Stanford juniors Avi Gupta and Liana Keesing named 2022 Truman Scholars
The students will receive Truman Scholarships, which provide support to attend graduate school in preparation for careers in public service.
Avi Gupta and Liana Keesing, both of whom work on technology and public policy, are recipients of the 2022 Truman Scholarship. This year, the Harry S. Truman Foundation awarded scholarships to 58 college students selected from 53 institutions nationwide who have done exceptional public service work. The scholarships provide up to $30,000 for recipients to attend graduate school in a field of their choosing in pursuit of a career in public service. Stanford nominated the two students for their outstanding academic achievements and service commitments following a highly competitive process.
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne called Gupta and Keesing to notify them of their award and offer his congratulations for their achievement.
Avi Gupta of Portland, Oregon is a political science major who is simultaneously pursuing a master’s in computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence. He plans to attend law school to work on technology regulation and data-driven policymaking.
Gupta’s passion for public service was inspired by his grandmother, who passed away in January of this year.
“My Nani always encouraged me to work toward improving the lives of others,” he said. “I am grateful to have the Truman Foundation’s support to enhance my ability to make an impact in my community.”
Gupta first became involved in public service as a high school student. In 2016, he and his classmates founded Project32, a student-run nonprofit with a goal to provide dental hygiene education and access to dental products for underserved youth across the world. The group engaged dozens of youth volunteers in providing dental hygiene trainings and supplies to communities worldwide.
In 2019, Gupta was the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament national champion. He responded to the announcement that host Alex Trebek had pancreatic cancer by working with the Knight Cancer Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland to create the #InspiredBy campaign. Donating $10,314 from his Jeopardy! winnings, Gupta leveraged his platform as a national champion to raise more than $200,000 for pancreatic cancer early detection research.
Avi has continued his public service work at Stanford. He is a founder and editor-in-chief of the Stanford Undergraduate Law Review and a founder and board member of the Stanford chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 2021, he was appointed and confirmed as one of four Constitutional Councilors of the Stanford student government. Gupta is also a member of the Stanford Redistricting Project, an effort led by Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily to advocate for congressional maps that support free and fair elections.
In March 2020, during the initial surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Oregon experienced a shortage of ventilators for hospitalized patients. Gupta joined a collective of professional engineers, physicians and designers as a founding member of LifeMech, which sought to provide a low-cost and reliable ventilator for hospitals in need. Gupta led the effort to design and develop the user interface for the ventilator. In four months, the team had developed technology for an FDA-approved ventilator. The technology they developed is open-source and free to use for communities around the world.
Gupta is currently chief of staff for the Stanford Public Interest Technology (PIT) Lab, a student-led organization fostering an interdisciplinary community focused on public interest technology on campus. This winter, he interned in the Office of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), working on technology policy.
In the future, Gupta wants to address how technology is used to spread misinformation. He said he sees technological innovations as an avenue to create positive change, but unregulated technology as a destructive force.
Of his plans, he said, “I am particularly interested in the epidemic of misinformation, which I see as a leading driver of political polarization and an existential threat to our democracy. By helping to develop common-sense technology regulation, I hope to combat polarization without hampering innovation.”
Liana Keesing was born in Suva, Fiji and grew up in McLean, Virginia. She is an electrical engineering major and coterminal master’s student in electrical engineering, as well as an honors student in ethics in society. Keesing plans to pursue a doctoral degree in computer science with a focus on the intersection of emerging technologies and democratic governance.
Keesing sees this award as a reflection of the support she has received throughout her life.
“Public service should be motivated by a deep and abiding concern for other people,” she said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have so many role models for that kind of love.”
At the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Keesing served on the student government executive committee and the honor council, where she used her expertise as a Licensed Restorative Justice Facilitator to help rewrite the school’s honor code. Her senior research project in the Automation and Robotics Research Lab proposed a new, open-source voting machine design for use in public elections.
Liana also served as a page in the Virginia State Senate and went on to use her background in technology and public policy as a volunteer for several political campaigns, including working her way up from intern to operations assistant for a delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates.
On campus, Keesing co-directed StanfordVotes, a student-led, nonpartisan group established in 2020 to increase voter turnout campus-wide. She led the group’s digital strategy team in creating a resource-rich website and robust social media campaign, addressing the complications of voting during a pandemic by developing a system that created a personalized plan for students to vote. The campaign resulted in Stanford being the top college in the nation for registered students on TurboVote, with 91 percent of Stanford TurboVote users voting in the 2020 election.
Based on this success, Liana was invited to co-chair the Resources and Support Subcommittee of Students Learn Students Vote, a national, nonpartisan network of student groups working to increase voter participation.
As a student-athlete, when Stanford’s fencing program was among 11 varsity sports discontinued in 2020, Keesing took a leadership role in the response that led to a reinstatement of the program and a higher level of transparency for Title IX data reporting. She now serves as the captain of the women’s fencing team. She continues her efforts to advocate for female athletes in the Western United States as a Stanford representative for the Pacific-12 Conference and the vice president for external affairs for Stanford’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
Despite her accomplishments, Keesing’s path has not always been smooth. A series of ongoing health struggles that started before freshman year and have included injuries from a serious car accident have had a significant influence on her life and how she views service.
“I learned to advocate for my needs and ask for help without the validation of a visible challenge,” she said. “I also learned how difficult that can be and gained empathy for the invisible struggles that shape the lives of those around me.”
In the future, Keesing plans to focus on the startup she co-founded, Offset AI. Originally a collaboration with the Army Research Lab to develop AI-enabled sensor systems, they currently work with farmers on precision agriculture. Keesing’s long-term goal is to work on the government side of public technology innovation to support solutions to problems affecting democracy.
“I’ve always been dedicated to public service, but as an engineer by training, the pathway to that was cloudy,” she said. “Applying for the Truman Scholarship helped me to solidify that dream and gave me confidence in my ability to serve as a leader in both technical and policy spaces.”
Gabriella Herrera is a communications associate with the Haas Center for Public Service.