David Flores Wins Truman Scholarship
David Flores, a 43-year-old Occidental College psychology-health policy major from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, today was named one of 70 winners of the highly competitive Truman Scholarship.
The $30,000 prize is given to college juniors who demonstrate exceptional leadership skills and plan to use those skills in public service careers.
Flores, who grew up in Pasadena, Calif., said the scholarship will allow him to pursue a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in clinical psychology, interests cultivated by his late great-grandfather, a Mayan elder and shaman in the Mexican state of Chiapas.
“I’m overwhelmed at receiving the Truman Scholarship, and very honored to represent Occidental College and the state of Hawaii,” Flores said. “Now the real work comes -- staying focused with my studies at Oxy to build the foundation for a more pragmatic approach to mental health policymaking.”
While the American Psychological Association reports that 15-18 percent of Americans suffer from mental disorders, not enough is being done to treat the afflicted, Flores said. “Americans who experience mental disorders create a burden not only in their personal lives, but also on the economic well being of the nation,” he said. “Moreover, mental health is the third greatest cause of death in the United States. As long as this problem is not addressed, everyone suffers. The real tragedy of this is mental illness is a treatable illness.”
Flores, who transferred to Oxy in 2000 after attending Leeward Community College in Pearl City, Hawaii, graduated in 1976 from Pasadena’s Blair High School. He spent the next 22 years working in the Hawaiian construction industry, a career that ended with an on-the-job injury. At 39 and without any direction, Flores turned to his great-grandfather, revered by many in his Mexican community for his counsel. “He nurtured me and said, ‘Look, this is a great time to dig yourself out of this adversity.’ He encouraged me by example,” Flores recalled. Considering his grandfather’s words, Flores plotted a new course: “I decided to devote my life to public service.”
Flores’ public service record speaks for itself: he has authored six policies and developed two programs addressing everything from re-entry education and language translation to mentoring and helping those with developmental disabilities. As a Truman Scholar, his vision is to pioneer a national mentoring program for persons with a mental disorder, and for their families, called Students' Transitional Assistance in Rehabilitation (STAR).
“David Flores’ commitment to public mental health issues is both impressive and highly credible given his track record in Hawaii,” said Larry Caldwell, an Oxy politics professor and chairman of the college’s diplomacy and world affairs department. “He has proven his maturity by a wide variety of public service, including hard work in influencing regional, national and international affairs.”
This summer, Flores will do research in mental health policy after being selected to receive the Walter B. Gerken Fellowship in Public Policy from the James Irvine Foundation. Named after an Occidental trustee emeritus, the award will allow Flores to conduct research at the National Institute of Mental Health, the Agency of Health Policy and Research, and Harvard University’s Public Service Network.
Flores is the sixth Occidental student and only psychology major from the college to win the Truman Scholarship in the last decade. He is Oxy’s first male winner, and the college’s only nontraditional student to earn the prize.
The Harry Truman Scholarship Foundation is based in Washington, D.C., and serves as a memorial to the nation’s 33rd president. Scholars are eligible to receive $3,000 for the senior year of undergraduate education and $27,000 for graduate studies. Former Truman scholars serve as managers of government programs, legislators and aides, foreign service officers, teachers, staff members in policy analysis and research organizations, attorneys for government agencies, public defenders, professors, and professional staff in advocacy organizations and not-for-profit institutions.