2014-2015 QUWAC Undergraduate Student Writing Contest Winners

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

For the tenth year, QUWAC and the Research and Writing Institute held the Writing Across the Curriculum Undergraduate Student Writing Contest. Winners received a $150 prize and the honor of having their work published on the Writing Across the Curriculum website. Judging was provided by faculty experts in each of the categories awarded, with a multi-disciplinary panel of faculty across the disciplines selecting the winning entries.

Learn more about the winners of the 2014-2015 Writing Across the Curriculum Student Writing Contest in the sections below.

Exemplary Writing in Arts and Humanities

First Prize
Lindsay Palma, entry-level master's physician assistant
"Victim Blaming: The Media's Effect on Rape Culture in America"
QU201 Our National Community
Paul Pasquaretta, adjunct professor and Research and Writing Institute coordinator
Read the essay (PDF)

From Paul Pasquaretta: The anthology essay assignment in this section of QU201, which is developed over the entire course of the 15-week semester, requires that students read, think, and write coherently across required course texts, course questions, and original research. Each student is tasked with identifying a particular question and focus of inquiry, and finding ways that various cultural texts - novels, political treatises, historical studies, news stories, Hollywood films, interviews, academic essays, etc. - may be used to support an argument. Working as copyeditors and proofreaders, the students help to prepare each other's work for publication in a course anthology, which is printed and distributed at a public symposium held at the conclusion of the semester. In addition to numerous blog entries on specific questions about the reading and discussion topics, each student produces a research exploration statement, abstract and annotated citation, revised abstract and annotated bibliography, and three drafts, the last of which is formatted for inclusion in the anthology. 

The development of Lindsay's thinking and writing is nothing short of remarkable. In addition to researching and writing about her chosen topic, she found ways to incorporate required course texts seamlessly into the discussion. This is no mean feat, as it tasks the writer with effectively evaluating different kinds of evidence, framing them accordingly, and having them speak to the topic at hand. Beginning with our first required text, E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel "Ragtime," she involved herself in a rigorous process of reading, annotation, discussion, and informal writing. Over the first two-thirds of the course, she carefully developed connections among the common course materials (including "Ragtime," excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," and Ronald Takaki's "A Different Mirror: A Multicultural History of the United States"). Having chosen to prioritize the aspects of "Ragtime" that refer to rape culture and victim blaming, she then began folding in research that she culled from academic, journalistic, and media sources. She produced several iterations of her idea, each more sophisticated and erudite than the one that preceded it. This was not a course in media or rape culture, yet Lindsay was able to write a compelling essay about both. In addition to displaying these critical thinking skills, Lindsay showed herself to be quite adept at organizing her ideas, contextualizing very different kinds of data into a coherent analysis, and crafting effective transitions from one point of the discussion to the next. The clarity of her thinking comes through in the quality of the writing itself. The result is a compelling and readable essay on an important national question.

Honorable Mention
Samantha Chase, theater
Drama 410 Senior Project in Theater
Kevin Daly, visiting assistant professor of the performing and visual arts
Read the essay (PDF)

From Kevin Daly: "Mauritania" was completed as part of the curriculum for DR 410 (senior project in theater).  This is a course that every theater major must complete during their final semester at Quinnipiac.  The course requires the students to devise a thesis project that aligns itself with the student's career goals. Some students direct full-length productions, others develop theater programs abroad, still others implement theater programing for elementary schools-- the possibilities for the project are endless.  

Very early in the process Sam decided that she would like to align her senior project with her career goals in playwriting.  We shaped the course to include three major phases:

  1. Writing a draft of a one-act play
  2. Preparing a public presentation of the draft
  3. Conducting a series of rewrites based on the feedback from the public presentation

Sam spent the entire fall semester working on the draft of the play. During this phase she met with me on four separate occasions to receive feedback on her work.  

During the spring semester Sam dedicated herself to producing a fully-mounted workshop production of her script. This included nearly five weeks of rehearsals and two public presentations of her play (to sold-out audiences!).  

After the play was completed Sam met with me once more to discuss the feedback she gathered from watching live audiences view her work. She then incorporated that feedback into a final re-write. The play she has submitted to this writing contest is the final re-write, and her final submission for the course.  

