Rice undergraduate wins New York Times contest

Schermerhorn to accompany Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof on Africa trip

Rice News staff

Martel College senior Jordan Schermerhorn knows how she’ll spend at least part of her summer vacation. She will accompany New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to Africa.

Schermerhorn has been named the winner of Kristof’s annual “Win-a-Trip” competition and will spend between 10 days and two weeks with the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist on one of his excursions, most likely to Malawi.

Jordan Schermerhorn

Jordan Schermerhorn

As a bioengineering student, Schermerhorn works extensively with Rice’s Beyond Traditional Borders initiative, but this will be her first trip outside the United States. “So this is really exciting for me,” she said.

“We are very proud of Jordan, who has decided to focus her excellent bioengineering skills and her beautiful writing on alleviating global poverty and global health disparities,” said Rebecca Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360˚: Institute for Global Health Technologies. “We know she will make the most of this amazing opportunity, and we look forward to reading about her experience in The New York Times.”

In a column last December, Kristof called for entrants with excellent communication skills, especially online, and Schermerhorn fit the bill. “I like using Twitter a lot and try to use that for a combination of professional and personal stuff,” Schermerhorn said. “So I keep it relevant to my academic interests, and I think he found that appealing.”

She’s also earning her stripes as a bioengineer through her senior capstone design project as a member of Team Breath Alert, which is developing a neonatal apnea monitor for the developing world. The team won second place in the annual Rice Undergraduate Elevator Pitch Competition last year.

In the Times competition, Schermerhorn was required to submit an essay that, Kristof wrote, described her abilities “in sparkling prose.” She wrote about a solo trip after high school to Big Bend National Park — “the instant I realized the world was bigger than my hometown” — that encouraged her to find a way to relieve the poverty she witnessed across the border in Mexico.

Her studies at Rice and participation in Beyond Traditional Borders have refined her vision over the past four years. “I’d love to help demonstrate to students and budding entrepreneurs that there is a vast set of untapped opportunities here to build, create and implement solutions to complicated problems in the developing world,” she wrote. “And I could help reach a nontraditional audience whose potential to improve lives remains largely untapped.”

She’ll write for a national audience when she blogs for the Times during her trip. She and Kristof, whose work focuses on human rights abuses and social injustice, will be accompanied by a videographer who will also file regular reports on their travels.

The news is still too fresh for her to feel intimidated. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s definitely a step up from writing for the Rice Standard,” she said.

She was delighted to tell her mother, an editor for Educational Testing Services, that her communication skills got her the Times prize. “She’s very humanities-oriented, a grammar nerd, and she got this engineering/science-oriented daughter,” Schermerhorn said. “She didn’t know what to do with me. But she’s very excited.”

About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.