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Dreaming big

Truman Scholar Kam Phillips opens the world to Columbia kids

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  • Story and photos by Josh Murray
  • Published: April 13, 2011
Kam Phillips

Mizzou student Kam Phillips, a junior majoring in social work, was named a 2011 Truman Scholar in recognition of leadership and commitment to public service. She is the 15th Mizzou student to earn the national scholarship.

“I have never met an undergraduate student who is more amazing.”

Those are the words Julie Middleton, director of organizational development for University of Missouri Extension, uses when talking about MU junior Kam Phillips. It’s high praise, inspired by Phillips’ remarkable work.

Growing up in Texas, Kam Phillips stayed busy. She danced, and she was involved in rodeo. Actually, she wasn’t just involved in rodeo; she was good enough to be recognized by the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas.

She also was active in community service while attending Fort Worth’s Paschal High School. Among other undertakings, she led a Hurricane Katrina Response Team, assembling a group of students to serve food, work with children and help with the transition of those who had been displaced by the hurricane.

Outside the box

When she came to Mizzou, community service became an even larger part of Phillips’ life. She began volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club in Columbia and soon saw a way she could make a difference in the children’s lives.

“When I started working with the kids here, I realized there were opportunities they were not being exposed to,” Phillips says. “I wanted them to have the same kind of experiences that I had.”

That volunteer work and her participation in the Chancellor’s Leadership Class led Phillips to create Dream Outside The Box (DOTB), a not-for-profit organization that utilizes clubs and groups, including many from Mizzou’s campus, to broaden young people’s horizons. DOTB seeks to expose minority and underprivileged children to exciting new endeavors while instilling in them a sense of community.

“I want them to realize that rap and football are not their only options,” Phillips says. “When we started, 74 percent of boys said they wanted to either be a rapper or a football player or both. We’ve made tremendous progress on what they want to do and what they now list as their career goals.”

Progress has come from programs exploring subjects and activities such as engineering, horseback riding, fencing and accounting. Students have taken field trips to a local television studio, participated in mock trials with attorneys and learned about culinary arts by making cupcakes.

The theme each week is the same: to dream outside the box.

“I see a lot of growth in them, and it is really rewarding to know that we’ve made an impact,” Phillips says. “I take away a tremendous amount of pride in the knowledge the students have received.”

Middleton, a board member for Boys and Girls Club, says the DOTB program has become extremely popular due in large part to how well Phillips relates to the children.

“She is dedicated to working with youth, particularly those who have not had many opportunities,” Middleton says. “The youth at the Boys and Girls Club are wildly enthusiastic about Dream Outside The Box. They are learning so much about a variety of topics.”

Mizzou’s Truman Foundation legacy

Kam Phillips with children

Kam Philips works with Columbia kids on a baking project at Dream Outside The Box. Phillips founded the organization to provide education and enrichment opportunities for area children.

Phillips’ work with Dream Outside The Box, along with her other community-service activities and leadership roles, has earned her a Truman Scholarship, which was announced on March 31 by the Truman Foundation.

The Harry S Truman Scholarship “seeks future change agents who aspire to leadership positions in federal, state or local governments or in the not-for-profit and education sectors.” The scholarship is awarded to 60-65 students nationally each year and provides funding to students pursuing graduate degrees in public-service fields.

This year 60 scholars were selected from 602 candidates nominated by 264 colleges and universities. Mizzou is the only institution in the state of Missouri to have a Truman Scholar in 2011.

Since 1987, MU has been home to 15 Truman Scholars, along with numerous finalists. In recognition of Missouri’s strong record, the Truman Foundation designated MU a 2009 Honor Institution, one of only two in the country.

The process for being named a Truman Scholar started nearly three years ago for Phillips. That’s when she first visited MU’s Fellowships Office, which immediately became a valuable resource. She began learning the skills and developing the experiences that would help her earn honors and gain access to resources. As DOTB grew, so did the opportunities for Phillips to apply for nationally competitive scholarships.

Last fall, with assistance from the Fellowships Office, she began applying for the Truman Scholarship.

“I was warned that the application process was very arduous,” Phillips says. “I found out very quickly that no one was playing games and it was very much a big deal. I went through so many drafts. With the help of the Fellowships Office, I was able to go through mock interviews and have my application reviewed many times.”

Finalists were named in February, with each taking part in an extensive interview process in March.

“It was great to go to the actual interview and meet a fantastic group of finalists,” Phillips says. “It was a remarkable experience.”

Fueling fellowships

Mizzou’s success with the Truman Scholarship, as well as with other scholarships and fellowships, can be linked to MU’s Fellowships Office. Established in 2005 to assist students in identifying and applying for nationally competitive fellowships, the office consolidates information and resources in one place. The most successful students involved in the program usually start their association with the Fellowships Office as early as their freshman year.

“Students are more likely to get their money’s worth from MU by participating fully in resources for which they are already paying,” says Vicky Riback Wilson, MU’s fellowships coordinator. “As a result of working with the Fellowships Office, students are better prepared to apply for graduate school, jobs or other awards. They develop writing and interview skills, clarify their personal and professional goals and discover program funding for which they can apply.”

In order to put students in the best position for receiving fellowships, the Mizzou Fellowships Office stresses six points: strive for academic excellence in challenging courses; pursue activities that develop leadership and communication skills; seek campus and community service experiences, including service-learning courses; explore undergraduate research; get to know instructors and develop mentors; and consider studying abroad and learning a foreign language.

The staff has seen an increase of more than 60 percent in student appointments in the last two years — and a resultant increase in the number of students earning prestigious awards. Since last July, Mizzou Fellowships Office staff members have met with more than 300 students.

Opportunities to serve

Phillips’ list of volunteer opportunities is long. In addition to founding Dream Outside The Box, she is a founding member of MU’s chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). 

She also is helping to create Taking the Time to Tutor, in which volunteers work with children in long-term hospital situations to keep them on track academically, offering services to young patients at the MU Women’s & Children’s Hospital.

“I enjoy everything I do, and I don’t sign up for anything just to have something to put on my résumé,” Phillips says. “The programs and things I lend my time to are really great programs and ones that I am excited about.”

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Last updated: June 6, 2013