As a junior in college, Mussab Ali is already making his mark on the world. As Rutgers University–Newark’s first Truman Scholar and the 10th from Rutgers University overall, he is one of just 62 nationally, chosen from a field of over 768 candidates nominated by 315 colleges and universities this year based on their leadership potential, academic and communications skills, and dedication to public service. It’s not the first time, though, that he has been a standout, in November 2016, at the age of 19, he ran for a seat on the Jersey City Board of Education. Though he didn’t win, he garnered 7,167 votes and considers his run a success. “When I ran for office, I knew I wasn’t going to win,” he says, “The biggest thing for me was to bring forward the issues of student involvement and empowerment.” He’s proud of the fact that his run inspired young people in his city to become civically engaged, and says he now routinely fields questions from younger people on how to get involved.
But Ali has his eye on a bigger goal. An Honors College student with a double major in neurobiology and economics, Ali is hoping to pursue a career in health policy. “I’ve always been interested in health care, but I wasn’t that interested in health policy until I ran for office and I really started to discover how much policy actually impacts people.” At first, he says, he thought about becoming a doctor. "As a doctor, you save people's lives one-on-one. But when you're changing health policy, you're impacting everyone affected by the insurance companies, or by any sort of health services."
The Truman Scholarship's guarantee of up to $30,000 for graduate study will help him move on to the next level of education he needs to pursue that dream.
Arthur D. Casciato, director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships at Rutgers-New Brunswick, who nominated Ali for the scholarship and worked closely with him throughout the process, said “Mussab is an extraordinary young man: a rare combination of energy, ability, ambition and commitment, and in the future, supported by a Truman Scholarship, he will doubtless make his city, state and nation much better places.”
To those who know him well, none of this comes as a surprise. "Mussab Ali is a standard bearer, a student leader who has so demonstrably put his mark on our university,” says Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “From starting and directing a campus chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success, to serving on the Executive Board of the Muslim Student Association, he has been a positive community builder-a leader of future leaders among our incredibly diverse student body, listening acutely, drawing out perspectives from others, and shaping those around him. We couldn't be more proud of him.”
Ali’s focus during the Truman scholarship process was health policy, and he credits one class in particular with preparing him for the rigorous finalist interviews – a health systems and policy course with Dr. Frank Thompson at the School of Public Affairs & Administration. “It’s a graduate level course where a lot of my classmates are either dentists or doctors or have been in the health care industry. There’s no way I would have known everything I know about policy without that class.”
Ali makes an immediate impact on everyone he meets. “I met Mussab soon after becoming Honors College director when he was running for the school board in Jersey City and came to speak to me about applying for the Truman,” says Brian Murphy. “What came through in that first meeting and has been reaffirmed so many times since is that Mussab is an extraordinarily talented student with an authentic commitment to public service. I'm thrilled that the Truman committee agrees and I'm sure Mussab will be able to hone his leadership skills among other like-minded students from across the country.
When asked how he manages to balance a full course load, political life, a deep commitment to his community, and several student organizations, Ali says the key to keep from being overwhelmed is time management and communication, but mostly just having confidence in yourself. “I think too often people think that they can’t do something, and so they won’t pursue it.” He doesn’t want to just be a leader; he wants to inspire others to become leaders as well. It’s why he decided to start a chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success at Rutgers University-Newark and recruited 420 members in their first year. "Their mantra is 'building leaders to make a better world.' It’s really about building that leadership in people.”