Stories / Foundation News, Scholarships

The 2018 National Scholars Are Focused On a Better Food System

From eradicating hunger to creating better school food, these ten students are fighting for change

JBF Editors

October 04, 2018


Volunteers in the Beard House kitchen Photo by Jeff Gurwin
Photo: Jeff Gurwin

Today we're proud to announce the recipients of our 2018 National Scholars Program. Established in 2016, the National Scholars Program provides scholarships of $20,000 each to ten food-focused individuals who plan to pursue an education in the culinary arts, food studies, agriculture, hospitality management, and related fields.  

To ensure regional diversity, one awardee is selected from each of the ten geographic regions defined by the James Beard Foundation Awards*.

The 2018 JBF National Scholars Program recipients are:

  • Azziza Robinson (Great Lakes; Markham, IL): Robinson will be working toward a Master’s Degree in Food Studies at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. She will focus on connecting rural and urban agricultural communities in order to address food access and food sovereignty in those areas.
  • Michal Matejczuk (Mid-Atlantic; Washington, D.C.): Matejczuk is an MPS candidate in International Agriculture and Rural Development at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. In his studies, he is researching and developing new strategies that can maximize smallholder farmer food productions as a means to identify solutions for global food insecurity. Matejczuk’s involvement in the Peace Corps (Uganda ’16 - ’18) demonstrates his resilience and commitment to international development.
  • Ben Rengstorf (Midwest; Minneapolis): Rengstorf will be pursuing a Master of Science Degree in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT. Rengstorf plans to use the degree, along with his background in culinary arts and public education, to develop a culinary and food systems program for the students of Minneapolis Public Schools.
  • Emily Larose (Northeast; Cambridge, MA): LaRose is attending the Harvard School of Public Health with the goal of exploring solutions to eradicate hunger worldwide. LaRose is inspired by domestic and global food programs in her pursuit to deliver nutritious food to all.
  • Amy Blom (Northwest; Bellingham, WA): Blom will focus on expanding her work with experiential cooking education for children at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. She will be a member of the School Based Childhood Obesity Prevention Lab at CSU, and explore the links between environmental health and human health.
  • Craig J. Rapp (South; Winter Springs, FL): Rapp will build upon his current Ph.D research at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL, which focuses on finding ways to improve restaurant employee wellbeing. With this research, Rapp combines his passion for the restaurant industry with his desire to help people and work with others.
  • Kendall Vanderslice (Southeast; Durham, NC): Vanderslice will be studying food journalism at Duke University in Durham, NC, in order to tell stories that combine food and theology. In the coming year she plans to launch a podcast that tackles the issues of food justice and its complexities. 
  • Natalia Rodriguez Ramirez (Southwest; El Paso, TX): Rodriguez Ramirez will attend the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, after she returns from studying Spanish cuisine in Seville. At the CIA, she will complete her Associate in Occupational Studies degree in baking and pastry, with the goal of eventually earning a Bachelor’s Degree and returning to Mexico to reinforce her connection to her roots through gastronomy.
  • Sarah Klopatek (West; Woodland, CA): Klopatek is currently in the third year of her Ph.D. program in Animal Biology at the University of California, Davis, specializing in Beef Cattle Sustainability. Currently her research focuses on the environmental, social, and economic impacts of varying grassfed and grain-fed beef production systems. After obtaining her Ph.D., Klopatek intends to utilize her scientific foundation and knowledge of beef cattle production to aid in ameliorating the agricultural education barriers across consumers, producers, and policy makers to help ensure food security and sustainability across the country. 
  • Jaylen Downer (New York; New York City): Downer will build on his interest in food science at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. His experience with Cornell’s Extension Hydroponics Program has influenced his desire to explore new and innovative approaches to agriculture and food growth.

* Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, New York City, Northeast, Northwest, South, Southeast, Southwest, and West

The National Scholars Program is a part of the larger James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program, which is awarding over $600,000 in financial aid in 2018. 

Learn more about our National Scholars program and other James Beard Foundation scholarships.

Read the full press release here.