Grading criteria is centered on Sam's fulfillment of her responsibilities in all three phases of this year-long process. I'm very pleased to report that she has exceeded my expectations. In return she has a worthy one-act play that is now polished to a professional standard. She intends to submit this script to professional opportunities at theaters around the country (and abroad).

Exemplary Writing in Business

First Prize
Robert Bluze, international business; and Karissa Reyes, international business

"Corporate Social Responsibility: Perceived Performance & Importance Across Industries and Countries"
International Business 362 & 363
Robert Engle, professor of international business
Read the essay (PDF)

From Robert Engle: Robert Bluze and Karissa Reyes completed the International Research Track courses of IB 362 and IB 363 with the objective of completing an academic primary research paper at a level suggesting possible acceptance in an academic conference using a multiple reviewer double-blind review process. This paper was especially difficult for undergraduate students as data needed to be gathered in person in three countries, and the nature of multinational data requires the application of cross-cultural models to interpret the results. In addition, learning to write in a business academic paper format is not typically done by undergraduate business students. 

They did submit and the paper which was blind reviewed by faculty members from three universities, was accepted at the NEDSI in Boston; they presented the paper at the conference.  There were over 20 entries by undergraduates (168 entries in total) of which six undergraduate papers were accepted from six different universities. Their paper was one of the six selected and was actually mistaken for graduate student work by at least one reviewer who contacted me to confirm that these were undergraduate students.  This is clearly exemplary work which is confirmed by the academic conference blind review process used and the NEDSI publishing the work in the conference proceedings.

Exemplary Writing in Communications

First Prize
Christopher Yowan, film, video and interactive media

"The Changing Dynamics of Film Distribution"
Film, Video and Interactive Media 450 Senior Seminar
Josh Braun, assistant professor of communications
Read the essay (PDF)

From Josh Braun: The FVI 450 Senior Seminar is a required course for the film, video and interactive media major. Each section of the seminar has its own unique subject and the topic for this particular course was "Television and New Media." In the class we examined the intersection of the television and film industries with new digital technologies. The final for the course was a research paper of approximately ten pages in which students explored a topic of their choice related to the course using library resources and articles from the trade press.

The final was handed in at the end of the semester and worth 20% of the course grade. The assignment was intended to allow students to dig further into some unique aspect of a subject they found interesting over the course of the semester, as well as to demonstrate an understanding of how their professional interests intersect with both academic scholarship and contemporary industry trends.

Students' final projects are evaluated based on (1) their research, meaning their use of credible sources located through their own investigation, (2) how well and how closely they based the claims they made in their paper on the evidence they found through their research, and (3) how well they synthesized the various claims made in their paper into an interesting and logical piece of writing that drew credible and informed conclusions.

Christopher Yowan did an excellent job of researching and characterizing a particularly raucous debate currently going on in the film industry concerning how films will be distributed in a media culture that increasingly privileges Internet streaming and on-demand viewing. In particular, he looked at the debates between theater owners and studios over the prospect of "day-and-date" distribution, a system in which films would be released simultaneously in theaters and on digital platforms for home viewing. Theater owners want desperately to maintain the status quo, wherein they get exclusive rights to screen new films for a limited time before these movies become available in other places and formats. Meanwhile, studios and independent filmmakers are both interested to varying extents in experimenting with alternative ways of releasing their work. It's a fraught debate within the industry with advocates for both sides touting their own examples, data, and talking points. I thought Chris distilled their arguments quite well in his paper, which is an accomplishment in itself.

Moreover, this is a debate in which there's absolutely no clear answer and Chris does a particularly good job of highlighting this. This, in fact, is probably the nicest achievement of the paper. Undergraduate writers frequently feel compelled to take a side in the debates they're evaluating and often do so in a fairly messy way that overlooks or too readily dismisses potential counterarguments. I felt it was the mark of a sophisticated writer that Chris was able to step back and argue convincingly not that one side or the other was correct, but that the examples being cited by pundits were highly context-dependent and that the media landscape is evolving in ways that make drawing definitive conclusions very difficult.

