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Student wins prestigious national award for community service

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

As a kid, Matthew Cournoyer volunteered with his father at a food bank near his home in Cranston, Rhode Island, an experience that sparked a passion for community engagement. At Northeastern, he continued to pursue public service through experiential opportunities and volunteer work.

Now his commitment has been nationally recognized. Cournoyer was recently named a 2011 Truman Scholar, a prestigious honor that recognizes students with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, the nonprofit sector, or other public service.

“I’m honored to be selected,” said Cournoyer, a junior and political science major. “I have a strong interest in continuing a career in public service, and the opportunities associated with this scholarship are very exciting.”

Cournoyer was one of 60 winners nationwide from more than 600 nominees. The award, sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, provides up to $30,000 for graduate study.

Cournoyer’s accomplishments at Northeastern are impressive. In 2009, he cofounded the NU Political Review, a student-run magazine he hopes will “enrich the political dialogue on campus.” He is also a past president of the United Nations Association of Northeastern and current secretary-general of the National University Model Arab League.

In addition, Cournoyer’s experiential education opportunities include a 10-day fellowship in Saudi Arabia learning about Saudi culture, as well as co-ops in U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s office and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency — where he helped develop the Rhode Island Partnership for Community Resiliency initiative, which brings together public and private sector partners to share information, resources, and best practices regarding disaster planning.

Cournoyer has been particularly focused on housing issues. For the public policy proposal required for his lengthy Truman Scholarship application, Cournoyer outlined a public-private partnership model in which companies could receive tax credits as an incentive to offer low- to middle-income workers housing benefits, such as down payment assistance and rental subsidies. In addition, as part of a community-based research practicum at Northeastern, he collaborated on a student report analyzing a Massachusetts-funded homelessness prevention program.

“This is an extremely competitive award, and Matt certainly earned it,” said Bruce Wallin, an associate professor of political science who oversees Truman Scholarship applications from Northeastern students. “He’s exhibited strong leadership qualities at Northeastern, his academic achievements are extensive, and he’s done a lot of volunteer work.”

Cournoyer said participating in both global experiences and local volunteer work while at Northeastern has had a significant impact on his education. “It’s important to be engaged in the community where you live,” he said, “but also to realize that you’re part of a larger global community.”

In the future, Cournoyer intends to pursue a degree in public interest or social justice law, and said he wants to promote economic opportunities for people in need, particularly those in urban communities.