The economics major is one of 18 students and young professionals chosen nationwide this year for the prestigious award, which funds a year of study and professional development in Asia.
This week, Jordan Walker was announced as Occidental College’s 18th Luce Scholar since the program was initiated in 1974. Through the award, he will be placed in a major Asian city, connected to important institutions and people in his areas of interest, and given a year of financial and administrative support to cultivate his career. He plans to spend the year studying transportation and urban planning.
The naming of the 2021-22 class of Luce Scholars concludes a rigorous, three-month selection process—including five interviews and a written application—with applicants from more than 70 top colleges and universities. Walker was one of 18 chosen from among 164 semi-finalists, and this year’s candidate pool and final cohort were the most diverse in the program’s history. Placements in Asia will be confirmed this spring, and the new Luce Scholars will undertake intensive summer language training in their individual placement country following an orientation this summer.
“The words I keep coming back to are euphoric and surreal,” Walker says in response to the news. “The support I received from Oxy staff (Jennifer Locke, Keane Tarrosa), current faculty (Malek Moazzam-Doulat, Diana Ngo), retired faculty (Dale Wright), and an alumnus who is a 1995 Luce Scholar (Ashby Kinch) made attaining this award feel like my Oxy community mobilized to ensure that this happen—and I could not be more grateful.”
A native of New York City, Walker is ultimately interested in a career of civil service, and he plans to attend graduate school to expand his understanding of public transportation. His ideal role, he says, is to one day lead a large transportation agency through a massive expansion and reorganization.
I intend to learn as much as I can about how we can reprioritize our cities for people over cars by building effective transportation systems. My ultimate goal is to work toward reimagining an American society where owning a personal car is optional because public transit is the best option.”
–Jordan Walker ’21
“My hope is that I am placed somewhere in Southeast Asia, primarily because of the rich multicultural societies that remind me of my home in New York City,” Walker says. “I look forward to developing an understanding of cultures unfamiliar to me that will contextualize the work I hope to get done. During my Luce year, I intend to learn as much as I can about how we can reprioritize our cities for people over cars by building effective transportation systems. My ultimate goal is to work toward reimagining an American society where owning a personal car is optional because public transit is the best option.”
The Luce Scholars Program aims to provide young Americans who have great leadership potential, but little previous exposure to Asia, with an immersive experience through which they can learn to “be comfortable being uncomfortable.” The professional, cultural, and linguistic challenges they encounter are at the heart of the Luce experience and help the Scholars grow personally and professionally. They develop a sophisticated understanding of a dynamic region that is critical to America’s future and gain a new perspective of the world and America.
"Jordan is brilliant, deeply moral without being ideological, and has an amazing capacity to see how ideals and practical possibilities for their realization can and should be negotiated,” he says. “From my earliest conversations with him, I just kept thinking, I sure hope he ends up in a national and international leadership position. It’s a lot to ask and there can be a heavy personal price to pay for taking up that leadership responsibility. I’m just so grateful that he has chosen this path, for all our sakes.”
Assistant Professor of Economics Diana Ngos echoes these sentiments.
“I have been so fortunate to see Jordan grow from an enthusiastic but hesitant young economics student, always persevering with humor through microeconomic theory and data analysis, into someone who is a thoughtful researcher and mature analyst today,” she says. “I am so proud that he will be representing Oxy with his undying commitment to underserved communities of color and passion for evidence-based policy and excellence. We all wish him safe and expedient travels and the chance to eat all of the delicious food of Southeast Asia in person.”
During his time at Occidental, Walker has served as vice president of financial affairs for the Associated Students of Occidental College, director/vice president of the Blyth Fund, and a member of strategic College committees related to issues of finance and diversity. He also participated in the Peer Health Exchange program and worked as a tour guide for the Admission Office.
The Luce Scholars Program is a nationally competitive fellowship program launched by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974 to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society. The program provides stipends, language training, and individualized professional placement in Asia for 15-18 Luce Scholars each year, and welcomes applications from college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals in a variety of fields who have had limited exposure to Asia.