Honorable Mention
Jenelle Cadigan, journalism
"The Life of an Ex-Nun"
Journalism 160 Introduction to Media Writing
Kevin Convey, assistant professor and chair of journalism
Read the essay (PDF)

From Kevin Convey: Jenelle Cadigan's "The Life of an Ex-Nun" is a near-perfect example of a professional-quality news feature on the subject of a Catholic nun's decision to leave the convent and marry. It could have been published in any metropolitan newspaper or website in the country. What's surprising about it, though, is that it was written by a freshman journalism major as a final project in JRN 160: Introduction to Media Writing - a course she took in the first semester of her freshman year.

I evaluate students' work in that course using the following rubric, which mirrors real-world editing and publication standards:

  • A: Publishable as is
  • B: Publishable with light editing/rewrite
  • C: Requires extensive editing and/or rewrite for publication
  • D: Needs a complete rewrite to be published
  • F: Contains major factual errors, distortions or libel. Names are misspelled. Could not be published even if rewritten.

Why, specifically, did Jenelle earn an A for exemplary work? 

She wrote a clear but captivating lead that enticed readers to continue along with her. She quoted Eileen prominently and well, and then followed up with a nut paragraph that set the context for readers. And then, expertly mixing quotation, paraphrase, context, and observation, Jenelle brought Eileen's story to life with a cool clarity that some professionals never attain. 

Jenelle's story has all the hallmarks of expert journalistic writing: concrete details, active sentence construction, and flow from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. It has a clear beginning, middle and end, and a kind of gentle inevitability to its narrative. Jenelle tells the story, coolly, clearly and simply - knowing that these are elements that give journalistic stories real power.

Exemplary Writing in the Social Sciences

First Prize
Julie Abele, psychology

"Mental Health in Sexual Minority Youth: Covariates and Interventions"
Psychology 409 Senior Seminar
Michele Hoffnung, professor of psychology, emerita
Read the essay (PDF)

From Michele Hoffnung: Julia Abele wrote this paper as her senior thesis, when she was my student in PS409 Senior Seminar in Psychology, Fall 2014. 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 30-35 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 without 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: 

  1. Evidence of Critical Thinking
  2. Thesis Development
  3. Empirical Support
  4. Concluding Materials
  5. Idea Flow
  6. Writing Style
  7. APA mechanics

A paper can be awarded 60 points, unevenly divided among those categories.  Julia's thesis earned 59 of the 60 points.  

Two things about Julia's thesis stand out. First, her topic, "Mental Health in Sexual Minority Youth: Covariates and Interventions," is politically sensitive. She used her skills developed in earlier psychology courses to review the literature that could shed light on the high rates of mental distress among gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) youth. In order to do this well, she needed to put the topic into historical perspective. Second, Julia wrote an outstanding senior thesis. She did a thorough literature search in several different areas of psychology to pull together material relevant to her particular 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 presents a new level of understanding of GLB experience. Most senior theses do not do this. Her thesis demonstrates outstanding research, thinking, and writing.

Honorable Mention
Serina Bsales, psychology
"The Controversy Over a Link Between Vaccines and Autism"
Psychology 372 Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
Clorinda Velez, assistant professor of psychology
Read the essay (PDF)

From Clorinda Velez: PS 372 Child and Adolescent Psychopathology is designed to provide students with an understanding of child and adolescent mental health problems within the framework of developmental and child clinical psychology. In addition to theoretical and methodological issues in the field, students explore the nature, etiology, and treatment of a wide range of psychological disorders affecting children from infancy through adolescence.  

For their final assignment, students were asked to write a 7-8 page paper exploring a current controversial issue in child clinical psychology. Students were invited to select one of several topics (e.g., are there long term consequences of "experimenting" with drugs and alcohol in adolescence? Is depression best treated with medication or psychotherapy?), or develop their own topic in collaboration with the professor. The students were asked to explore how this topic is addressed in the mainstream media, articulate both sides of the controversy, and then thoroughly explore the scientific research on the topic and share what psychological research tells us about the controversy. Based on scientific evidence, the students were asked not only to conclude which side (if any) has greater evidence to support it, but to also identify key information the public needs to know about the topic and to identify important areas for future research to further clarify the controversy.  

The assignment is designed to achieve several goals including but not limited to: 1) Give students a chance to explore a topic of interest in greater depth, 2) Help students to learn to find, read, summarize, and critique scholarly work, 3) Encourage students to recognize the difference between reports in the mainstream media and scholarly, primary source reports (and thus to become more critical consumers of information they encounter in their everyday lives), 4) Give students practice critically engaging both sides of a topic, regardless of their personal opinions, 5) Give students an experience in formal writing in the discipline, and 6) Help students to learn that they are capable of finding, understanding, and communicating reliable information on important questions so that they may make better informed decisions about health and wellness in the future.  

