2013-2014 QUWAC Writing Contest Winners

The QUWAC Writing Contest recognizes and rewards exemplary student writing in the disciplines.

For the ninth year, QUWAC and the Research and Writing Institute held the Writing Across the Curriculum Student Writing Contest. Winners received a $150 prize and the honor of having their work published on the Writing Across the Curriculum website.

Learn more about the winners of the 2013-2014 Writing Across the Curriculum Student Writing Contest in the sections below.

Exemplary Writing in Arts and Humanities

First Prize
Samantha Dyar, psychology
"Sex Icons and the Working Class of Men: Mutual Exploitation in a Capitalistic Society"
QU201 Our National Community
Paul Pasquaretta, Research and Writing Institute coordinator
Read the essay (PDF)

From Paul Pasquaretta: QU201 Our National Community, the second in a series of three University seminars, explores aspects of the national community through guided questions, assigned readings, and a variety of oral and written tasks. My particular section focuses on the development of a course anthology and symposium project: the anthology is a published collection of research essays developed by the students; the symposium is a public presentation of the written pieces to a University audience. In addition to meeting the academic requirements of the course, the anthology/symposium project is designed to model and support professional skills development in researching, writing, editing, oral presentation and team work, among other professional attributes. Following critical thinking and writing strategies developed by QUWAC, the foundational activity for all course work is annotation-driven discussion. Students complete a series of blog assignments that are shared among all members of the groups. Linked write-to-learn activities are used to scaffold the research essay: research exploration statement, annotated citation with abstract, annotated bibliography with revised abstract, first draft, second draft, and final draft. Copyediting and proofreading is done by peer reviewers, who function as members of an editorial team.

Samantha Dyar wrote one of several very good essays produced by students in the course. Beginning with a focus on workers' strife and the marginalization of the poor, her project developed into an analysis of the mutual exploitation of sex icons and working class men in a capitalistic society. Strong critical thinking was evident throughout this paper. In addition to required course texts - E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime, selections from Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy in America, and Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror: A Multicultural History of the United States - Sam researched and included in her analysis biographies, sociological studies, histories, popular magazine articles and vintage photographs. These varied sources were skillfully worked into an essay on a topic entirely of her own choosing. This was not a course in gender, working class experience, capitalism, or any of the themes that Sam identified in her paper. Rather, it was a course in critical thinking and writing that focused on the development of basic cognitive skills: prioritization (choosing what is important), translation (expressing someone else's ideas in one's own words), making analogies (applying what is learned in one context to another related context), and thematic triangulation (recognizing and building upon common ground in distinct but related materials). Samantha Dyar's achievement is remarkable not only for the quality of work she completed, but for the self-direction, creative and critical thinking, and sophisticated writing style it required of her.

Honorable Mention
Andrew Landolfi, print journalism/English
"Candles in the Dark"
EN 302 Advanced Creative Nonfiction
Valerie Smith, associate professor of English
Read the story (PDF)

From Valerie Smith: Andrew Landolfi was my student in EN 302, Advanced Creative Nonfiction. Over the course of the semester students develop a portfolio of approximately 7,500 words (about 30 pages, typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font) of their best creative nonfiction written. Portfolios are evaluated on the successful meeting of the following course goals:


  • Awareness of the art and craft of Creative Nonfiction-from both the readers' and the writers' perspective.
  • Development of an understanding of influential Creative Nonfiction texts in the American tradition.


  • To increase students' oral, written and communication skills through the writing, revision and performing of highly crafted memoirs.
  • To increase students' abilities to analyze works of literature through the writing of short reflective journals.
  • To increase students' abilities to synthesize knowledge, skills, and critical and creative thinking through the construction of a portfolio.


  • To provide students with important tools for lifelong learning (see all of the above).
  • To produce inter-connected autobiographical essays that help students more fully understand the Writing to Learn process.

