FYE Essay Contest Winners, Class of 2021

By LO WALL

At the end of this past spring semester, First-Year Experience faculty submitted essays from both fall and winter FYE classes that they felt best represented excellent first-year writing. The submitted essays were anonymously judged by a committee of FYE faculty from different fields of expertise who used a standard rubric to consider each nominated paper’s ideas, mechanics, and rhetorical sophistication. The committee selected a first and second place winner and then two honorable mentions from three FYE classes.

The first-place winner was Ellen Loucks ‘21 who wrote a literary review of a sociological study investigating whether second-child policy in Chinese society will return to Confucian ideals of filial piety, which Louck’s professor Gail Murphy-Geiss called “a mini thesis in sociology.” Louck’s peer Benjamin Swift ’21 was also in Murphy-Geiss’ “Thinking Sociologically” FYE and was one of the two honorable mentions. Swift distributed surveys to Colorado College students asking the frequency and context of their marijuana use, the amount of time they spend studying, and data about their socioeconomic and demographic status. 

Murphy-Geiss described how she rarely has outstanding writers in her FYE classes, but Loucks’ and Swift’s papers stood out. Typically, FYE professors only nominate one paper to the contest, if any. However, Murphy-Geiss insisted that both Swift’s and Loucks’ papers be nominated for their excellence, describing their papers as some of the few “You can’t stop reading [because] they’re so interesting,” and that “You really enjoy reading because the writing is so good.” 

She describes how FYE students are often learning how to write at the college level, so there are frequently elements in their papers that detract from their meanings, “so you can’t enjoy the papers as you grade them.” However, the papers that won the essay contest were “like reading a novel on a Saturday afternoon.” 

Towards the end of the block, Murphy-Geiss approached the two writers, telling them that she would like to submit both papers to the contest. Upon notification during Block 1 of this year that he had won an honorable mention, Swift said, “I had honestly forgotten about the competition since I had submitted my paper so long ago, but I was happy to hear that the readers liked it.” First-place winner Loucks remarked, “I was surprised,” before telling her mom.

The second-place winner, Matt Rosen, took Marion Hourdequin’s “Topics in Philosophy: Nature in East Asian Traditions of Thought” FYE, and his paper was nominated for its creative development as a conversation between classical Chinese philosopher Zuangzi and a more contemporary philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. Hourdequin believed Rosen treated both thinkers with “depth and sophistication” and made a compelling case for ways in which Zuangzi’s philosophy might be helpful in thinking through and extending some of Feyerabend’s arguments.

Hourdequin said that she “love[s] to see students find a question that is of deep interest to them and use class assignments as a way to explore that question.” Rosen’s paper stuck out to her for his finding, “connections between these two philosophers although they were thousands of years apart and did so in a way that was provocative and relevant to contemporary discussions in philosophy of science.” Hourdequin also nominated Rosen to present this paper at an undergraduate philosophy convention, which he did last year, because it provoked her to think in new ways about the two thinkers, whom she had before independently engaged with, but whom she had not considered putting into conversation together.

The last honorable mention, Isaak Belongia ’21, took Krista Fish and Mario Montano’s anthropology FYE that revolved Ecology in the Southwest. Belongia’s paper examined historical and genetic research relating to the Ashkenazi Jew population to explain why their carrier rate for Tay-Sachs disease is 10 times higher than that of the general population. Belongia said, “I was a bit surprised because I didn’t know that this contest even existed,” but he felt honored that his professors thought highly of his writing. He also remarked how he felt like the FYE helped improve his writing, “in the sense that writing a 25-page research paper made four-to-six page papers seem like relatively minor assignments.” 

Ultimately, CC has first-year students doing excellent writing and research, which the FYE writing contest aims to recognize. Both Murphy-Geiss and Hourdequin found it unsurprising that these papers won; however, they both were very pleased to see the works of these students recognized. 

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