New York Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof announced Thursday that Gustavus Adolphus College alumna Erin Luhmann ’08 is the winner of his annual Win a Trip Contest.
Every year since 2006, Kristof has selected someone to accompany him on a reporting trip to neglected areas of Africa. Kristof says that he started the contest to increase student interest in issues related to global poverty. Luhmann will be the eighth student to travel abroad with Kristof and was chosen from more than 700 applicants.
“I’ve had my eye on this contest since it’s been around, and I had friends who were always telling me that I should go for it,” Luhmann said. “I just felt the timing was right this year. I can’t imagine I would ever receive a better mentoring experience than the one I’m going to experience with Nicholas, who is someone I really admire as a journalist.”
Luhmann is certainly no stranger to global poverty. After earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Gustavus, she spent 27 months in the Peace Corps teaching secondary English in the mountainous and landlocked country of Kyrgyzstan, located in Central Asia. According to CIA World Factbook, 37 percent of country’s population lived below the poverty line in 2011.
Near the end of her service in Kyrgyzstan, ethnic violence broke out in the southern part of the country between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. The lack of quality journalism during the riots had a profound impact on Luhmann and ultimately solidified her current career path.
“It was really frustrating being in a country where the citizens didn’t have access to communication tools and good journalism,” Luhmann said. “People were misinformed and it had a large impact on the community and society. Watching that occur really propelled me into journalism school and left no question after that point that was what I wanted to do.”
Luhmann is currently a journalism graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a special interest in international media development and social justice reporting. One of the most rewarding experiences for her during graduate school has been freelancing for the International Women’s Media Foundation, a network of thousands of female journalists working internationally to elevate the status of women in the media.
She is on track to graduate this spring and will then take the 10-14 day trip to Africa with Kristof sometime this summer. She is also hoping to get back to Central Asia at some point during the summer months and will then start looking for a full-time job.
“I’ve been abroad before, so this isn’t a first-time experience for me in that regard,” Luhmann said. “But I’ve been preparing for a reporting opportunity like this for years and know that I will learn a lot about journalism, about a new region and culture, and how to best communicate issues of global health and poverty.”
In a blog post on The New York Times website, Kristof had this to say about Luhmann: “Erin is a lovely writer, blogger and video producer who plans on a career as a foreign correspondent, ultimately aspiring to help train overseas journalists to reach a global audience,” he wrote. “She’s deeply committed to amplify overseas voices and encourage Americans to engage with important global news stories. She’s also a hard worker: When I called her up with the news that she had won, she immediately asked for a reading list and inquired whether she should start studying French in case we visit a French-speaking country.”
The destination of Luhmann and Kristof’s trip is undecided at this point, but Kristof mentioned Congo, South Sudan, and Mali as possibilities.
Below is a video that Luhmann submitted to Kristof as part of her application:
Luhmann is an avid blogger and you can read her work at erinluhmann.com
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin