Natalie Walton, a
University of Delaware junior with a double major in sociology and
criminal justice and a minor in political science, has been named a 2019
Truman Scholar, a highly competitive national award created to support
the next generation of public service leaders as they pursue graduate
Walton, of Newark, Delaware, is one of 62 new scholars chosen
nationwide from a record number of applicants this year, with selection
based on a student’s record of leadership, public service and academic
Truman Scholars receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school
and the opportunity to participate in professional development
programming to help prepare them for leadership careers in public
“Natalie is a scholar who embodies academic excellence, devotes
herself to service within the University and demonstrates a clear
commitment to advancing social causes within her community,” said Ellen
Donnelly, assistant professor of sociology. “Natalie’s passion for
justice is striking.”
Walton, who plans to pursue a doctorate in sociology with a
concentration in sexuality and gender studies, has a longstanding
interest in that subject.
Beginning while a student at Newark High School, she has worked with
educational, public service and advocacy programs. She is particularly
passionate about policies to make sex education more comprehensive and
more widely available to young people and about supporting victims of
She has worked as a volunteer with Planned Parenthood’s Sex Education
Training Institute in Delaware, which provides programs to youth
organizations that request educational information. In observing
programs for middle-school-age youngsters, Walton said, she realized the
need for expanded outreach and access.
“I’ve always felt open to sex education classes and discussions, but I
know that’s often not the case for everyone,” she said. “I heard kids
asking so many questions — completely valid questions — and I realized
that they need more comprehensive information.”
Eventually, she said, she hopes to help change the way sex education
is taught, through programs that provide inclusive information and that
replace what is sometimes “scare tactic methodology” with an emphasis on
making positive choices.
“Sex is often considered a taboo topic in the United States,
especially in our education system,” Kristin Bennighoff, senior
associate director of UD’s Honors Program, wrote in nominating Walton
for the scholarship. “Natalie wants to change that.”
Walton “shows poise and maturity when talking about these topics,”
said Bennighoff, who is the UD representative and adviser for the Truman
Scholarship and similar prestigious scholarships and fellowships.
Ray Peters, assistant director of the Honors Program, who helped
guide Walton through the rigorous application and selection process,
also praised her maturity and dedication to public service.
“Natalie is unafraid when it comes to difficult subjects,” Peters
said. “[She] has a strong desire to serve as a change agent for sex
education. I am confident she will make a difference.”
At UD, Walton has taken part in a long list and wide variety of
activities, including those that address the issue of sexual assault.
She founded the UD chapter of “It’s On Us” in 2017, continuing to serve
as its president, and is a victim advocate with the University’s Sexual Offense Support (SOS) program.
It’s On Us aims to end sexual assault on campus and in the community
by raising awareness and educating the public, while offering support to
survivors. With SOS, Walton helps staff the program’s 24/7 crisis help
In information she supplied to the Truman Foundation, she described
the intensive training that victim advocates undergo and what it’s like
to be on call with the hotline.
“As advocates, our phones have to be on us for 24 hours, no
exceptions, and the sound must be on so we can catch the phone calls,”
she said. “Most of us barely sleep during these shifts because we’re so
worried that we won’t hear the sound go off. But every meeting, every
phone call, every shift that I take is meaningful.”
Academically, Walton is pursuing a degree with distinction when she
graduates in May 2020, planning to write a senior thesis on sexual
harassment and the media in the context of the #MeToo movement. This
summer, she will be a Summer Scholar in the Undergraduate Research
Program, working with Chrysanthi Leon, associate professor of sociology,
also on the subject of sexual harassment and the media.
Walton’s many other activities at UD have included holding several
positions, such as senior reporter and managing news editor, at The
Review student newspaper; volunteering with the HenMUN (Model United
Nations) and Youth in Government programs for high school students; and
as a volunteer coordinator with the Alpha Phi Omega coed service
She has part-time jobs as a peer tutor with the University Writing
Center and as an undergraduate assistant with Special Collections in
UD’s Morris Library.
And, just in case those activities didn’t demand enough time, she has
recently completed writing a young-adult novel, Revenge of the Sluts,
that takes on the issue of revenge porn and technology as a vehicle for
For Walton, no matter what she’s pursuing, the goal of public service is always on her mind:
“I’ve always wanted to volunteer, to get involved, to be part of the
community — and just trying to make things better,” she said.
About the Truman Scholarship
Walton was unfamiliar with the Truman Scholarship until recently, but
once she and Bennighoff discussed it and she did some research, she
said she knew it was just what she was hoping for in terms of academic
support and career development.
She described the multi-stage application process, including a great
deal of written material and a series of interviews, as “daunting,” but
she said she was cautiously optimistic about her chances.
“If I hadn’t gotten it, my goals and my plans for graduate school
wouldn’t have changed,” Walton said. “But now that I was fortunate
enough to be selected, I feel like everything is different. It’s such a
She said she’s looking forward to joining the family of current and
former Truman Scholars and taking part in networking events the program
She plans to spend her senior year researching doctoral programs to
find the best fit for her specific area of academic interest.
Bennighoff and Peters say that Walton has all the qualities the
Truman program looks for. At UD, although the Honors Program handles such scholarships and fellowships, they are open to any student who
qualifies. Walton, for example, is not a student in the Honors Program.
In announcing Walton’s selection, the Truman Foundation extended
special thanks to Bennighoff, as UD’s Truman Scholarship representative,
and others “for everything done to advise and encourage your new Truman
Scholar through the arduous application process.”
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in
1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Truman, with a
mission to select and support the next generation of public service
In 2019, there were 840 candidates for the award nominated by 346
colleges and universities, a record number of both applications and
institutions. The 199 finalists were interviewed in March and early
April, and 62 new Truman Scholars were selected. They will receive their
awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and
Museum on May 26.
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson