2020 National Rice Month scholarship contest sets records

• By Lesley Dixon •

national rice month logoBefore the panel of judges watched the first video in this year’s National Rice Month Scholarship Video Contest, the 2020 entries made an impression just on their sheer number — a record-breaking 107.

“Since 2016, when the contest went solely to video and opened up to all high school seniors from one of the six major rice-producing states, the most entries received was 86,” said Michael Klein, USA Rice vice president of communications, marketing and domestic promotion. “With most schools going to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were concerned ‘online video burnout’ could put a damper on entries. We even wondered whether a lot of kids would be deferring college due to COVID and take a year off from applying for scholarships.”

Obviously, that was not the case. With a new sponsor, American Commodity Co., and an increase in scholarship prize money, the entries came pouring in.

The grand prize winner is Molly Ellis from McKinney Boyd High School in McKinney, Texas, for her documentary-style video. She wove  a narrative history of Katy, Texas, from its origins as a rural rice farming community to a growing city that still features rice dryers, street signs named after rice farmers and an annual rice festival that celebrates the town’s heritage.

“I’ve always visited Katy and driven through the farmland around it but never put together why those rice dryers were there,” Ellis said. “I didn’t even know they grew rice in Texas. I just thought of it as food before doing research for this contest. I knew that rice influenced a lot of cultures, but I didn’t realize it could really build a whole city and draw people there and create a whole economy.”

As grand prize winner, Ellis will receive a $5,000 scholarship. The $3,000 second prize went to Simon Portillo Perez from Lawndale, California, and the third prize award of $2,000 went to another Texas student, Aniya Misher Allison from El Paso.

USA Rice also awarded three $500 honorable mention prizes to Kayllen Barnette from Gridley, California; Jordan Mackie from Austin, Texas; and Anna Overton from Pantego, Texas.

This article originally appeared in USA Rice’s “The Daily.”

Click to view the 6 winners