Columbia GS Student Receives Highly-Selective Truman Scholarship

The Columbia University School of General Studies (GS) is honored to announce that James Harvey Elliott II, a father, returning citizen, and community college transfer student, has been selected as a 2022 Truman Scholar by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. During the five years he spent incarcerated, Elliott discovered a passion for prison reform, and upon his release, obtained an associate degree and began speaking at prisons and community colleges, bringing awareness to the effects of mass incarceration.

April 14, 2022

This prestigious honor, with a selection rate of only eight percent of applicants nationally this year, is awarded in recognition of students’ exemplary public service work, academic achievement, and leadership, and offers recipients support for graduate or professional school in preparation for a career in public service.

Elliott, who enrolled at Columbia GS in 2020 and is currently a junior and recipient of the School’s prestigious PALS Scholarship, which fully covers the cost of tuition and includes a service component, discovered his passion—advocating for prison reform—after enrolling in a distance-learning program while incarcerated.

My real-world participation in the criminal justice system as an inmate has provided me with a unique perspective that is scarce amongst classrooms of higher learning.

GS Student James Harvey Elliott II

Upon an early release from prison for good behavior, Elliott enrolled at Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC), an opportunity that drove him to work with DTCC and the American Civil Liberties Union to push for increased access to higher education in American prisons, including testifying for state legislation regarding pardons and expungements. 

“James is an exemplary student and individual, and I am overjoyed that his efforts advocating for increased access to education for incarcerated individuals are being recognized with this extraordinary honor. I have no doubt he will go on to make an even greater impact, and look forward to following his journey as he continues to forge new pathways for incarcerated individuals to pursue higher education,” said Lisa Rosen-Metsch, Dean of the Columbia University School of General Studies.

As a student at DTCC, Elliott was not only a member of the community college honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), but was also elected to the position of international president—a role that allowed him to pursue his mission of bringing education to prisons to an even higher level, chartering PTK’s first chapter solely for those incarcerated with Ingram Technical College in Alabama, and serving as the catalyst for DTCC to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative. Ultimately, he graduated magna cum laude from DTCC with a dual associate degree in human services and drug and alcohol counseling.

“I am thrilled to learn of James’s selection as a 2022 Truman Scholar, a well-deserved honor that reflects the meaningful work he’s engaged in, including his service with the Justice Ambassadors Youth Council here at the Center for Justice. The program, which brings New York City youth together with city officials to discuss community challenges and co-author policy proposals, was founded by Jarrell Daniels, a Justice-in-Education Scholar who also received a 2021 Truman Scholarship. These consecutive honors speak for themselves in terms of the positive impact these students are making on society,” said Geraldine Downey, Director of the Columbia University Center for Justice.

This is the second year in a row that a Columbia GS student and returning citizen has been selected as a Truman Scholar. The Truman Foundation aims to recognize and reward students who exemplify a unique commitment to public service, and this year, scholars like Elliott will receive significant financial support to pursue graduate or professional school in preparation for a career in public service. Historically, Truman Scholars have become leaders in academia, research, and health care, and are making a meaningful impact worldwide.

Upon graduating from the Columbia University School of General Studies, Elliott plans to pursue a Juris Doctor degree, and hopes to found a nonprofit that will better enable colleges and prisons to collaborate, bringing more educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals.

“My real-world participation in the criminal justice system as an inmate has provided me with a unique perspective that is scarce amongst classrooms of higher learning. I look forward to bringing about change with the valuable knowledge I have gained throughout my life and my academic journey thus far,” Elliott said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that with GS’s community and the support that has been offered to me, I will achieve whatever I set out to accomplish.”

About Columbia University School of General Studies
The Columbia University School of General Studies (GS), founded in 1947, is the premier liberal arts college in the United States for nontraditional students seeking a traditional undergraduate Ivy League education. GS students take the same courses, study with the same faculty, and earn the same degree as all undergraduates at Columbia University.

Related Content

2022 Truman Scholars (Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation)

Meet The 2022 Class Of Truman Scholars (Forbes)

Dismantling Mass Incarceration from the Ivy League (Columbia GS News)

Changing Lives, Giving Hope in an Alabama Prison (PTK Blog)