Andrew's work of creative nonfiction meets the standards of exemplary work in the following manners:

Knowledge-based goals:

  1. It demonstrates an exemplary awareness of the art and craft of writing creative nonfiction from the writer's perspective (he has used the guidelines for drafting to produce an essay that explores a "big question" that grows out of a topic he has chosen to explore, that grows out of a series of freewrites/journaling exercises, and that has been written as a "scavenging ground"  draft [the final version, as submitted here, grows out of a longer draft that was workshopped by the class as a whole]). It demonstrates an exemplary awareness of the art and craft of writing creative nonfiction from the reader's perspective (this version was restructured with much cut, reorganized and fine-tuned from the original version to produce a work of art that would inspire engagement and thoughtfulness in readers).
  2. Andrew has experimented with many of the techniques we examined in our class readings including a nonlinear organizational structure, the use of sensory description, dialogue and scene.

Skill-based goals:

  1. The final version of Andrew's work of creative nonfiction demonstrates his increased oral, written and communication skills through the writing, revision and final performance of a highly crafted memoir that carries an important message to its readers.
  2. Andrew's abilities to analyze works of literature ("reading like a writer") through the writing of short reflective journals is apparent in his ability to apply what he learned in his analyses to his own written work as exhibited in his experiments with a variety of techniques.
  3. Although this is only a portion of Andrew's portfolio, it exemplifies his ability to synthesize the knowledge, skills, and critical and creative thinking the class has been working on, and experimenting with throughout the course of the semester.

Thinking-based goals:

  1. Andrew's work, his ability to synthesize our class discussions, our readings, our writing experiments, and the "processes and practices of creative nonfiction" are all evidence of his ability (and passion) for life-long learning.
  2. Andrew's willingness to think and rethink, learn, reflect, experiment, critique, accept critique and take risks all exemplify Writing to Learn as applied to the drafting, crafting, and revision of creative nonfiction from first conception to final inception as a work of art.

Exemplary Writing in Business and Engineering

Emanuel Binyam, marketing
"James W. McGlothlin: A Leader in Business"
QU301 The Global Community
Jennifer Driscoll, assistant dean of academic services
Read the essay (PDF)

From Jennifer Driscoll: This section of the QU 301 seminar takes the issue of leadership as its focus. In consideration of the reading, both in and outside of class, students choose from one of the following questions and compose a critical essay:

  1. On the global or national leader, identify a strong leader and a weak leader. Compare and contrast them and argue why one is a good leader and the other is a poor leader. Use at least two sources of support and at least three quotes.
  2. Think about leadership in terms of your major and your field of study. Who do you identify with as a leader in your field of study? Why? Do you admire this person because you identify with him/her based on similar backgrounds or experiences? Bring in your personal story as a lens of critical analysis. But remember: you will need to do research here on a person and why they are significant. Use at least two sources of support and at least three quotes.
  3. Given your age range and experience, who is a leader in your generation? Name up to three people and convince me why you would call this person or persons a leader/s. Research the stars of your generation and argue how they rose to a leadership position, what they had to do, and what they had to risk and sacrifice. If you identify with the person or people you write about tell me why-give me an example. Use at least two sources of support and three quotes.

All students are required to cite from the readings using either MLA or APA style.

Emanuel Binyam is a marketing major and a basketball player. His paper exhibits exemplary thinking in its ability to process global issues (poverty, underrepresentation in certain communities, lack of monetary access to education and funds) that leave a person vulnerable and reliant on the community. His paper takes risks, integrates the course readings into the discussion, and develops a strong connection between the individual and the global community.

Exemplary Writing in Communications

Samantha Lizzio, communications
"Music and Media"
ICM 501 Theories of Interactive Media
Josh Braun, assistant professor of communications
Read the essay (PDF)

From Josh Braun: ICM 501 Theories of Interactive Media is the introductory course in the ICM graduate program, although it is also open to seniors. The final project for the course is to complete a research paper related to the subject matter of the class, approximately 15 pages in length, for which students must assemble their own sources through library research. In keeping with the goals of the Interactive Media program, students are also allowed and encouraged to suggest alternative formats for their work, such as blogs, informational websites, and so forth. The final is handed in at the end of the semester and worth 20 percent of the course grade. Students are allowed to propose their own topic for the paper, though it must fall generally within the subject area of the course.

