Jordan Thomas is a recent graduate of Princeton University, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa this past spring. At Princeton, Thomas concentrated in Public and International Affairs and received certificates in Portuguese Language and Culture and African American Studies. He is currently a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford and has deferred his enrollment into Yale Law School until 2020.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was in preschool, we actually had this activity where we would gather in a circle and the teacher would go around asking what we wanted to be when we grew up. Every time, without fail, I would proudly exclaim, “I want to be the President of the United States of America!”
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
One notable course was Introduction to Microeconomics, taken in the spring of my freshman year. Although early intro-level courses are easy to overlook when thinking about “transformative” impact, it is astounding just how much influence they have in shaping the entire undergraduate experience. Not only did this course expand my knowledge of microeconomic principles and methods, but it introduced me to a pivotal mentor in Professor Elizabeth Bogan, and it opened my eyes to social and economic disparities that I have now devoted my life to addressing.
You have interned in Portugal, volunteered in Brazil, and studied in the United Kingdom. How have these international experiences impacted you?
I credit my international experiences with inducing a concern for inequality and human rights on a global scale. While in the United Kingdom in 2015, I saw Westminster, and the London Eye, but I also saw tens of thousands of anti-austerity protestors marching through Parliament Square, concerned that austerity measures would harm low-income families. As a volunteer in the favela neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympic Games, I saw Copacabana, Christ the Redeemer, and tens of thousands of tourists gathered to see the world’s greatest athletes compete, but I also saw a population of indigent residents completely excluded from the festivities.
Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and an arts & sciences education are important in today’s society?
Both in the United States and abroad, we find ourselves in the midst of a particularly troubling era of fake news and information warfare, an era in which the forces of intolerance and demagoguery threaten the virtues of open-mindedness and reason. Now more than ever there is a need for an arts and sciences education that broadens the perspectives of its students and equips them with critical thinking, complex reasoning, and social consciousness. Thankfully, we have individuals and organizations like Phi Beta Kappa that continue to champion these ideals, but there is still more work to be done.
You have been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for graduate study at the University of Oxford this fall. What do you hope to learn through this opportunity, and how does this relate to your professional goals?
At Princeton, I focused much of my academic coursework on poverty, inequality, and social mobility. I am particularly interested in the role that law and public policy play in expanding access and opportunity for disadvantaged populations. I also have a growing interest in social entrepreneurship and the ways in which the power of business can be harnessed for social good.
At Oxford, I plan to expand on these interests by studying Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation – a degree that emphasizes critical analysis and empirical approaches to social problems. Above all, I am looking forward to interacting with and learning from the remarkable network of leaders and change agents who will be my peers. Each year, the Rhodes Trust aims to select a class of approximately 100 Scholars who are motivated to engage with global challenges, and then assists them in merging their passions with the tools and strategies needed to reach the next level of leadership.
What book are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts? Anything you'd recommend?
I recently revisited Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life
by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. In the book, Burnett and Evans show readers how “design thinking” – the tactics and reasoning methods used by professional designers – can help build a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling.
Regarding podcasts, my personal favorites are those that either foster new learning and critical thinking on an important topic or that share valuable personal development tips. For the former, I often listen to TED Radio Hour
, Stuff You Should Know
, and Phi Beta Kappa's very own Smarty Pants
. For the latter, I enjoy The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes
and Optimal Living Daily
. I find that listening to these podcasts during my morning routine can be a great way to devote some time to learning and self-improvement and to feel productive early in the day.