for National Geographic News
For the past three years, San Diego, California, has played host to an annual symposium to mark the Kyoto Prizes. Somewhat akin to the Nobel Prizes, the awards are presented by the Japan-based Inamori Foundation to honor scientific, cultural, and spiritual achievement.
The annual symposia gather prizewinners, scholars, and the general public to discuss the laureates' achievements.
Yet as recently as six months ago San Diego businessman and philanthropist Martin Burnham had never heard of the awards or the foundation behind them. "I was almost completely unaware of the Kyoto Prizes," he said.
Burnham would set out to change that. After a little research "it was obvious to me that the Kyoto Prizes are second in the world only to the Nobels, as far as importance and prestige are concerned," Burnham said.
Liking what he saw, Burnham joined a committee hosting a gala dinner for the annual Kyoto Laureate Symposium in San Diego.
Seeking to boost civic awareness of the prizes elsewhere in their community, Burnham and his committee co-chairs established the Kyoto Youth Scholar Discovery Awards.
The awards offer college scholarships to area high school students in San Diego, California, and nearby Tijuana, Mexico. To compete, students were required to study the lives and works of one of three current Kyoto Prize laureates and write an essay. Winners would each receive college scholarships worth U.S. $10,000.
Shayla Mulvey, a senior at the University of San Diego High School who received a scholarship for her essay on Bunraku puppet theater maestro Tamao Yoshida (see related story), said the plan worked. She first learned of the Kyoto Prizes from a television advertisement for the essay contest.
"Everyone in my school now knows about it," Mulvey said. The senior will put the $10,000 award money toward her education at Princeton University in New Jersey, where she was accepted in December as part of the early-decision process.
The inaugural essay contest winners were presented their awards on March 4 at the opening ceremony for the Kyoto Laureate Symposium. In addition to receiving the awards, the students met with the laureates they had written aboutexcept puppeteer Tamao. Unable to make the trip, he sent representatives of his Bunraku puppetry troupe.
Ian Goodfellow, a senior at San Dieguito Academy in San Diego, also won a scholarship. At the Kyoto symposium, Goodfellow met with 2003 Kyoto Prize laureate George Whitesides, a Harvard University chemist and nanotechnology pioneer.
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