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Written by Ray Hall   

James Randi Educational Foundation

Critical Thinking Educational Scholarship Awards   




The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) awards academic scholarships each year. Scholarships are awarded to deserving students in potentially any field of study, one at the graduate level and a second at the undergraduate level. A committee composed of a physicist, a social scientist, a physician, and a professor of philosophy selects the winners.

The criteria for awarding the scholarships includes the applicant’s academic potential, current or past contributions to fostering critical thinking, and most importantly, their plan for building critical thinking skills into their chosen field of study.

2011-2012 Winners


Narine E. Wandrey
Undergraduate Award

Ms. Wandrey is starting her second year at the University of Dallas working towards a BS in Biology with a Mathematics emphasis. She is active in the Engineering Geologists’ club, an officer in her university science and math clubs, and she has performed geophysics fieldwork in New Mexico and Colorado; climactic, hydrologic, and data-mapping studies in Texas; and neurochemistry research at Louisiana State University. As a community volunteer in central and south Texas, she finds time to promote citizen-science outreach activities.


Monique Marinakos
Graduate Award

Ms. Marinakos has been in the entertainment industry for nearly three decades. She holds a B.A. in Film from Bowling Green State University, and has worked as a technician in Boston, Chicago, New York and Orlando. She possesses skills in pyrotechnics, lighting and scenic painting. For Act II, Ms. Marinakos is perusing a Law degree at Barry University, where she is among the top 20 in her class. She writes for the Environmental Journal, volunteers for the SPCA, continues to work as a stage technician, and externs for the Orange County Attorney’s Office, where she is currently assisting on an initiative to stream-line environmental legislation. It is her goal to write future legislation that integrates a balanced, respectful relationship between scientists and lawmakers.






2010-2011 Winners



Dahnair lutrell

Patrick Neal Russell Julius
Undergraduate Award

Mr. Julius is a fourth-year undergraduate in cognitive science at the University of Michigan. He was accepted to Columbia and is attending Michigan on a Dean's Scholarship for excellence in science and creative writing. He has studied physics, evolutionary biology, linguistics, neuroscience, social psychology, behavioral economics, and game theory. In the future he plans to write books, spend several years in humanitarian work, and eventually become a professor and researcher at a major university. He is also considering teaching or consulting to improve the quality of elementary and secondary school education, particularly in science, math, and critical thinking generally

Jasleen Grewal
Undergraduate Award

Ms. Grewal is an international student from India, presently pursuing studies in Canada. She is currently in her first year of post secondary studies at Kwantlen University in the Associate of Science program. Within the next two years she will transfer to Simon Fraser University and begin their Joint degree program in Computer Science and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. She is extremely passionate about biotechnology and bioinformatics, and intends to build a future career that entails researching efficient solutions to epidemics and food production. In addition she hopes to help eradicate the prevalent superstitions and fears people harbor regarding genetically engineered products.

Nani Dahniar
Graduate Award

Ms. Nani is an International Ford Foundation Fellow from South Borneo, Indonesia. Supported by Ford Fellowship, she is continuing her education on masters program in Mathematics and Science Education at The University of Texas at Austin. She started her carrier as a physics teacher in KPS Middle School Balikpapan. With her colleagues, she designed a science syllabus that focused on problems solving and decision making, assisted students in critical thinking and showed them how science could be so simple in explaining mystical occurrences. She intends to use her study in a continuing effort to promote scientific methods in the classroom by maximizing her school resources.

Andrew Luttrell
Graduate Award

Mr. Luttrell has a BA in Psychology and has just begun as a student in the Social Psychology Ph.D. program at the Ohio State University. As an undergraduate, he participated in his school’s speech team, winning awards for speeches given on topics such as the importance of science education and the need for skepticism when evaluating evidence for psychic phenomena. In addition, he completed an honors thesis on the psychological predictors of whether or not people engage in critical thought on controversial issues. His future research will continue in these themes, and he looks forward to more opportunities to promote skeptical thought and science education.

2009-2010 Winners


Stephen Folmsbee

Mr. Folmsbee is an honors student and senior undergraduate at the University of Kansas. He is majoring in Neurobiology and plans to attend medical school. He has an impressive 4.0 GPA and boasts an extensive list of honors and awards. He is an active skeptic, promoting critical thinking and evidence-based medicine via writing a column in his university paper. He is passionate about continuing to advocate skepticism and science to his peers.


