University Seminar Essay Prize

The SAGES University Seminar Essay Awards highlight the best student writing produced in SAGES University Seminars each year. The essays recognized are selected from those nominated by SAGES faculty for this award. Student essay prize winners receive a cash award and are recognized at the Spring Writing Program Awards.

Prior years’ University Seminar Essay Prize essays are archived on the Writing Program Canvas site, email for access.

USEM Essay Prizes (2019-2020)

The hallmark of the University Seminar is its long-form research project, which engages student writers in the processes of gathering, interpreting, analyzing, and making knowledge through the use of source materials within a disciplinary genre. These researched texts require practice with critical reading of sources as well as artful integration of the sources with each other in ways that reveal connections and produce insights. These four prize-winning essays showcase how students can use academic forms to engage with source material to critically explore historical, literary, scientific and political systems and how they shape the world as we experience it.  

“Alphabet Soup: Why Making STEM into STREAM Will Not Fix the Imbalance in Education”
By Giuliana Conte
from USNA 289: The Mind’s Essential Tension (Seminar Leader: Anthony Jack)

In this essay, Conte makes a convincing case for the role of the arts and humanities by critiquing the current emphasis on STEM in American primary and secondary education. One of the strengths of this essay is Conte’s effort to show how current debates about STEM education—including the alleged shortage of STEM workers—are historically situated and closely tied to rhetoric surrounding national defense. This paper also illustrates how student writers can analyze terminology and definitions (e.g. what is a “STEM worker”?) to expose flawed logic undergirding policy decisions.

“Fact or Fable: The Inaccurate Representation of Female Victims and Perpetrators in Auschwitz in Out of the Ashes”
By Annabella DeBernardo
from USSY 290G: Women and Warfare: Reality vs. Representation (Seminar Leader: Margaret Richardson)

This research essay tackles difficult subject matter—women’s lives and survival tactics in Auschwitz, particularly as related to reproduction and obstetrics—through careful and sophisticated analysis of Dr. Gisella Perl’s memoir "I was a doctor in Auschwitz" and its subsequent film adaptation, Out of the Ashes. DeBernardo’s paper is an excellent example of close reading and film analysis, as well as the smooth integration of secondary research, which result in a persuasive and original argument concerning the reductive popular media portrayals of female Holocaust victims. 

“Cleveland: Confronting Rail Transportation Issues in a Rust Belt City”
By James FitzGibbon
from USNA 287J: Transportation in American Life (Seminar Leader: Howard Maier)

This essay offers a thoughtful exploration of the history and economics of rail transportation in the Cleveland area. FitzGibbon’s thorough research involved not only textual sources, but also personal interviews with two experts in the field. He is adept in using these various sources to build his own argument. The project unfolds as a response to the question of whether Cleveland should expand its light rail system, and answers that question through several lenses–historic, economic, social–in order to make a well-reasoned and compelling claim about the future of Cleveland’s public transportation. 

“The Image of Black Masculinity as Portrayed in ​Friday Black”
By Anika Krishna
from USSY 291B: Dystopian Science Fiction (Seminar Leader: Gabrielle Parkin)

This essay deftly navigates the complexities of Black male identity within contemporary American society as portrayed in Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s 2018 short story collection, "Friday Black." Krishna connects her close reading of two stories in the collection to secondary research on such topics as Black masculinity, code-switching, and racial profiling to show how Adjei-Brenyah uses the tropes of dystopian fiction and “hyperbole based on truth [to blur] the lines between fiction and reality” in a way that makes the experience of racism viscerally apparent to the reader. This essay is a strong example of literary analysis and sensitively dealing with emotionally- and politically-charged topics.