UCI News

Leader of the pack

Top scholar, political activist, community volunteer: This senior’s all that – and more

by Charlie Dodge | September 24, 2004
Leader of the pack

UCI’s latest Truman Scholar represents a new generation of rising stars leading a quiet, analytical revolution in the society around them.

Jacqueline Chattopadhyay might be hard to pick out of a crowd, let alone identify with the gruff, loud and often unpopular leadership style of a president who forged NATO, launched the Marshall Plan, seized steel mills, fired MacArthur and dropped the bomb. Mentor Mark Petracca, professor of political science, aptly describes her as “a modest, unpretentious young woman who leads by example and hard work rather than by dictate.”

School of Social Sciences Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Caesar Sereseres, also a political science professor, has a more colorful take: “She is usually walking with her worn, red backpack filled with 60-plus pounds of books, notebooks and who-knows-whatever, for her average day at UCI. The backpack covers half her body – she would make a great Army Ranger.

“Jackie is a high-octane, intense, brilliant individual who is in constant motion,” he adds. “Overladen – not overworked – with multiple studies, service and leadership activities, she is in full stride when she is involved in all of these simultaneous endeavors. Above all, she is group-oriented, possesses strong values of public service, and provokes friends with a sharp sense of humor.”

STELLAR STUDENT
The statistics are impressive. According to Petracca, Chattopadhyay has earned a perfect 4.0 GPA over 34 courses, and in 19 she earned an A+. “This may well be unprecedented for a UCI student,” he remarks. During the same period, she was writing two papers in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and is now writing two honors theses in her senior year.

Her hard work continues to pay dividends. Last March, Chattopadhyay earned the Truman Scholarship, the nation’s most prestigious award given to college juniors who have demonstrated exceptional leadership potential and who are committed to careers in public service. She is one of just 77 students nationwide to have earned the 2004 honor, which provides each student a $26,000 grant. In May, she also received the $10,000 Donald Strauss Scholarship at UCI. And, most recently, she was named by Glamour Magazine one of America’s top-10 college women, a distinction that includes $1,500 in scholarship support.

Through it all, Chattopadhyay keeps the acclaim in perspective: “It’s reassuring because when you’re pursuing different service activities in high school and college, you’re still forming your values and interests,” she says. “But it’s also humbling because the scholarships are a beginning, not an end. It carries a responsibility to assess and reassess how to be a positive change agent right now and down the road.”

POLITICAL AMBITIONS
UCI’s fifth Truman Scholar, Chattopadhyay is the third from the political science department. The other political science graduates to earn Truman scholarships are Nguyen-Hong Hoang ’94 and Leah Donahue ’02. Hoang received her law degree from Harvard, and Donahue is in law school at Yale. This may be Chattopadhyay’s path, too. She will be applying to a range of high-profile law schools, planning to focus on public law and rhetorical criticism. She also may pursue further studies in economics, the other part of her dual major.

Petracca and colleague James Danziger helped recruit her to UCI as a UC Regents’ Scholar and UCI Alumni Association Scholar from Irvine’s Woodbridge High School. That hands-on recruitment made a positive impression. “Some of the other schools have the big fancy names, but they weren’t devoting enough resources to prospective students,” she says.

As quiet as she may appear, Chattopadhyay is an ambitious political animal. She has interned with the staffs of U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and former Gov. Gray Davis. She spent this past summer in Washington, D.C., at the new Center for American Progress think tank. There, she worked to refine the connection she perceives between public policy and the quality of rhetoric. Her goal: “structuring the arguments made by the Democratic Party to be more effective.” She adds that she hopes to “develop rhetoric that breeds tolerance of different ethnicities and different races.”

Chattopadhyay’s quiet activism goes beyond her affinity for Democratic Party politics. She also is broadly engaged in community-service activities, and as a high school junior, co-founded a local chapter of Working Wardrobes to help home less and low-income adults more easily reintegrate into society. Last year, she established the Students-Mentoring-Students outreach program at UCI.

What motivates her to combine so many public service commitments with her academic rigors? “I always want what I’m working on to relate to current affairs and social conditions,” she says. “I don’t feel like I’m participating in the world around me if I’m only taking classes and reading books.”

Says Meredith Lee, dean of undergraduate education: “She uses her considerable intellectual gifts for analysis, but she also is clearly engaged in a practical sense. She effectively mobilizes others to assist in projects that excite her. The most evident traits that drive her forward are her discipline, energy, resolve, creativity, and a keen and sophisticated intelligence.”