Students were graded on a number of criteria such as 1) Selecting relevant research articles and appropriately reporting on them given disciplinary guidelines, 2) Thoroughly considering all scientific evidence on both sides of the controversy and using this evidence - not personal opinion or non-primary sources - to draw conclusions about the topic, 3) Carefully selecting and clearly communicating key information that they would like to see disseminated to the public, 4) Identifying appropriate "holes" in the current literature and writing clear recommendations for the scientific research that might address these holes, and 5) Overall clarity, organization, and thoughtfulness of the work.

For her paper, Serina elected to explore the current controversy surrounding the potential link between vaccines and autism, a very timely and "heated" topic. Serina's paper was simply beautifully done both in terms of content and style. She thoroughly and carefully described the scientific data using appropriate disciplinary guidelines and scientific tone. She fully considered all available data when drawing her thoughtful conclusions, and made clear and important suggestions for future work in the field. Her paper was well organized both within and across paragraphs, and was articulate and easy to follow despite dealing with complicated information. Not only was her paper thoroughly researched and cleanly written, but it was interesting and compelling to read, and provides important information that has real relevance to families' lives. This paper was a true pleasure to read, and is a very strong example of writing in psychology.  

Exemplary Writing in STEM

First Prize
Jacquelyn Mott, mathematics
"Calculating Term Life Insurance Premiums"
MA 490 Senior Seminar
Cornelius Nelan, professor of mathematics
Read the essay (PDF)

From Cornelius Nelan: Jacquelyn Mott's paper was written for MA 490: Senior Seminar, Spring 2015. Students were assigned a problem and, after solving the problem, made an oral presentation and then wrote a 5-10 page paper outlining their approach to the problem and their solution. In the write-up the students were told to assume the reader was a math major familiar with calculus and linear algebra, but not to assume that the reader was a mathematics professional. Thus, they had to review the basic definitions and techniques of the subject matter presented in the paper. 

Jackie took a naïve approach to determining the minimum premium a life insurance company would have to charge in order to break even. Using assumptions I "cooked up" from census data, she solves the problem in an efficient, straight-forward manner. The answer she gets seems a bit high, so she was then charged to do some research to see how pricing of insurance premiums works in the industry.

Honorable Mention
Jacob Mele, mechanical engineering
"Literature Review"
Engineering 110 The World of an Engineer
Grant Crawford, professor of mechanical engineering 
Read the essay (PDF)

From Grant Crawford: ENR 110, The World of an Engineer, is the freshman engineering course at Quinnipiac University. While it is required for all freshman engineering students, it is open to any student at the University. For the final assignment in the course, students were required to select and read eight 3-5 page articles that addressed how engineering impacts our society. The articles were focused on the four engineering disciplines offered at QU: Civil, Industrial, Mechanical, and Software. Students were required to include at least one article from each discipline in their collection. Based upon these readings, students wrote a 1,000 - 1,500 word reflective essay. In the essay, students were required to summarize the main point of each article, describe what it was about the selected articles that interested them, and draw connections between the articles and what they learned in ENR 110. Finally, based on their interests and career goals, students provided an analysis of their decision to pursue an engineering degree and stated which engineering discipline is most appealing and why.

Essays were evaluated using a rubric with overall weighting as follows:

  • 5% on the introduction
  • 20% on a concise summary of a main point from each article and why it is relevant
  • 50% on the analysis of how the articles relate to the engineering profession and the student's interests and abilities and how their reflection validates the selection of their chosen major
  • 25% on the writing quality

Jake Mele's essay is an exemplary example of student work on this final written requirement for ENR 110. It reaches beyond simply condensing a main point from each reviewed article by tying the practice of engineering to the deeper themes of serving humanity and leaving "the world in at least a slightly improved state." The writing is well-organized and the thoughts transition smoothly. There is evidence of careful consideration in the analysis. The writing is concise and demonstrates the efficient use of language in arriving at the conclusion. Finally, the essay offers a compelling explanation for Jake's choice of mechanical engineering as his major.