Undergraduate Writing Colloquium

COVID-19 Update: WSC Virtual Tutoring Information

The annual undergraduate writing contest recognizes and celebrates outstanding student writing and shares that writing with the University of Rochester community.

2020 Winners


Tess Perry, “America’s Opioid Massacre: Rename. Reframe.” 
Written for Climate Species Justice (FMS 303), Professor Leila Nadir 

“America’s Opioid Massacre: Rename. Reframe” is an insightful and powerfully-written analysis of the current “opioid massacre.” This piece deftly makes the argument that this public health event should be termed a “massacre” rather than a “crisis,” or an “epidemic” by highlighting how the histories and connotations of those more frequently used terms obscure the economic and political forces that have produced this massacre. Only when we shift the language around the massacre, HUM43 demonstrates, will we be able to hold accountable those responsible for the production and distribution of opioids. Through its careful analysis of language, its breadth of research, and its combination of personal and analytic registers, this piece offers an excellent example of how urgently we need humanistic inquiry.

- Professor Anna Rosensweig, Department of Modern Languages and Cultures

Honorable Mention 
Serah-Marie Maharaj, “A Trinidadian’s Perspective on American Society’s Relationship with Food” 
Written for Food, Media and Literature (ENG 267), Professor Leila Nadir 

Sarah Murphy, “Black and White and Green All Over”
Written for Advanced Feature Writing (ENG 281), Professor Melissa Balmain


James Sheinbaum, “How the Player Can Drive the Story: A Look into Agency and Open-World Narrative” 
Created for Advanced Writing and Peer Tutoring (WRT 245), Professor Stefanie Sydelnik 

The idea of player control, or agency, has become central to video games and produced interesting debates concerning how we play and access video games. In “How the Player Can Drive the Story” the author contributes to this debate through thoughtful in-depth research. The method of communicating the research is super effective, the quality of the presentation of the research (video and audio) was excellent. Great Work!

- Professor Stephanie Ashenfelder, Interim Director of Digital Media Studies and Studio Arts Program Manager

Honorable Mention 
Catherine Ramsey, “Caged Bird” 
Created for Incarceration Nation (PSC 224), Professor Joshua Dubler 

C. Daniela Shapiro, “Fault”
Created for Comics and The Moving Image (ENG 119), Professor James Rosenow


Julian Maceren, “Reducing Poly(ethylene glycol) Immunogenicity via Triblock Nanoparticles with an Internal Vinylacetylene-PGMA-N3 Cross-Linked Barrier” 
Written for Polymer Chemistry (CHE 476), Professor Wyatt Tenhaeff 

The outstanding feature of this submission is its originality.  The author proposes a novel and seemingly powerful solution to a significant biomedical problem in the field of drug delivery using sophisticated chemical synthetic approaches.  The argument is supported throughout by original graphics that illustrate key concepts with a level of clarity and readability often reserved for professional graphic artists.  The science is well sourced.

The requisite synthetic chemical scheme, which could well be Greek, is presented concisely and quite elegantly.  The rationale, concepts and chemistry of this proposal are fully developed. As is the case for all well-presented and tightly organized research proposals, the argument feels to the reader like a no-brainer that should have already been tried.  I am sold.  Let’s make PEG-VA-PGMA-Phe!

- Professor David Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry

Honorable Mention 

Nicholas Baronowsky, “Mechanics of the Trumpet” 
Written for Classical Mechanics I (PHY 235W), Professor Frank Wolfs 


Briana Cahill, “A Holistic Examination of Body Worn Cameras: The Facts, the Pros, the Cons, and the Unknown” 
Written for Public Defender Internship (PSC 394), Professor Lynda Powell 

The paper is timely and original, and is based on the writer’s first-hand experience in the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office. The paper nicely blends the writer’s personal observations with insights from published articles and comments from local officials. The prose is clear and straight-forward, with a good blend of the writer’s thoughts and sourced material. The arguments are sensible and thoughtful, taking into consideration multiple perspectives on the use of these cameras. The paper comes to a well-reasoned conclusion about the need for further consideration about how body worn cameras can best benefit the criminal justice system.

- Professor Harry Reis, Department of Psychology

Honorable Mention 
Amina N'Gambwa, “When the Black Woman Stares Back” 
Written for The Black Body (ANT 235), Professor Kathryn Mariner  

Paola Isabel Rodriguez Tiel, “Dependent insular territories and prospects for independization 
Written for Foundations of Modern International Politics (PSC 278), Professor Hein Goemans 


Jacen Emerson, “Back to the Stone Age: The Horrifying Darwinian World of The Walking Dead” 
Written for Horror of the Graphic Novel (WRT 105), Instructor Zachary Powell 

What set this submission apart was its ability to combine a clear, well-researched and original argument with an engaging and approachable writing style. The skillful argument placed Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead at the forefront of horror, pushing the genre into the realm of psychological horror and asking readers to grapple with their own selfish tendencies. Integrating both textual, visual and scholarly analysis, this paper demonstrates time and again how humans serve as the real monsters in Kirkman’s Darwinian zombie apocalypse.

- Professor Molly Ball, Department of History

Honorable Mention
Adira Blumenthal, “Effect of Creativity in Computer Science Education on the Gender Gap” 
Written for Creativity, Innovation, and Imagination (WRT 105), Professor Denise Malloy 

Needle de Carvalho Wang, “The Gay Accent: Fact, Fiction, and Identity” 
Written for Language, Power, and Identity (WRT 105), Professor Justin Coyne 

Submission Process

Each spring we accept submissions from students in five categories:

  • Humanities
  • Social sciences
  • Natural and applied sciences
  • WRT 104, WRT 105, WRT 105E, WRT 105B
  • Multimodal Projects from any discipline (e.g. websites, podcasts, video projects)

Submissions should be academic work and may have been created any time during your undergraduate career at UR. Please limit papers to twenty-five pages.

Submissions are reviewed by graduate student writing tutors and faculty members from across the disciplines.

Prizes are awarded for the winning and honorable mention papers/projects in each of the five categories. First-prize winners are invited to present their work at the Writing Colloquium Awards Dinner in order to share their outstanding work and be recognized for their contribution to the excellent student writing produced at the University. This year the awards dinner will be held on Thursday, April 2.

Entries should be submitted using our writing colloquium awards form.

If you would rather email your submission as an attachment, please send it to writingcontest@lists.rochester.edu.

For email submissions please create a title page for the paper that includes the following information:

  • Your name, student ID, e-mail address, and phone number
  • Your class year and major
  • Title of course (if this paper was written for a course)
  • The category for which you are submitting the paper

If you have any questions about the contest please contact the Writing and Speaking Center director at stefanie.sydelnik@rochester.edu.

Past Winners

List of recent past winners and their essays:

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