PCS grad from Petal named Truman Scholar


Alicia D. Brown of Petal, a 2016 Presbyterian Christian graduate, is the state’s only awardee to be named a Truman Scholar. 

Named after the nation’s 33rd president, the award was created by Congress in 1975 to serve as a living memorial to support future generations who answer the call to public service leadership, a philosophy of Truman’s.

Brown, a student in MSU’s Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College at Mississippi State University, was notified by MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum after class one day last week of her selection. She is one of only 62 outstanding college students from 58 institutions across the country, and only the 19th MSU student to receive the prestigious scholarship.

“I was definitely surprised,” she said. “I thought I had done well in the interview, but you never know what the selection committee is looking for, and everybody was so deserving.”

Brown said she had received dozens of congratulations in person, by text, and on social media, and had had several newly-selected and former scholars reach out to congratulate her and offer advice. 

The daughter of Nathan and Melissa Brown, her mother said Alicia knew she wanted to be some type of engineer from about the third grade.

 “Alicia has always been a good student who enjoyed educational opportunities both inside and outside the classroom,” Melissa said, noting a variety of activities her daughter was involved in throughout high school including, Speech and Debate, Math Quiz Bowl, Trent Lott Leadership Program and Mississippi Governor’s School. Brown was also a National Merit Finalist and was co-valedictorian of her senior class. 

A senior chemical engineering major in the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering’s Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering, she also currently is receiving a John and Georgia Ann McPherson Presidential Endowed Scholarship through the university’s Presidential Endowed Scholarship program.

“Alicia is an excellent example of how personal drive and hard work, teamed with the exceptional educational foundation she’s received at Mississippi State, can help students make their mark on the world,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum. “I commend Alicia’s achievement as this university continues to educate and empower students as they compete for and win prestigious national and international scholarships.”

Dr. Allen Smithers, headmaster at PCS is proud of his former PCS student.

“Alicia is a special student,” he said. “The Lord has blessed her in many ways, and she has used those talents to get where she is today. She is highly motivated and sets her goals high. It is not a surprise that she has done so well at Mississippi State and received all the honors that she has. “Being a Truman Scholar is not just a high honor for her, but also for PCS. The teachers and staff at PCS are to be commended for the hard work and dedication that they give to all our students, and it is a great reward to see one of our students do so well. I have no doubt that Alicia has many more great things in store for her."

Sarah Pylant, who teaches mathematics at PCS, said although she didn’t have the opportunity to teach Brown until her junior year, Alicia was one of the first students she met at PCS nine years ago.

“She was middle-school age and spending summer days at the school while her mom, Melissa, was working,” she said. Melissa spent a few years in an administrative position tending to scheduling, computer management for teachers and sponsoring academic competition teams. She stepped back into the classroom as a teacher this year. 

“Alicia’s help setting up my computer system in the classroom was a blessing, and her knowledge was instantly impressive,” Pylant said. “By the time she made it to my Honors Trigonometry/Honors Pre-Calculus class, her reputation as an excellent student was well-established.”

She said Brown’s self-motivation and high aptitude in math set her apart from many of her peers.

“She was goal-oriented and continuously busy with both academic and extracurricular activities and her post-secondary education and career paths were at the forefront of her thoughts and plans. 

“If ever there was a student who knew exactly what she wanted to do after high school, Alicia would be that student. She would tackle any obstacles with strength and persistence. Alicia is most deserving of the fabulous recognition and honor she has recently earned.


Brown is anticipating her upcoming economics internship this summer with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), where she will explore her passion for evidence-based energy policy.

“Economics is the tool that guides our energy policy, and I’m looking forward to doing analysis on the electric and gas markets that can help in developing creative energy solutions,” she said. “After I graduate with my bachelor’s degree, I want to pursue a juris doctorate to learn how laws interplay with engineering and to help me better foresee policy barriers.”

While she has several schools in my she said her decision will be based contingent upon test scores and admissions.

According to her mother, Brown visited several out-of-state colleges including Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia Tech, before ultimately choosing MSU because of the mentorship and other benefits she would receive through the Presidential Scholars program. 

“Her Presidential mentor, Dr. Tommy Anderson, has worked tirelessly to help her find opportunities such as the Truman scholarship,” said Melissa Brown.


Anderson, the honors college associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs and director of the Office of Prestigious External Scholarships, said Brown is “a celebration for her mentors across colleges and departments who make undergraduate education the cornerstone of meaningful leadership and service. 

“Alicia is whip-smart and thinks deeply and critically about the issues that motivate her,” said Anderson, who also serves as an English professor and the College of Arts and Sciences’ interim assistant dean for undergraduate academic affairs. “Alicia’s ability to connect the complexities of the science of chemical engineering to coherent policy that serves the public is unique among undergraduates anywhere in the nation.”

In the spring of 2018, Brown interned for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she contributed to discussion drafts for high-octane fuels legislation and advocated for the modernization of our energy infrastructure.

Brown appreciates the “fantastic” support of the honors college in encouraging students to talk through their differences with open minds and work on solutions to important issues. She is especially grateful to Anderson for his guidance throughout her college years.

“As a freshman, I didn’t come in thinking that I could apply for Truman or any other competitive national scholarships, but Dr. Anderson helped me turn those doubts into a vision,” she said. “From reading my application to setting up mock interviews, he’s been my cheerleader. He wanted to make this the best possible experience and cares about me as an individual.” Along with her engineering studies, involvement with MSU’s Speech and Debate Council has contributed to Brown’s objectivity and inspired her to help others find common ground on issues.

“Speech and Debate is my primary extracurricular activity, and I absolutely love it. I’ve done it since ninth grade, so this will be my eighth year,” said Brown, the organization's current vice president who recently was elected president for the upcoming academic year. “Being a part of Speech and Debate helped me in the Truman process because the interviewers asked questions that really tested me. They wanted to make sure my motivations were pure and that I truly believed in what I said I stood for. It was grueling, but fun.”

Brown said she also enjoyed interacting with the other finalists who were equally passionate about their respective causes.

“Truman gives you the tools and encouragement you need to look at the possibilities ahead of you, and having really good conversations with the other finalists was just the beginning for me,” she said.

This year, the Washington, D.C.-based Truman Scholarship Foundation reviewed 840 student applications from 346 institutions and selected 199 finalists from 143 institutions based on records of leadership, public service and academic achievement. 

Brown will receive the highly-coveted national award May 26 at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Missouri.