The assignment is intended to do three things: (1) allow students to dig further into some unique aspect of a subject they found interesting over the course of the semester, (2) give students a first experience with graduate research and writing, and (3) demonstrate students' understanding of how their area of interest intersects with scholarly research on-and approaches to-the study of interactive media. Students' final projects are evaluated based on (1) their original library research, meaning their use of credible sources located through their own investigation, (2) how well and how closely they base the claims they make in their paper on the evidence they found through their research, and (3) how well they synthesize the various claims made in their paper into an interesting and logical piece of writing that draws credible and informed conclusions.

Samantha Lizzio was one of the students in my class who chose an alternative format for her final. She constructed a blog containing reflections and ruminations on the ways in which music fandom and the music industry are evolving in response to the Internet. Each post was well researched, documenting various music trends through reference to peer reviewed sources and items in the trade press, as well as using these to bolster her own arguments and provide additional depth to her personal reflections. Moreover, I thought Samantha not only chose her format wisely, but did a terrific job at using that format to her advantage. The changing face of music is, of course, an incredibly expansive topic that would be difficult to treat exhaustively in the span of a single class paper. By using the blog format, Samantha was able to break off pieces of this expansive subject and treat them individually as distinct observational posts. The blog format is also open ended in the sense that the author can ostensibly continue to add to it in the future, treating additional aspects of her topic of choice. (And, indeed, Samantha has informed me that she enjoyed the topic enough that she plans to transform the site into a personal blog and continue adding to it in the future.) In the context of the class project, this allowed Samantha to write some well-informed posts based on her research, without taking on responsibility for exhaustively reviewing an area of media research that could otherwise have easily filled a dissertation. I thought it was an elegant solution to a problem frequently faced by undergraduates, who often ask really big and intriguing questions, but have difficulty breaking off manageable pieces of them that can be treated in a single term paper.

Exemplary Writing in Health Sciences

Erin Murphy, biomedical science
"Clinical Manifestations and the Severity of Syphilis"
BMS 372 Pathogenic Microbiology
Christian Eggers, associate professor of biomedical sciences
Read the essay (PDF)

From Christian Eggers: BMS372 Pathogenic Microbiology investigates microorganisms that are medically-relevant to humans and animals. Through a series of laboratory experiments, writing assignments and case studies, students explore disease-causing microbial agents, with particular emphasis on those that are likely to be encountered by today's healthcare providers. The most significant writing assignment within the course is the Disease Profile Assignment (DPA), a short three to five page review of a microbial disease of significant interest. The intent of this assignment is for students to research an infectious disease and write a microreview that would be suitable for submission to the fictitious journal, Journal of Microbial Pathogenesis: Undergraduate Edition. The authors are instructed that their audience has basic scientific knowledge, but not in the particular area of pathogenic microbiology.  As part of the assignment, the students also must provide both a letter to the "editor" of this journal explaining why this disease is of interest to the reader and a summarizing abstract. The students are allowed to submit a first draft to be graded and extensively edited by the professor and then they have the option of submitting a revised final draft for an improved grade. The intent of the DPA is not to provide an exhaustive review of the topic; books have been written about many infectious diseases. The DPAs are graded on four main areas-format (can author follow instructions), style (is the writing-style that of a young scientist), organization (do the content areas flow logically; are the expectations of the reader met as to what comes next), and content (did the author cover the major elements one would expect in a brief disease review).

Of the number of excellent submissions I received, Erin's was the one that was the most enjoyable to read and most successfully met all of the grading criteria. Importantly, Erin covered syphilis, a disease in which the pathogenesis is confused at best-the agent of syphilis has no obvious virulence factors and the effects of the disease are largely driven by the immune system. This makes any review of syphilis necessarily deep and detailed. Erin captured all of the necessary elements, while still making the paper accessible to any informed reader. Erin has done a masterful job of marshaling her resources, synthesizing them into a logical and consistent piece, and recognizing the interest and abilities of her audience in order to craft this submission. I consider this to be an excellent representative of what writing in this discipline should look like for a microreview.

