As the Family Travel Forum Teen Travel Writing Scholarship entered its third year, the experienced FTF judges were ready for anything that came their way. However, when applications opened in May, 2009, only a handful of essay trickled in. By August, the once leisurely judges had their prayers answered as the essays overwhelmed the www.travelBIGO.com inbox.
Three FTF interns started the judging process. A sophomore at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, Rachel Coleman lived with family in Long Island over the summer during her stint with FTF. Studying journalism and art history, Rachel loves the beach, animals, art and traveling. She is excited to spend time studying abroad in Spain in 2010.
Lee Dunlap, originally from Blairsville, Pennsylvania, recently moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. An avid traveler who studied at Penn State University, Lee’s favorite destinations are Quebec City, New Orleans and the entire country of Germany.
Hailing from Tampa, Florida, Emily Yanez also had moved to the Big Apple upon graduation from the University of South Florida, hoping to break into the magazine industry. Emily, who has recently traveled to Lake Placid, New York; Branson, Missouri; and Puerto Rico, appreciated the individuality of each essay.
As the number of applications became overwhelming, more judges were recruited. To add the perspective of peers, four high school readers joined the ranks. Mary Vericat from Palo Alto, California, is 17 and a senior in high school. She was happy to read the essays, as one of her dreams is to travel the world and experience all of the different cultures. Another West Coast reader from Bellevue, Washington is Drew Haupt. He enjoys cartoons, art, punk rock music, writing and animals.
The youngest judge, Claire Markoff of New York City, is a sophomore in high school. She loves running in Central Park in the morning and people-watching. Sela Brown, from Brooklyn, New York, is a junior at The Beacon School in Manhattan and an avid soccer player. During her reading, Sela enjoyed seeing each entrant’s unique writing style.
It may seem that this team of judges was enough to get the job done; however, by the time the scholarship closed, more than 8,500 entries had been received, a 30% increase from 2008. With less than four weeks to make a decision, it was time to call in former interns with judging experience from years prior.
Lisa Berry, a recent graduate of Syracuse University, has two main loves in life: words and travel. Excited to return for her second year of judging, Lisa is currently interning at Weight Watcher’s magazine. Since her intern stint at FTF, Maureen Linehan is exploring the world of freelance journalism and public relations. Although busy with other endeavors, Maureen was happy to come back and give a hand. Vanessa Cubillo is finishing up her degree in journalism from New Jersey City University. A lover of knitting and crocheting, Vanessa enjoys video games and her goal is to be an entertainment writer. Selina Andersson read in her spare time. A recent graduate from New York University, Selina is working for a new restaurant review website, and still loves all aspects of food and travel.
The essays that made it past the aforementioned readers were tackled by our seasoned, three-time judges to determine whether they should move on to be Finalists. Jillian Ryan, an Associate Editor at FTF, was more than happy to take on the task again this year and she was pleased with the quality of the writing. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Jillian has a passion for the Caribbean having explored the islands of Jamaica, Aruba and Curacao in 2009. As FTF’s Senior Editor, Fran Falkin readily jumped onboard to select the best of the best. Inspired by all of the teens’ stories, Fran has many of her own tales to tell as she traveled to New Zealand, Australia, Spain and Hawaii this year.
Santa Cruz, California-based Contributing Editor Laura Sutherland has authored five travel guidebooks and mothered two teens, so she read essays with great interest. FTF’s Editor-in-Chief Kyle McCarthy led the Judging Team, taking breaks in reading for summer family trips to Belgium, Luxembourg and Colombia. All were impressed with the caliber of this year’s work and, after much compromise, selected 60 Finalists — less than 1% of all submissions — to send to the final judges, a group of celebrated travel experts and journalists from the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).
Left with the task of selecting the first, second and third place winners and 25 Honorable Mentions, SATW formed a committee of six judges. Representing SATW were: Kit Bernardi, who writes about everything from travel to family fun for Midwest Living magazine, Chicago Parent magazine and newspapers nationwide; Annette Thompson, a writer of travel stories about the American South for Southern Living magazine; Kate Pocock, who, with 29 years of travel experience under her belt, is the author for Fodor’s Around Toronto with Kids; Roger Rapoport, the publisher for RDR Books and the I Should Have Stayed Home series; John Macdonald, a former travel editor for The Seattle Times and now a freelancer who spends his days working in his houseboat; and Michael Verdon, a veteran travel freelancer who, in his 25 years on the job, has been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines across the country.
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 SATW’s initiatives are geared toward children and teenagers to encourage and stimulate students’ interest in geography and the world they live in. On behalf of all the judges, I want to thank the applicants for entertaining, educating and inspiring us with their travel blogs, and hope you’ll read the work of other 2009 Scholarship applicants on www.travelBIGO.com.
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