Citadel cadet Noah Koubenec is one of only 60 students in the country this year to land a prestigious Truman Scholarship, an award that places him among impressive company.

Previous recipients of the scholarship for stellar students interested in pursuing careers in government and public service include Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and "Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos.

Koubenec, a junior majoring in Spanish and political science, said he will receive up to $30,000 for graduate study after he completes his senior year at The Citadel. The scholarship requires that he work in the public service field at least three years out of his first seven years after graduate school.

"It's sinking in gradually," he said of his response to the honor.

He plans to study Latin American affairs in graduate school and hopes eventually to attend George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. He's considering becoming a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department.

Koubenec, from Pilot Mountain, N.C., attributes some of his success in landing the scholarship to Al Gurganus, director of The Citadel's Office of Fellowships and a German professor. It takes an entire year to complete the application for the Truman Scholarship, Koubenec said, and Gurganus kept him focused and nudged him along when he got distracted.

Gurganus, who will retire at the end of the school year, has an impressive history of helping students apply for and earn highly competitive scholarships and fellowships, including many of the 13 Citadel cadets who have been awarded Fulbright scholarships since 1992.

Koubenec said he first became interested in Latin America during a trip with a church group to build houses in Juarez, Mexico, when he was 15 years old.

He earned summer scholarships in 2008 and 2009 to study and conduct research on drug cartels in Mexico City. This summer, he will study in Mexico City and Ecuador.

The application process for the Truman was challenging, Koubenec said, but it forced him to clearly define his goals and academic direction. And he thinks the connections he will make with past Truman winners will serve him well in the future.

Other Citadel cadets to earn Truman Scholarships include: David Mills in 1984, David Rawlinson in 1997 and Doug Schmid in 2006.