Exemplary Writing in Nursing

First Prize
Laura Caneira, nursing
"Diagnosing Child Abuse: The Role of the Nurse Practitioner"
Nursing 651, Family Health Practicum and Seminar I
Karen Myrick, assistant professor of nursing
Read the essay (PDF)

From Karen Myrick: Laura Caneira was my student in Nursing 651, Family Health Practicum and Seminar I.  Her paper is a response to the assignment titled, "Specialty Focus Paper." The instructions were to identify a well-defined topic of clinical concern for nurse practitioners. Further, the assignment guidelines charged the student to perform a review of the evidence-based nursing, medical and allied health literature, and include at least 20 professional resources. Papers were expected to cover all of the following points:

  • significance of the problem
  • epidemiology
  • demographics
  • statistics
  • quality of life issues
  • financial costs to patient and/or society
  • relevance to advanced nursing practice
  • definition of clinical issues (e.g. symptoms and physical findings)
  • differential diagnosis, including incidence and distinguishing features
  • review of the diagnostics, including selection of lab tests and interpretation or another analysis pertinent to the chosen topic
  • holistic management, including culture, costs and the role of the nurse practitioner
  • and include a summary statement with a brief review of the main points.

The assignment was designed to improve writing ability in the discipline of nursing, to develop scientific reasoning skills, to practice synthesizing scientific and evidence-based information, and to clearly disseminate important information. The purpose included relevant University learning outcomes of critical thinking, creative thinking and information fluency. A comprehensive assessment rubric was provided along with the assignment guidelines.

The paper submitted by Laura met the standards for exemplary work including masterful topic and content development, information integration, application of correct APA formatting, fully developed organization and excellent writing mechanics.  Laura's ability to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the subject was evident in her application of course concepts and the use of appropriate terminology into her work.  In her paper, Laura impeccably assimilated relevant topics and effusively developed her concepts with appropriate source designation. The organization of her paper demonstrated the use of efficient transitions, while precisely addressing all aspects of the assignment.

Laura's paper was not only pleasure to read, but was masterfully completed.  The content conveyed important information for all medical providers. To that end, I have encouraged Laura to submit this paper to the Journal for Nurse Practitioners (JNP), the official publication of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. I believe that the dissemination of her work belongs in a formal format where others can benefit from the information she has synthesized.

Honorable Mention
Sarahi Almonte, nursing
"I Believe This About Nursing"
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing Scholarship
Barbara Glynn, assistant professor of nursing
Read the essay (PDF)

This essay was written as part of the scholarship criteria for recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing grant. The scholarships are designed to help address the nursing shortage by granting monies to students who enroll in accelerated or master's level nursing programs. Preference is given to nursing programs that increase enrollment or retention rates of minority or disadvantaged students. Recipients, or scholars, are required to write an essay related to their decision to pursue nursing as a career, what they have learned, what or who inspired them, or what they want to contribute to the field. The general title of all essays is "I Believe This About Nursing." The submission must be under 500 words.

Sarahi's essay incorporates one of the cornerstones of the Quinnipiac Nursing program - holistic nursing practice. Holistic nursing practice considers not only the physical ailment, but the mind, emotion, spirit, and environment when designing and providing care to patients. Nurses become more than an administrator of medications and treatments; nurses become "instruments of healing" (Dossey & Keegan, 2009). Sarahi is one such nurse and she has incorporated these beliefs into the everyday descriptions of the patients she has cared for in her clinical rotations. The essay is a wonderful description of nursing at its finest.

Reference: Dossey, B. & Keegan, l. (2009). Holistic nursing: A handbook for practice (5th ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

Exemplary Writing in Social Sciences

First Prize
Leann Misencik, psychology
"Effects of Bilingualism on Verbal and Nonverbal Abilities: Implications for Assessment of Language Ability of Bilingual Students"
PS 409 Senior Seminar
Michele Hoffnung, professor of psychology
Read the essay (PDF)

From Michele Hoffnung: Leann Misencik wrote this paper as her senior thesis, when she was my student in PS409, Senior Seminar in Psychology, Fall 2013. The senior thesis is the major task of this course. For the thesis, each student selects a current topic in psychology, does an exhaustive literature review, and writes a 45-50 page thesis that presents the topic thoroughly and includes a final chapter that proposes a study which would add clarity to what is already known. In addition to presenting a literature review based upon primary psychology sources and a thorough understanding of the topic, seniors are expected to write clear prose, free of jargon and direct quotes. I grade senior thesis using a rubric that students see before they start writing. I use it to rate a paper as Distinguished, Effective, Developing, or Underdeveloped in the subcategories of:

  • Evidence of Critical Thinking
  • Thesis Development
  • Empirical Support
  • Concluding Materials
  • Idea Flow
  • Writing Style, and
  • APA mechanics

A paper can be awarded 60 points, unevenly divided among those categories. Leann's thesis earned 58 of the 60 points.