James Lippard

Mr. Lippard holds an MA in philosophy/cognitive science and has been accepted to the Arizona State University's PhD program in "Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology", where he will research how the Internet spreads information and misinformation, including how people make judgments about trust, reliability, and the reputation of Internet sources.  A simple web search on James' name will pop up years of his writings and scholarly efforts in combating pseudoscience and promoting reason. He has a long history of active skepticism, including founding the Phoenix Skeptics and serving as its Executive Director.


Mehnaz Jehan

Ms. Jehan will be working on a PhD relating to the field of Educational Leadership at Pennsylvania State University. She intends to use her degree in her continuing effort to improve education for girls and women in her home country of Pakistan. In her own words (excerpted from her application essay) she will use her PhD to "work at a decision making level to provide optimal opportunities in education for women and girls in my region (Northern Pakistan) so that most of the myths related to their roles and education are removed to the maximum."


Jay Tarnoff

Mr. Tarnoff holds a BS in Psychology, a BS in Human Development and Family Studies, and a BA in Religious Studies, all from Penn State.  In addition he obtained an MEd in School Psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia where he continues his research and work on a PhD in that field. The university has accepted his PhD dissertation proposal entitled "An Investigation into the Role of Confirmation Bias in the Evaluation of Informal Reasoning Fallacies" which relates nicely to the JREF mission component of increasing our understanding of how people mistakenly come to believe weird things.

2008-2009 Winners

Pavel Petkov

Mr. Petkov is a PhD student in literature with a solid history of academic achievement at the University of Veliko Turnovo in Bulgaria. The JREF was very impressed by his outreach activities, including his instigation of a Critical Thinking club on his campus where there has been no history of such skeptical clubs in Bulgaria. The goal of this club is “… to make critical thinkers out of as many students as possible… [to] discuss and illustrate the principles of the scientific method of dealing with the world and explaining reality [and] focus on giving rational explanations to seemingly paranormal phenomena.” Petkov’s passion is to push back against the onslaught of paranormal thinking that has taken over since the fall of communism by initiating a skeptical movement on his campus.

Tamas Borbely

Mr. Borbely is working on a BS degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex in England. Borbely’s goals for the scholarship include producing a presentation to give at the Undergraduate Conference of the British Psychological Society concerning the psychology of irrational belief as well as other forms of skeptical outreach and activism. As he stated in his scholarship application, “Although there has been substantial research into the cognitive fallacies and biases, social influences and personality characteristics that help perpetuate false beliefs, relatively little attention has been focused on how these principles apply to superstition, belief in the paranormal, and religion.” With the help of the scholarship, Borbely will be able to continue his investigation into these topics.

 Joseph Meyer

Mr. Meyer holds Masters degrees in psychology from The College of William and Mary in Virginia and Columbia University in New York, and he is pursuing his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Boston University. A goal of his doctoral research will be "to apply methodological scrutiny to studies declaring by fiat that religious beliefs are good for mental health." Meyer’s stellar academic history in both his undergraduate and graduate work clearly show that his pursuit of this research will yield interesting insight.

Alan Jern

Mr. Jern recently finished a BS degree in computer science with an overall 3.9 GPA from UCLA, and he plans to use the scholarship funds towards graduate school in cognitive science at Carnegie Mellon. He will investigate why logical reasoning seems to be easier for some people rather than others, and investigate educational techniques that can bridge this gap.

2007-2008 Winners

Matthew Dentith

Matthew is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Auckland. He is writing his doctoral dissertation on Conspiracy Theories, and how people process CTs, and the critical thinking processes involved properly assessing them.

Catherine Holloway

Catherine is an undergraduate at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She has a passion to popularize science, and as a freshman in college, began writing a weekly column in her college newspaper called “The Scientific Skeptic.” She is the editor of an undergraduate science journal. In high school, she was the editor of her school paper, publishing on hoaxes, and organized a “science camp” during spring break as an educational opportunity for other high school students. She wants to become either a science journalist or a science teacher, and we feel this young person has a very bright future and great potential to advance the JREF mission.

Robin Zebrowski

Robin is currently working on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Oregon. Her topic is “We are Plastic: Human Variability and the Myth of the Standard Body.” This has to do with a number of concepts, and embraces critical thinking issues in terms of how people think about themselves, and how they can deceive themselves. She has written a great deal, and been a teacher. She has taught courses on critical thinking and logical fallacies 7 times so far, and is a volunteer at the University’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History. She has written JREF to share the role this award played in her career.

Whitney Webster

Whitney graduated from High School this year, and is starting her studies this fall at Texas Tech University. This young lady has a passion for critical thinking, and has overcome a great many challenges to reach college. I think she has a remarkable potential we are delighted to further.