Tomasky Scholars

By Madison Dyment

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A prominent goal of any institution is rewarding and enhancing student success – and the new Tomasky Leaders Scholarship Fund will help the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies achieve this goal. 

Named for Susan Tomasky, a College of Arts & Sciences alumna (BA, Topical Studies, ’74) who established the fund, the Tomasky Leaders Scholarship program serves to encourage students to become involved in politics, pursue higher office and live a life of activism. The fund covers all fees for recipients to attend events such as activism training, conferences and seminars, and participating in internships. 

“My undergraduate education at UK was shaped by several influential professors who helped me understand the relationship between intellectual growth as a student and personal growth as a citizen in the world’s most important democracy,” Tomasky said. “That may sound grand and abstract, but it’s really simple and practical: If you are going to take what you learn as a student, grow personally, be effective at your job and contribute to society you must figure out what you’re passionate about and you must learn to be an advocate for that.”

The Tomasky Leaders Scholarship Fund welcomed its first cohort of students in the 2018-2019 academic year. The students were Rory Barron, Erin Hoskins, Sebastiana Smith and Jasemine Jones.

Creating a scholarship that promotes activism is in line with the life Tomasky herself has led. Beginning her studies at UK in 1970, Tomasky became an active student in the Political Science Department and helped found the UK Council of Women’s Concerns.  After completing a law degree at George Washington University, she built a career first in government and then in the corporate world.  Still active today, she serves on several corporate and non-profit boards. 

“I want to provide these internship opportunities as a way for UK students to learn what it’s like to put their values to work in practical ways,” Tomasky said. “I hope they will learn that advocacy is much more than having a point of view; it’s also about listening to others, finding consensus and figuring out concrete steps to take to make a difference on issues they care about.”

Students in the first cohort are commonly pursuing studies in either gender and women’s studies or political science. 

Barron, a recent graduate who majored in gender and women’s studies, dedicated much of his time to being a student activist, taking part locally in many organizations. Barron used his scholarship to attend the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) conference in April 2019. 

Hoskins, a senior completing her studies in English and gender and women’s studies with a pre-law track, went to Massachusetts to attend a reproductive justice conference at Hampshire College. In the future, Hoskins plans to attend law school with a focus on family law and credits her conference experience with helping her define her career path. 

Hoskins said her experience attending the reproductive justice conference in Massachusetts was full of first-time opportunities.

“I had actually never been on a plane before,” Hoskins said. “That was crazy, and then the conference itself was so unique. All the sessions weren’t really someone in front of you presenting research, it was asking how we as a community were going to define these things. It emphasized community leadership and coming together to resolve these issues.”

Sebastiana Smith, a junior majoring in English with a minor in political science, intends to pursue a law degree after graduation. Smith used the support from the Tomasky Scholarship in May of 2019 to attend the 15th Annual National Young Women’s Leadership Conference in Arlington, Va., viewing this event as a networking opportunity for her future.

“I want to offer the world new ideas to unsolved pre-existing problems,” Smith said. “Issues that I’m most concerned about are quality education, criminal justice reform and reproductive justice.”

Among other ventures, Smith traveled to Capitol Hill, where she talked with individuals in U,S. Rep. Cedric Richmond's office regarding his stance on the Green New Deal, proposed legislation aimed to address climate change and economic inequality. She was also able to listen to young women of color discuss their experiences while working at the capital.

“While I explored the capital, there was a sense of comfort that I didn't expect,” Smith said. “I began to imagine a future where I could be a state representative myself.”

Jasemine Jones, a junior neuroscience and economics double major with a certificate in sexuality studies, used her Tomasky Scholarship to attend the National Young Women’s Leadership Conference. Jones has a particular interest in reproductive and women’s health and intends to continue pursuing these passions throughout her career. 

Many of these students learned about the Tomasky Leaders Scholarship through the first Kentucky Gender and Women’s Studies Conference held in September 2017. The students spoke at this same conference in September 2019, conveying their experiences over the past year as Tomasky Leaders.

Experiences like these gave the students valuable learning opportunities in their fields and helped them to learn about themselves and streamline their future career goals. 

“When I was originally going into law, my goal was to be a lawyer for the ACLU and work on reproductive rights cases,” Hoskins said. “Going to this conference helped me realize that to have this whole concept, we need to have stable communities. That led to me realizing I can do this work through family law.”

The College of Arts and Sciences strives to provide highly impactful opportunities for its students beyond the classroom. Through the Tomasky Leaders Scholarship Fund, the Gender and Women’s Studies Department is helping enable the next generation of leaders.