Four Parkland College students recently earned prizes in an annual writing competition created by a retired faculty member.
Winning Diana McDonald Writer's Challenge awards of $500 each for their essays were Kennedy Coffie of Chicago for "Mastering Language"; Sami Issa of Syria for "Moving Up the Ladder"; Kaitlyn Marsh of Weldon, Illinois, for "A Necessary Evil"; and Elie Ngandu of the Republic of Congo for "America's Immigrant Dream."
Parkland English Professor Seth Mendelowitz, who serves as coordinator for the contest, said the competition usually awards one or two winners each year but that this year was special due to the strength and diversity of the submissions.
"Our winners ranged from a student temporarily living here during conflicts in his home country to a student from a small town in rural Illinois," he said. "Given evidence of excessive time spent by young people with more clipped forms of communication (via social media), and given the resultant widespread concern that most young people are not developing their reading and writing skills, it is exciting that we have had such a strong pool of submissions this year."
In fall 2011, to foster students' interests in writing, McDonald, a former composition instructor at Parkland, began awarding essays that display a strong sense of voice and unique perspective, written with precise word choice, clear organization, and grammatical and mechanical correctness.
According to the contest website, judges look for essays that "connect the writer's experiences, insights, and observations to larger ongoing conversations about the world—about politics, philosophy, science, media, justice, family, race, happiness, the environment, or some other important component of our culture and/or world." Mendelowitz said this year's judges regretted not awarding several other submissions that also displayed originality, interesting life experiences, and clear writing.
Students taking a Humanities department course may submit essays for the McDonald Writer's Challenge. Faculty judges select a winner near the end of May. Besides a cash award, the winning essay is also published on SPARK, Parkland's online academic repository. SPARK now includes the new winning essays:
- Mastering Language: Coffie’s essay offers thoughtful reflections on her journeys between different English language communities, demonstrating how our way of speaking can tie us to a community and sense of communal identity, while shutting us off from other communities and identities. https://spark.parkland.edu/mcdonald_award/8/
- Moving Up the Ladder: Having made the U.S. his temporary home due to civil war in Syria, Issa details his fears and confusions at his job due to his rudimentary English skills as well as the strategies he employed to overcome his fears and improve his speaking and comprehension. https://spark.parkland.edu/mcdonald_award/7/
- A Necessary Evil: In this well-researched essay, Kaitlyn Marsh offers a balanced analysis of the effects of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Illnesses (DSM), which has promoted humane and consistent treatment of people with mental illness, while also enabling "big pharma" to generate a dramatic increase in the numbers of Americans being diagnosed with and medicated for mental illness. https://spark.parkland.edu/mcdonald_award/6/
- America's Immigrant Dream: An immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ngandu acknowledges sympathy for Americans who come from a line of long-oppressed forebearers while describing the contrasting perception and experience of many immigrants, including himself, for whom the U.S. is a land of opportunity. https://spark.parkland.edu/mcdonald_award/5/