Personal experience helps drive North Allegheny student to create video

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Four years ago, Katherine Zhou of Franklin Park was riding in a car that was rear-ended by a teenager texting at the wheel.

Fortunately, no one was injured, and the vehicles had only dents and scratches, but the jolt left some long-lasting repercussions on Zhou — namely the keen awareness of how risky ‘inTEXTication' — or texting while driving, which is comparable to driving after drinking four beers — can be.

So when Edgar Snyder and Associates, a Pittsburgh-based personal-injury law firms, announced the seventh annual “Words to Be Heard” scholarship contest, Zhou, 18, felt compelled to participate.

The contest challenges high school seniors throughout Western Pennsylvania to create brochures, videos, PowerPoint presentations, websites or essays or to use other approaches to discourage their peers from engaging in behaviors that can distract them from the road, such as texting.

“Working with accident victims, we encounter firsthand the devastating impact that drunk driving and distracted driving can have on people's lives. We created the scholarship program because we see a huge need to spread the prevention message, especially among teens,” explained Edgar Snyder, 71, who oversees and directs the operations of the law firm that bears his name.

“What makes this program particularly effective is that teens develop the messages for other teens. Sure, they know the risks and have heard warnings from adults, but it leaves a more meaningful impact when coming from a peer.”

Zhou, who recently received her driver's permit and is learning to drive, agreed. “I know how tempting texting can be. You're driving down the street, and your phone rings. It's so tempting to pick it up to see who's sending you a message. But I want to tell people not to do it. It's not worth the risk,” she said.

Zhou, who graduated from North Allegheny Senior High School last month, created a four-minute video on her home computer. She combined music and an emotional appeal with sobering statistics, such as “It takes an average 4.6 seconds to send or receive a text. At 55 mph, that is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.”

Another was “Eleven teens die every day due to texting while driving.”

She never had made a video before.

But the contest's four judges were so impressed with Zhou's video that they named her the grand-prize winner of a $5,000 scholarship. The contest had more than 300 entries.

“I was really shocked, surprised and honored,” Zhou said.

Christine Vitale, a nurse who is manager of the Injury Prevention Program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, was one of the judges. She said Zhou's video was “very well done.”

“She covered her facts very well and put them in a frame of reference that would be appealing and understood by her peers,” Vitale said.

State police Cpl. Christopher Murray, another judge, also praised Zhou's video.

“It was quite apparent to me that every single contestant put a great deal of time and effort into their presentations, and they should all be proud of that. Katherine's presentation was very creative and sent a very clear and concise message,” Murray, 41, said.

Zhou, the daughter of Xin and Fangzi Zhou, plans to attend Duke University in North Carolina in the fall. After serving as lead attorney for North Allegheny's mock trial program and achieving success in numerous speech and debate tournaments, she intends to use the scholarship toward pre-law studies.

Zhou's video and the other winning entries were shared at schools throughout the region, as well as through a media campaign, the Edgar Snyder & Associates' website, YouTube and social media as an effort to get the messages in front of as many teens as possible.

To see all the winning “Words to Be Heard” entries, go to

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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