Longhorn Wins 2016 Scholarship

A Longhorn has been named the 2016 recipient of the Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Award. Jake Schmidt of the University of Texas at Austin will receive $1,000 from the scholarship contest sponsor, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Education Foundation.

The check will be presented in a ceremony Saturday, June 25, during the 40th annual NSNC conference, June 24-26 at the Hotel Angeleno in Los Angeles.


  1. Jake Schmidt
  2. Rae Jefferson
  3. Troy Okum
Jake Schmidt
Jake Schmidt

The judge, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. of The Miami Herald, said of Jake Schmidt that his “writing was smart, lively and inviting, with a welcome pinch of snark.”

Screening judge Suzette Martinez Standring said, “Jake Schmidt had my attention whether he was writing about Modafinil, situational awareness or carrying guns.  Always engaging, witty and fresh.”

Screening judge Ben Pollock said: “His pieces were reported (Modafinil) or researched (Unplug and Guns). He wrote with confidence and wit. The Guns piece had exactly the right touch of humor.”

The screening judges narrowed the entries to five this year. They never gave their 1-2-3 choices to each other, just listed them alphabetically when conferring. Then they sent the best five, also alphabetically, to Pitts to make the final decision.

Schmidt is completing his sophomore year and is a physics and aerospace engineering major. Here are Schmidt’s winning sample columns, first published in The Daily Texan where he has been an opinion columnist:

Taking the red ribbon, Rae Jefferson “combined passion for her subjects with a contrarian intellect that consistently refused to take the easy or predictable route,” Pitts said.

Jefferson is completing her senior year at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She is a journalism major and has been copy desk chief at the Baylor Lariat.

Standring said Jefferson’s three column samples “impart a higher level of insight than common sloganeering. Hers is the fresh angle, and her gift is to call upon the inherent goodness of the reader to journey through her views.”

Pollock said of Jefferson: “She writes with care. Her opinions are sincere, and that is hard to convey.”

Here are Jefferson’s sample columns:

Earning the yellow ribbon, Troy Okum “wrote logical analyses that built with methodical precision toward compelling conclusions,” Pitts said.

Okum is completing his junior year at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. He lists his major as communication/journalism-print with sociology as a secondary major and has been news editor of the campus newspaper The Slate.

Standring said: “I applaud Troy Okum for clarity in his columns.”

Pollock said: “The landlord piece indeed is maturely written, and his student audience would appreciate it. Student Senate is campus news and well-researched.”

Here are Okum’s sample columns:

• • •

The contest for the Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Award is open to undergraduates (including seniors) who write bylined general interest, editorial-page or specialized (humor, sports, business, arts etc.) columns that are published in the print or online editions of college newspapers, i.e., one whose main circulation is on a university or college campus. There is no entry fee. Multiple entries from campus papers are welcomed, but only one entry for each student newspaper columnist is permitted.

The second-place prize is called the Laurence Cohen Presidential Award, named after the NSNC president who died in summer 2012. Zaslow is the best-selling author and Wall Street Journal columnist who died in February of that year. Besides first place, the overall contest is named in Zaz’s memory.

• • •

This article was first published in the May 2016 edition of The Columnist, the membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.


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