Two things about Leann's thesis are worthy of note in this context. First, her topic, "Effects of Bilingualism on Verbal and Nonverbal Abilities: Implications for Assessment of Language Ability of Bilingual Students," reflects her interest in speech-language pathology. She knew that she wanted to pursue graduate work in this field and set out to learn more about it. Second, Leann wrote an outstanding senior thesis. She did a thorough literature search in several different areas of psychology to pull together material relevant to her practical problem. She organized the pertinent studies well, and wrote a very informative paper. Her work acknowledges the complexity of her topic, respects alternative points of view, shows tolerance for ambiguity and is very well written. Her thesis goes beyond the formal topic by applying it to standard practice in speech pathology, with hope of making it more effective for bilingual children. Most senior theses do not do this.

I am very proud of Leann for the outstanding research, thinking, and writing that she did on her thesis, "Effects of Bilingualism on Verbal and Nonverbal Abilities: Implications for Assessment of Language Ability of Bilingual Students." She ably demonstrated her ability to locate and evaluate existing research, as well as to clearly present her analysis in clear prose. She makes apparent the shortcomings in current language assessment of bilingual children and suggests ways for its improvement. For all of these reasons, I recommend her paper for the QUWAC Writing Prize.

Honorable Mention
Elicia Fortier, criminal justice
"The Insanity Defense: An Evolving Standard Lacking Uniformity"
CJ 385 Senior Capstone
Alan Bruce, professor of sociology
Read the essay (PDF)

From Alan Bruce: During the spring 2014 semester, Elicia took my course CJ 385, which is the senior capstone course for all criminal justice majors. For 50 percent of the overall course grade students must conduct independent research on a topic of their choice and I nominate the work Elicia did towards this part of her final course grade. In many cases, students choose to study well-known and well-researched criminal justice issues (such as examining the deterrent effect of capital punishment, the impact of mandatory sentencing guidelines upon the prison population and its composition), but Elicia did not. The focus of her research is on the insanity defense, and while it is a well-known topic it is very complicated and widely misunderstood.

The research project involves multiple parts including an extensive literature review, interviews with practitioners in the criminal justice field to test conclusions from the literature review, and a clear summation of what has been learned from the research.  What makes Elicia's work so outstanding and worthy of winning the contest is that she chose an extremely complicated topic, clearly summarized complex and relevant literature, applied what she learned from her research to her interviews with criminal justice professionals, and concisely summarized what she learned.

It is rare for a student to summarize such a complex body of material so accurately while conveying findings so clearly and concisely.  Throughout the course I emphasize to students that "(y)ou will be judged by how well you write because no one really knows how well you think; they only know how well you communicate with them" (Gray 1998), and that clarity of writing no matter the topic is of paramount importance.  It is from this perspective I believe Elicia's work meets the standard of "exemplary work" — it is rare to come across undergraduate work this well written that clearly and concisely presents information on such a complex topic.

A part of Elicia's work I find especially compelling is her ability to clearly demonstrate the difficulty of establishing legal guidelines for determining insanity and she highlights how standards for insanity vary both historically and geographically. She also provides a very clear discussion of common misperceptions of the insanity defense and, from her interviews with criminal justice professionals, demonstrates such misperceptions continue to influence the beliefs of those who work in the criminal justice system and so have significant current implications.

In addition to these substantive qualities the paper is mechanically and grammatically exceptional and so I believe Elicia's work would be a worthy contest winner and is a model for her peers.

Reference: Gray, Tara. 1998. "Your Students can too write-and you can show them how." Journal of Criminal Justice Education 9:131-53.