From Du Bois Scholar to Rhodes Scholar! Jordan Thomas: The Path to Academic Success

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The W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Institute is proud to announce that Jordan Thomas, Newark native, 2013 Talented Tenth graduate and current Public and International Affairs major at Princeton University, is one of thirty-two recipients awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. The Rhodes Scholarship is an international post-graduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford in England. Jordan joins the ranks of Carla Peterman, Du Bois Alumnus who in 1999 received the Rhodes Scholarship and attained a Master’s of Science in Environmental Change & Management as well as a Master’s in Business Administration from Oxford. She is currently the first African-American female appointed as lead Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission.

As for Jordan’s path, the Rhodes Scholarship will also allow him to pursue his future goals and impact the world as a whole. After graduating from Princeton University, Jordan will study at Oxford University for two years. He hopes to attain a Master’s in Philosophy in Evidence Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation. Additionally, his time at Oxford will permit him the chance to move beyond his comfort zone and help him reflect on his values in a different country. Additionally, the expansive network of global change agents he will encounter will permit him to effectively reach his dreams. Following Oxford, Jordan will return to the United States to attend law school for three years. After law school, Jordan deigns to practice law in a non-profit or government agency in order to gain experience and continue connecting with the community. Long-term, Jordan seeks to run for public office and utilize legal advocacy in conjunction with policy advocacy to positively impact people’s socioeconomic circumstances. He wants to improve equal opportunity and social mobility as well as eliminate inequalities and disparities that affect society. According to Jordan, “[Because] these are weighty high level goals that require a particular plan and help... the Rhodes Scholarship will really arm me with the network, skills and ability to try to chase my dreams and really have that long-term fundamental global impact I want.”

Jordan’s forward thinking and desire to positively affect the community did not start in college, it started when he was younger growing up in the city of Newark, New Jersey. His background allowed him to form lasting and deep bonds with the people in his school and community. Jordan stated, “I saw how the people close to me were struggling and trying to make ends meet. Seeing the struggle, positivity, commitment and energy of these people inspired me.” Jordan went on to join the Newark Board of Education, which allowed him to work with district officials, gain an administrative perspective on the educational system, and work to align schools with the positive direction that the community desired. Through this work, Jordan was inspired to further serve these people and the community at large through his education.

Jordan attended University High School and chose to enhance his education by attending the W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars Summer Institute. The Summer Institute is a leadership development organization for high-achieving adolescent and secondary students. Students spend four to five weeks in residence at Princeton University engaging in rigorous university level courses in the student’s area of interest. As a sophomore in high school in 2012, Jordan took courses in the Engineering Academy. Then in 2013, he returned to the program as a Talented Tenth Scholar- successfully graduating from the program.

Participating in the Summer Institute had its challenges for Jordan but also prepared him for college and beyond. “The most challenging part about the Du Bois program was adjusting to the level and rigor. Even having went to a competitive and high performing school, it was still a shock to see the level of sophistication with which being taught by professors. It was very similar to college. They didn’t hold back. They approached the curriculum, lectures and exams like in college. Professors treated us like adults-college students and gave us the tools needed to do college level work…Once you did hone your skills and adjust to it, it paid dividends once you got to college…I was used to receiving work on a different level-used to engaging in deep discussions and really having to immerse myself in material to be able to participate in class.”

The mentorship and character building aspect of the program, carried out by the residence staff was also a major benefit of the Institute for Jordan. The residence staff is composed of undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students with a strong desire to connect with students and impact them in their personal and academic growth both during the program and after the program concludes. According to Jordan, “Having the opportunity to work with so many successful young inspiring scholars…interact with them on a day-to-day basis and learn from them …ultimately… was as a source of inspiration. They’re still a part of my network today. I never hesitate to reach out whenever I need something from them. They never hesitate to offer guidance in whatever way that they can.”

Ultimately, the Du Bois Institute was one of the many catalysts that motivated Jordan to pursue the Rhodes Scholarship. The Institute encouraged him to pay it forward and think critically about how he could impact the world around him. From his perspective, it is important to navigate the world constantly evaluating what is wrong with society and being motivated enough to want to change it. For him, understanding that people have the power and capability to change it is paramount. Jordan then passionately connected the Du Bois program and the Rhodes Scholarship when he stated, “Using that framework and mindset that the Du Bois academy instills in us of being frustrated with inequalities and doing whatever we can to address them, allows me to identify the Rhodes scholarship as the perfect opportunity and honor that would give me the ability to chase my dreams and have that fundamental impact.”

Thus, as a Du Bois Alumnus and current Rhodes Scholar, Jordan leaves a piece of advice for current Du Bois participants who most assuredly have substantial goals of their own. “Always believe in yourself and never doubt the power of the support structure around you.” The Du Bois program helps students see what they thought they were never capable of doing. It also aids in the realization that they have the support structure to do it. Remain strong when facing challenges and adversity outside of your comfort zone with the mindset that you can be successful. Jordan then summed up his positive advice by stating, “Simply understand that with the proper support, proper motivation and hard work, you can do whatever you set your mind too, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!”

Written By: Crystal Watson, Program Manager
Special Thanks to Jordan Thomas.