News & Recipients

Recent Graduate is USF’s First to Win a Prestigious Hertog Foundation Summer Fellowship

Sam Rechek

Samuel Rechek, a Spring 2023 USF graduate and King O’Neal Scholar from the University of South Florida (USF) Judy Genshaft Honors College, has been awarded a 2023 Summer Fellowship from the Hertog Foundation in its political studies program — a first for USF. The award recognizes Sam’s distinguished undergraduate career and his focus on first-amendment rights, jurisprudence, and public service leadership. It comes at a pivotal moment in his journey as a public service scholar.

Sam earned a degree in political science and philosophy with minors in history and economics and became known as the “Free Speech Kid” after his arrival at USF as a National Merit Scholar from Wisconsin. While still a freshman, he founded the First Amendment Forum (1AF), a student group dedicated to advancing freedom of expression and civil dissent at the university. 1AF was the first student organization dedicated to free speech in Florida. 

Hertog Summer Fellows study political ideas and public policy in Washington, D.C. in an intensive seminar setting with outstanding faculty from the nation’s top institutions. Fellows have opportunities to hear from leaders in the American government and politics about current affairs and future directions for the United States and the world. Sam will join recent graduates from Yale, Clemson, and Princeton universities, Hillsdale College, and the University of Texas-Austin. USF — newly welcomed as an Association of American Universities (AAU) member institution — joins this exclusive group of top performers in the 2023 round of the Hertog Foundation Fellowship competition.

Sam Rechek

Sam’s commitment to the First Amendment is grounded in a deep respect for its philosophical and legal traditions. A philosopher is not always a change-maker, but Sam strives to bring philosophy into practice. Prior to founding 1AF, Sam participated as a speaker at a conference hosted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression (FIRE), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending student and faculty civil liberties at campuses nationwide. Subsequently, Sam joined FIRE as a Newsdesk Intern. 

Sam continued to spearhead campus initiatives to empower students and enhance USF’s ability to serve them based on his policy interests on due process rights. Sam noticed a lack of services within student government dedicated to due process awareness for students reported for disciplinary infractions. He attended a conference of “Student Defenders” in Orlando and envisioned creating another student organization, the Bulls Student Advisers (BSA). He advocated for its creation in an open session of the Senate and engaged the support of various key stakeholders – the Dean of Students, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, and the Student Ombuds, among others – to move it from idea to reality. BSA provides a peer-centered support system to advise on the procedural due process rights of students, ensuring fairness throughout the conduct process.

Sam’s academic work was guided by USF professors Stephen Neely and Joshua Scacco, of the School of Public Affairs and the Department of Communications, respectively, focused on the rise of disinformation in social media. He also assisted Professor Neely to frame and analyze survey responses to public attitudes toward moderation and regulation of social media. With Professor Kevin Vallier of Bowling Green State University, Sam interrogated the philosophical foundations of legal pluralism for public interest law. 

Sam was also recognized with a 2021 Phi Beta Kappa Key into Public Service Scholarship and named a finalist for the prestigious 2022 Harry S. Truman Scholarship and Marshall Scholarship competitions. Sam’s longest standing mentor at USF, Sayandeb Basu, director of the Office of National Scholars, nominated him for the Hertog Foundation Fellowship. In Basu’s words, “Sam Rechek has established a profile as a motivated leader and a dedicated public servant with high ambitions to change the public’s understanding of laws and the judiciary’s responsibility toward the common man.”

After his stint as a Hertog Fellow this summer, Sam will study at University College London in their Master of Arts Program for Law and Political Theory. He intends to then pursue a JD in public interest law and aspires to work in the Federal or State Judiciaries in his career.