By Estelle R. Brown
Five students from the Kent State University Geauga Campus distinguished themselves as writing award winners during Spring Semester 2020. Each was a student of Bonnie Shaker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English. While Kent State Geauga students have won a total of 16 awards from 2014 through 2020 in different categories, five winners in one year is a notable achievement.
These annual awards are presented by the Kent State Department of English across all Kent State campuses. Due to COVID-19, the 2020 awards ceremony was canceled. However, winners received certificates and cash prizes through the mail.
For the first time, three of Dr. Shaker’s students swept the Virginia Perryman Awards in Freshman Writing:
- Olivia Rhodehamel, first place, Intro to Literary Study, Geauga online;
- Kyra Wendl, second place, Geauga; and
- Ethan Berkovitz, third place, Twinsburg Academic Center (TAC).
In the College Writing I & II Awards, two Kent State Geauga students placed within Kent State’s all-eight campus system:
- Megan Buchert, second place, College Writing II, Geauga; and
- Zachary Harber, third place, College Writing I, TAC.
Among the five award winners, three (Olivia, Ethan, and Zach) were all still in high school, taking college courses as part of the College Credit Plus (CCP) program. Dr. Shaker calls their achievements “extraordinary.”
“I tell students that being recommended by their faculty is the prize; they are already distinguished among their peers,” Dr. Shaker continues. “That said, we have such a strong writing program here at Kent State that I am always gratified to see Geauga students’ writing recognized.”
The Virginia Perryman Awards in Freshman Writing are presented by the Kent State Department of English. According to the English Awards website, any freshman is eligible to submit one piece of writing in any genre (essay, fiction, poetry, drama). Six prizes are awarded: three for students enrolled at the Kent Campus and three for students at Kent State regional campuses.
Olivia took first place for a critical essay on Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, in which she compared the nineteenth-century construct of the New Woman to today’s feminism.
Olivia says, “I was inspired to write about this topic because, despite being published before women were even allowed to vote, The Awakening is almost Chopin’s way of bravely defying expectations for women. The freedom and independence of the main character, Edna Pontellier, is one of the novel’s major themes, showcasing how Chopin’s novel contained feminist ideas that were shunned at the time. This topic is extremely interesting to me!“
Olivia graduated from South Range High School in Canfield this year with enough CCP credits to enter college at the sophomore level. This first-place award winner has chosen to major in English “because reading and writing have always been important to me, and I thoroughly enjoy learning and studying the intricacies of language,” she says. “I’m not sure what my career goal is yet, but hopefully my future career will include writing of some sort!”
Olivia says, “Professor Shaker’s class helped me better understand, analyze, and study works of literature. Every piece of literature we studied could be analyzed and understood in many different ways, and Professor Shaker encouraged us to look at many different types of literature. I’m extremely thankful for the feedback, knowledge, and opportunities that Professor Shaker provided through her course, Introduction to Literary Study.”
As the second-place Perryman winner, Kyra graduated from Berkshire High School in 2018 and decided to go to Kent State Geauga due to its convenient location. Now a junior, she is pursuing a major in Early Childhood Education at the Kent Campus. She is currently an assistant teacher and plans to teach either third or fourth grade.
When asked about her writing instructor, Kyra says, “Bonnie Shaker is, by far, one of the best professors I have had. She has such a passion for teaching and writing. The energy she gave off got me motivated and excited to write. The writing prompts led me to choose something that had a deep meaning to me. I did not know what I wanted to write about, up until she mentioned not to think about it too much; to go with my gut.”
For her award-winning essay, she wrote about her experience as a military child. She described meeting and losing many people in her life due to moving eight times and attending nine different schools, and the complicated home dynamics produced by her father’s deployments and her mother’s management of that time.
“In all honesty, this is the last thing I wanted to write about,” Kyra admits. “Everyone sees it as a luxury; but there are many faults, as well.“
“I believe it was honesty that prompted my second place. I did not cherry-coat anything. This was meant to be an essay of truth; this essay was meant to unravel many things about myself. I had already chosen this as my topic. That is when I decided to just let go.”
Third-place finisher Ethan was a Solon High School senior and a CCP student at Kent State Geauga when he wrote his award-winning essay. This fall, Ethan is a college freshman.
His essay was a memoir about his battle with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis and severe anxiety. Ethan shares, “I really wanted to share my story in an emotional way to my audience. I hope my writing really grasped the readers’ attention to make them feel like a part of the story.”
Ethan doesn’t consider himself a ‘natural’ writer. He says, “Bonnie Shaker took me from being a very average writer to a much more advanced writer. She challenged me in ways that I had never been challenged before, which really helped me grow as a student.”
COLLEGE WRITING I & COLLEGE WRITING II WINNERS
The College Writing I and College Writing II awards (formerly the Tier I and Tier II Writing Awards) reflect the two courses from which the pool of essays come. Faculty from all eight campuses teaching these courses may recommend three students per course to submit their papers to the contest. A select group of university-wide finalists are recognized.
Second-place winner Megan is a 2018 graduate of Crestwood High School from Mantua. She enrolled at Kent State Geauga because she was initially unsure if she wanted to enter college or the workforce. Now a junior, she is pursuing a major in psychology.
While taking College Writing II, “Dr. Shaker gave me lots of encouragement. She was confident in me and was patient when I asked a billion questions! She wanted me to excel as much as I wanted to. That pushed me to do my best.”
Her award-winning essay focused on global warming, rising sea levels, and sinking cities. Megan says that Dr. Shaker’s best advice was “to write what you’re thinking. Keep writing, even if it’s not perfect at first. You can always change it later. Just get your thoughts down and then make sure that every paragraph connects to your thesis statement. So I will keep going and keep trying because now I know that I can always go back and fix it, whatever it is. If I keep trying, the outcome will be good.”
Third-place winner Zach attended Kent State Geauga as a CCP student before graduating from Nordonia High School, getting a head start on his college career. An incoming freshman this fall, he is pursuing a sports management major “because I love the sports industry and hope to one day be in a professional sports organization.”
While in Dr. Shaker’s class, “She helped me develop my writing skills throughout the course, and also helped me gain confidence in an area of weakness for me,” he shares. “Dr. Shaker suggested that I enter the writing contest because she had a lot of confidence in the essay I wrote.”
Zach’s essay focused on the connection between wealth and health. He explains, ”Good health, along with many other aspects of life, can’t simply be bought, but being healthy sure may help lighten the burden when life may feel out of control. I feel like what inspired me to write this essay was about how people all have different opportunities to be healthy, based on their wealth.”
The supportive environment of Kent State-Geauga has played a major role in each of these students’ achievements. As Zach puts it, “I feel that Kent State Geauga has been very accommodating to their students in various ways. All the teachers that I’ve had have been super motivating and helpful to set their students up for success.”