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February 11, 2010
By Natalie Savidge
An essay by Andrea Tammy Johnston, a senior psychology major at the University of Nevada, Reno, was recently judged the best in the country through a national scholarship competition. The competition invited essays addressing a national problem and proposing a solid solution, serious enough for consideration by Congress.
The competition was sponsored by a new non-partisan, interactive Web site project called Our Voice Our Country. Johnston, also an assistant teacher at Sierra Vista Elementary School in Reno, won the second national scholarship competition over 189 other entries, earning a $1,000 award toward college expenses.
In her entry, Johnston proposes federally-funded ‘educational enterprise zones’ where special incentives would enable construction of multiple hubs of homes/apartments and businesses to surround schools — all coexisting as cohesive, self-sustaining communities. Each would provide their low-income residents with education, housing, employment and stores in which to purchase staple items and more.
“What I think is unique about the Web site is that it’s a great opportunity for students as well as professionals to let their voices be heard and get things done in this country,” Johnston said. “I’m thrilled to have won such an award, but much more important to me is that this idea be presented to people empowered to make it a reality. If at all possible, I would like to be a part of making it happen for people.”
“A quality university experience encourages students to be active, engaged citizens who contribute to solutions and help make the world a better place,” said Shannon Ellis, the University’s vice president for student services. “We are proud of Andrea’s accomplishment and the initiative and creativity it demonstrates.”
The panel determining the winner included Mindy Fullilove, Columbia University professor and noted author and researcher; Charles Bass; a former 12-year Congressman from New Hampshire; and Brian Nickerson, a public policy expert serving as a dean at Iona College. View Johnston’s video about her proposal.
Asking participants to identify an urgent problem and nominate a “problem solver” able to present an achievable solution, is the central activity of the non-profit site, www.ourvoiceourcountry.org, created with the intention to help millions of Americans become more active, effective citizens. A total of 754 competition entries were submitted since June, from every state in America.
The organization was developed with input and guidance from judges, professors, lawyers, students, senior citizens, soldiers, workers, current and retired politicians, and well-known figures including Walter Cronkite, Yolanda King, Joanne Woodward and Ruby Dee.