doing user research on Orem City government websites especially meaningful because she learned how to get involved with local government projects she is interested in.

At BYU, Drinkwater had many experiences that led her closer to her goals of working on UX design of government websites. In the College of Fine Arts and Communications, and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, Drinkwater found the experiential learning she was hoping to encounter when she chose to attend the university.

“I wanted to be in a place where I could learn to use my God-given talents to serve God’s children,” Drinkwater said. “I’ve always wanted to make a difference and be involved in doing hands-on work, and BYU seemed like a place where I could do that and talk about it like a spiritual mission, which it has been for me.”

Drinkwater shared that one of her most meaningful experiences at BYU was working with the User Experience Design Association. After a period of club inactivity, Drinkwater, with the help of other students, rebuilt the club over the summer of 2023.

Because of Drinkwater’s efforts, UXD is now sponsored by Adobe. UXD also hosts events, connects club members with industry professionals and UXD professors, coordinates job shadowing, and collaborates with Utah Valley University. Through the association, Drinkwater learned design skills and created connections that helped with her goals to improve digital services.

“Jane has distinguished herself as a leader and trailblazer. This last year she was president of our UX Design Club, helping bring in numerous guest speakers, and led opportunities for students to receive professional mentorship. She has charted a unique educational path making use of the best of both her majors: interdisciplinary design and political science,” Doug Thomas, BYU design professor, said. “It has been wonderful working with Jane. She is driven, teachable, and talented, and above all, committed to using her skills for good.”

Drinkwater’s political science professor, Ryan Davis, shared what makes Drinkwater an outstanding student and mentor.

“One thing about Jane is that she has a sense for discerning how to care about people. She has a wonderfully positive manner with other people, especially students who feel vulnerable or insecure. Jane is upbeat when they struggle and excited when they succeed,” said Davis. “I think that wherever life takes Jane, the people she is around will sense that she is on their side and is rooting for them.”

Interview with Jane Drinkwater, 2024 Truman Scholar

Applying to the Truman Scholarship

Each year, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation invests in the futures of a small group of standout university students across the nation to help them on the path to becoming public servants in a government or nonprofit career. Out of the 709 students nominated by 285 colleges and universities, Drinkwater was chosen to be one of 60 2024 Truman Scholars. On April 5, BYU Academic Vice President Justin Collings informed Drinkwater she had been chosen as a 2024 Truman scholar.

“It’s a very introspective process,” Drinkwater said about the Truman application. “They expect you to have a lot of answers about what you want to do and why you’re the person to do it, and what challenges you’re willing to overcome. And those were questions I hadn’t asked myself before.”

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Drinkwater in front of the Kimball Tower.
Photo by Abby Shelton/BYU

Drinkwater said the people at BYU were a helpful resource throughout the application process, including her one-on-one mentoring with Amy McLaughlin from The Office of National Scholarships and Prestigious Fellowships, BYU practice interviews, and advice from previous BYU Truman Scholars, Adam Johnson and Emily Quan.

“Jane is a force for good in all she is involved in, be it a BYU club, a local city council campaign, or in her UX design work. She’s incredibly bright, creative, accomplished, and even more, is driven by a deep compassion for those around her,” McLaughlin said. “I am confident Jane will continue to use her considerable talents to make a positive, lasting impact in the lives of those she serves and works with.”

After submitting materials to BYU, refining her application with McLaughlin, making it past two rounds of BYU applications and a national review, Drinkwater was selected to be interviewed by the Foundation’s Regional Review Panel on March 11, in Phoenix, Arizona. In Phoenix, Drinkwater met and connected with the 13 other regional Truman finalists.

“We started out all intimidated by each other, and then really fast we found out we have a lot in common,” Drinkwater said. “We quickly became close friends. I am still in touch with a lot of them. It was really fascinating to see how well our interests overlapped.”

Drinkwater is fulfilling the BYU motto “enter to learn, go forth to serve” as she pursues a faith-centered education and aspires to become a public servant. By investing in Drinkwater’s future in public service, the Truman Foundation is helping Drinkwater make the next step along her path of lifelong learning and service.