Holowach, of Madison, Miss., is the first-ever speech pathology major to become a Truman winner. With her major comes an emphasis in autism spectrum disorders, which takes on special significance because Holowach is autistic and has experienced firsthand the ostracizing that autistic children often encounter. Autism was also the policy proposal portion of Holowach’s Truman Scholarship application.
“When I was younger, especially in middle school, I had trouble in social settings which made it extremely hard to succeed in the school setting,” explained Holowach.
She credits home-schooling by her parents – Dr. and Mrs. James Holowach – along with therapy and medication for getting her where she is today. And where she is today is one of only 60 Truman Scholars in the United States, a Presidential Scholar at Southern Miss, National Merit Finalist, member of the Honors College and the owner of a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average.
Still remembering what it was like to be the middle school student who was considered defiant, undisciplined and uncooperative, Holowach used that experience in the Truman’s required policy proposal on an issue affecting society. Her proposal - “Autism Bullying Prevention” – proposes an elementary school curriculum to teach about autism, with hopes of reducing the bullying of autistic children.
“I would like to be a clinician and would really like to focus on autism and work in the schools to help bring about change,” she declared. “I would like to make schools and the education system more supportive for autistic students.”
Support is a key element in Holowach’s conquest of the Truman Scholarship selection process. Southern Miss has taken a bold step in assisting its students in earning prestigious scholarships such as the Truman and Goldwater scholarships.
“In the Honors College we now have a full-time Officer of National Scholarships and Fellowships,” said Dave Davies, dean of the Honors College. “This is the third year we have had a national scholarship officer, Robyn Curtis, and this position is helping our students. For instance, we have more Goldwater scholars than any university in the state. We help students put together their applications and Marie’s success shows the hard work of this office and how it pays off for our students and Southern Miss.”
With the Truman Scholarship firmly in hand Holowach now moves toward other goals. She has one more year at Southern Miss where she will continue her trailblazing work as creator of Daniel’s Voice Candles – a non-profit organization that raises money to send autistic children to an adventure-style summer camp – and as founder of Mississippi’s first college chapter of TEAAM – Together Enhancing Autism Awareness in Mississippi – which works to promote autism awareness and to raise money for families affected by autism.
Additionally she will decide where to spend the $30,000 graduate school tuition prize which comes along with the scholarship. Holowach is looking at both Vanderbilt and Purdue for the next step in her education. Both schools have excellent programs with specialization in autism spectrum disorders.
The Truman scholarship is named for Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States. President Gerald Ford signed an Act of Congress on January 4, 1975, which authorized the Truman Foundation to “award scholarships to persons who demonstrate outstanding potential for and who plan to pursue a career in public service,” and to conduct a nationwide competition to select Truman scholars. The Foundation awarded its first Scholarships in the 1977-78 academic year. Southern Miss has had one other Truman Scholar; Lance Brown in 1999.