Introducing: The 2008 FTF Scholarship Judges - My Family Travels

With the launch of, came a rush in scholarship applicants for the 2008 Family Travel Forum Teen Travel Writing Contest. During the four months that essays were accepted, more than 6,000 teens submitted their tales.

Judging the sheer volume of eloquent travel stories, photographs and videos required a team of college and graduate level journalism majors to assist FTF editors in selecting all finalists.

Over the summer, four talented college students began the screening process by reading each and every submission with laughter, emotion and passion. Danny Strein is a cross-country track runner and lifeguard who is currently studying English and psychology at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. A senior magazine journalism major at Syracuse University and lover of London, Lisa Berry commuted more than two hours everyday from her home in New Jersey to read essays. Sitting next to her at FTF’s Upper Westside offices in New York was Cornell University’s Yael Borofsky, a huge Philadelphia Phillies fan and Human Development major looking to expand her horizons with her FTF internship.

At summer’s end, our interns returned to school and our new fall interns quickly came in and took over the judging process. Without missing a beat, Selina Andersson, a senior Linguistics major at New York University who just returned from studying abroad in Australia and touring Southeast Asia, jumped into the judge’s seat. Right behind her was Pace University’s Michelle Manetti. Studying communications and media, Michelle just bought a typewriter to start her first novel!

A recent graduate of St. John’s University’s journalism program, Brian Cheung traveled to Japan and Taiwan for the first time last summer, but also spent much of his childhood extensively touring the United States. A freelance writer currently working on his MBA online at the University of Phoenix, Mustafa Samiullah did his undergraduate work at Brooklyn College and likes to laugh about the fact that, at 27-years old, he is FTF’s oldest intern.

In addition to FTF’s fall intern staff, Theresa Condon, FTF’s telecommuting intern, read essays from home in Santa Cruz, California. A recent graduate from the University of California, Theresa studied Literary Journalism and Anthropology and spent her junior year abroad in Galway, Ireland.

Sadly, all the interns, under the supervision of FTF editors, had to disqualify some of their favorite essays because they didn’t comply with requirements about applicants’ ages and/or inclusion of photos, artwork or videos. Finally, once all the essays had been screened and read by the team of interns, about 10% of submissions were passed on to be read by the next round of judges.

Jillian Ryan and Susan Finch, associate editors at FTF, had last year’s judging experience behind them to help them effectively and efficiently sift through the many excellent travel essays. Jillian, who never travels without a magazine and good book, secretly wishes the scholarship winners could pack her along in their suitcases. Susan was lucky enough to spend a big chunk of the fall traveling through Europe and read many essays in Budapest, Prague and Edinburgh.

FTF’s most experienced intern, Patty Lee, is a journalism and history double major at NYU who spent most of 2008 diligently researching and writing various travel pieces. Having professionally covered Lake Tahoe and Texas on press visits during her tenure at FTF, she assisted the editors in their final selections. Patty’s personal favorite destination has been Shanghai, China, where she studied abroad during her sophomore year.

Quarterfinals were read by FTF’s top editors, Kyle McCarthy, mom of a Bronx High School of Science senior who pitched in to do some reading; Fran Falkin, senior editor and mom of a recent RIT graduate; and Laura Sutherland, a contributing editor based in northern California — with kids at Dartmouth and Reed — who has found the time to author six family travel guidebooks. Together, these three are the brains behind the operation.

After being looked at by nearly 15 judges, the less than 3% of essays that were still standing were truly the cream of the crop. These were passed up to a panel of five celebrity travel journalists from the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), who judged them on originality, eloquence and a sense of place in order to select the winners and honorable mentions. Representing SATW were: Annette Thompson, who writes travel stories about the American South for Southern Living magazine; Cynthia V. Campbell, writer and editor of newspaper travel stories; Kate Pocock, an expert in family travel who has been traveling the globe with kids of all ages for 28 years; Kit Bernardi, who writes about everything from travel to family fun for Midwest Living magazine, Chicago Parent magazine and newspapers nationwide; and finally, Laurie D. Borman, the editorial director of Rand McNally.

SATW’s participation is part of the organization’s Geography Education outreach. Other activities this program organizes are the SATW World Geography Quiz, featured with a weekly question provided by Rand McNally on SATW’s website. Additionally, there is the Traveling Teddy program in which several members travel with a teddy bear, which is photographed along the way so that messages and post cards can be sent to a classroom, usually in the SATW member’s home community. Youngsters name the bear at the start of the school year and the school gets to keep it at the end. All of these initiatives are geared toward children and teenagers to encourage and stimulate students’ interest in geography and the world they live in.

FTF was honored by the support and participation of SATW, a professional organization known as “Travel’s Most Trusted Voices,” because of the commitment they share to responsible journalism, conservation and the preservation of travel resources worldwide. We look forward to their participation in the 2009 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship.

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