The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 17, 2013

GAC alum wins New York Times travel contest

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

— Gustavus Adolphus College is known for being a service-learning heavy institution, where students are encouraged to not just learn about global issues, but become involved.

That turned out to be the perfect fit for Erin Luhmann, a 2008 graduate, who credits her time at Gustavus for feeding her love of development work and joining the choir of voices raising awareness about social justice issues worldwide.

Luhmann’s passion for journalism and past experiences abroad are part of the reason she was selected as the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s “Win-a-Trip” contest winner out of 700 applicants.

In Kristof’s blog post about choosing Luhmann, he said the trip will take place in summer or fall and could be to such locations as Congo, South Sudan and Mali. During the trip, Luhmann — pursuing a master’s in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — will blog for The New York Times website and produce videos, as well as update social media sites.

“I’m excited,” she said.

Kristof began the contest in 2006 when he offered to take a university student on a reporting trip to a neglected area in Africa. The goal has been to encourage student interest in issues related to global poverty.

“Frankly, it’s always frustrating as a journalist that global health and nutrition don’t get more attention, and I figured that a contest would help arouse some buzz,” he wrote in his post.

Luhmann didn’t need the contest to stir interest in such topics. After graduating from Gustavus, she went on for two years to teach English in Kyrgyzstan with the Peace Corps. She has also traveled to Egypt, Ukraine, Jordan, Ireland, Russia and China.

Luhmann had been following Kristof’s writing for years, and friends had sent her the information for his contest previously.

“People were pushing it my way, and I had my eye on it every year,” she said.

As a graduate student, she still qualified and said she was looking for a capstone experience for her journalism degree, so this year was the perfect timing to enter. The contest also combined her two passions of development work at the ground level, working with people, and writing.

“Merging those two fields is my dream job,” she said.

Luhmann had no idea there would be so many applicants, and she was surprised to learn she’d won.

“I don’t think I’ve wanted anything that bad,” she said.

Kristof had great things to write about Luhmann in his post.

“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,” Kristof posted. “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.”

Luhmann said she plans to pursue a career in international journalism, focusing on social justice issues.