2016-17 Don Rothman Endowed Award in First-Year Writing

(L to R) Humanities Dean Tyler Stovall, VPDUE Richard Hughey, Sydney Quynn (award winner), Brij Lunine (Rothman Committee Chair), Maris Degener (award winner), Natan Lao (award winner), Writing Program Chair Heather Shearer; Picture by: Yin Wu

 2016-17 Award Recipients

- First Place - 
Maris Degener
"Accepting the Unacceptable: Rape Culture in America" 
(Instructor: Katie Woolsey)

Maris Degener  

I wrote this essay in the days following the 2016 election. This enabled me to not only incorporate current events into my writing assignment in a way that felt contemporary and necessary, but also allowed me to channel the anger I was feeling into something productive. It was a flurried and overwhelming time and writing the paper helped me organize my thoughts and explore how I was feeling. 

I also want to point out the relevancy of this topic almost exactly a year later, and how this exemplifies the importance of engaging in and thinking critically about the topics discussed in the courses here in UCSC.      

I used to see these kinds of news and feel angered, but was unable to articulate them or share these ideas with people in a way that felt meaningful. The examples I used in the paper (Brock Turner, etc.) helped me get clearer on what this “rape culture boogeyman” was that was constantly being talked about but oftentimes not explained, and helped me link these ideas to those of the on-coming presidency.

In presenting this paper I feel it’s necessary to point out the topic of the paper still stands. Issues regarding Trump’s accusations of sexual assault or otherwise harassment have yet to be resolved. It’s important that we continue to use our voice (whether that be through writing or otherwise civic engagement) to draw awareness to these issues.

Change only happens under continuous pressure, and it’s the duty of the people to ensure that pressure is applied. Use this as a guiding force in writing your papers. Don’t feel constricted in your topics and seek outside inspiration. Connect to current events and think of this as an opportunity to contribute change to the world.


- First Place -
Sydney Tinker Quynn
"The Intersectionality of Obesity, Poverty, and Race in the United States"
(Instructor: Jesse Gillispie)

Sydney Quynn   

I would like to thank the Writing Program for this honor and my professor Jesse Gillispie for her wisdom and guidance. My mother who I referenced in my essay is an English professor, so the love of language was instilled upon me from a young age.  I really enjoyed exploring a new topic while working on this essay, and I used my curiosity to guide me through the writing process.  I think the hardest part of writing a research paper is trying to argue for a perspective that you agree with while allowing the research and data related to it to stay true– I tried to honor the research done on my topic while honoring my own personal experiences. This essay not only helped me grow in terms of my writing skills, but it also made me reflect on the relationship between food and socioeconomic status, and how it has affected my life. Since writing this essay I have produced three other projects, research proposals and essays on the topic of food injustice and hope to continue educating myself and working in the field of food justice for marginalized people.

(Instructor: Ben Carson)
Diego Martinez

When Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States, my world stood still. Nothing would ever feel the same as before. Empty threats turned into reality, ignorance turned into a standard, and evil turned Presidential. What for months I waived as impossible, became real and it became louder. And as an undocumented student, it was only a matter of time until Trump would come for my dream. No matter how many different people told me everything would be fine, that I was safe, at that moment it felt as if the dream my mother carried with her to this country, as well as mine, was gone – stolen right out of my hands. I had followed the “right” path, but still it was not enough. I had enrolled in college, but still I was a criminal. I was studying to become a doctor, but still I was a threat to this nation. The rose I had grown out of concrete, watered with hard work and determination, died at my footsteps, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had felt more alone at that moment than ever before in my life. But at a time that only darkness was around me, I found light. I found light in Esperanza – in hope. I found it inside my friends, my family, even in myself. It took time, of course, but I would be a fool to have one man end the passion inside of me. I knew that I had come very far and that it was not an accident. I have proved countless times that I deserve to be here. To some it may not be enough, to others I have gone beyond expectations, but until I reach my own, I will not be finished. Whether or not this country chooses to accept me, at the very least I will be heard. This is my story, I have shown you Esperanza’s story, now I hope you can freely chase your own. Stay loving, stay resilient, and keep hope. Thank you for this award.

- Honorable Mention - 
Natan Lao
"Required Reading: The Textbook Monopoly in American Education"
(Instructor: Catherine Carlstroem)

Naton Lao

One of the big things of education - and especially higher education - is questioning everything. (In fact, isn't UC Santa Cruz the original authority on questioning authority?) That said, sometimes it seems like Costco receipts get more scrutiny than the textbook industry. As the truthfulness of  the media we consume is called into question increasingly often, vigilance in understanding the systems by which we acquire information becomes that much more important. My essay brings attention to this - to the hidden malice in the companies we pay to educate our kids, to the practices with consequences that stretch far beyond a hefty price tag.

Historically, I've found the hardest part about writing is finding something worth writing about. (Coincidentally, it also seems to be the most important part.) In retrospect, textbooks don't seem like a fun topic - Big Textbook exists in a gray area that (in my opinion) has no clear villain and no good solution. Judging by the amount of undergrads who read the textbooks they buy, interest in the subject is scarce. But I guess that's what made it worth it.

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