2021 Geauga Students Have the Write Stuff… Again!
It's uncanny but true! For the second consecutive year, five English students of Bonnie Shaker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English from Kent State University at Geauga, were standout writing award winners. Three of Dr. Shaker's students swept the Virginia Perryman Awards in the regional campus Freshman Writing category, while two others were among the top three winners of the College Writing I & II Essay Contest.
Perryman Award winners were Lucia Lubanovich (first place), Erin Piczer (second place), and Jillian Stewart (third place). Among College Writing awards, Gregory Bond took first place, and Taylor Zeigler won third place. Each of these students was in Dr. Shaker's College Writing I course except for Taylor, who was in College Writing II.
These annual awards are presented each spring by the Kent State University Department of English. Also, for the second year in a row, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the 2021 awards ceremony could not be held in person. This year's event was held virtually over Zoom.
Despite the restrictions, Dr. Shaker says, "The English Department did a fabulous job with the writing awards ceremony this year. Students each got their 'camera moment' to say a few words. I really loved that, including being able to see their facial expressions. It was a happy event!"
Considering the repeated writing awards achievement, Dr. Shaker shares credit with the campus culture, which prioritizes writing — "from Dean Spalsbury on down — making English faculty's job easier. So much of student motivation comes from seeing coursework's relevance to their lives. So when nursing, business, and other students know they can't get into their programs with a low pass in College Writing, they step up their game from the start. It helps that such a message is reinforced at every turn. Three of this year's honorees are nursing students, and I don't think that's an accident."
These nursing students — Erin, Greg, and Taylor — are learning that "communication is at the heart of everything in nursing," says Kerry Myers, MSN, RN, Nursing Associate Lecturer at Kent State Geauga.
"This involves establishing trusting relationships, assessment, collaboration, and education. Good communication improves the quality of care provided to patients and directly impacts patients' outcomes. Writing is an excellent way to reflect, practice, and hone this critical skill."
Starting with the Perryman Awards, the first- and second-place finishers describe their experiences.
1st place: Lucia (Lucy) Lubanovich
"I've heard nothing but incredible things about Kent State Geauga, so taking college courses throughout my senior year of high school just seemed like a no-brainer to me," she says.
Lucy received a rewarding head start to college-level courses, thanks in part to Professor Shaker. "Dr. Shaker has been nothing but encouraging and supportive throughout the entirety of my first year at Kent Geauga. Her belief in my work has directly impacted my academic confidence and improved my personal understanding as a writer," she says.
Her winning essay, "Fueling Disaster," described a gasoline and fire accident that Lucy and a couple of her friends experienced.
"We knew the dangers of pouring gas on a fire, but it didn't cross our minds that anything tragic would happen to us specifically. We had put gas on fires a million times, and nothing bad ever happened before... So there was no way that anything bad could ever again, right?
This essay focuses on the dangers that the' it won't happen to me' mentality can have on people. Subconsciously believing that nothing bad will happen, because nothing bad had ever happened before, can put you in terrifying situations."
In her essay, Lucy says that she was able to write with forthright authenticity. "The fire I wrote about and the lesson engraved in its consequence are extremely serious. To help the reader understand this, I strived to write in a way that made the reader feel like they were there."
2nd place: Erin Piczer
Erin is also a very recent graduate of West Geauga High School but attended Newbury High School previously. Next fall, she will pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing, with the career goal of becoming a nurse practitioner. She chose Kent State Geauga for her CCP experience "because I hold the Kent State program in a high respect and knew that was the place that could give me the best education close to home."
According to Erin, "I was a straight-A student who did not have to try at all in high school. I know it seems quite cliché, but Dr. Shaker gave me my first low B for a writing project, and I was upset. I had previously skated by, giving minimal effort and not putting my heart into my writing, and she knew that I could do much better. She entered me in this writing contest because of how true the piece was to my generation. Though photos are meaningful, looking through our memories at phones can lessen the true relationship with others."
Erin's winning essay dealt with being unable to capture meaningful moments on a phone, focusing on a personal experience from a family vacation in North Carolina.
"Every year, my siblings and my cousin beg to go 'ghost-crabbing.' If you are unfamiliar with many North Carolina shores, the small crabs that come out at night are referred to as ghost crabs. Out of exhaustion every year before, my parents refused to go out at night and catch crabs, but this year was different. My family took us out ghost-crabbing, and I had a heartfelt moment with my mother while looking up at the stars. The main part of the story was written in the view of my younger self, who was upset that I could not take a photo of the stars. Then my mom gave me a message that would last a lifetime, telling me that some of the most beautiful moments in our lives could not be taken as a picture, but must live on in our memories."
As a writing experience, Erin says, "I used a lot of imagery and tried to make my readers feel how I felt, walking along the dock to the shore. It was the first essay I really fell in love with, and it really showed the beginning of what I realized I was capable of."
3rd Place: Jillian Stewart
Jillian entered Kent State Geauga as a freshman this past academic year. Although she could not be reached for comment in time for this article, Dr. Shaker sings her praises: "Of all 2021 student winners, Jillian grew the most as a writer."
Dr. Shaker commends Jillian for successfully managing her coursework by attending class faithfully, taking notes, completing work on time, visiting the Writing Commons, and scheduling conferences with Dr. Shaker when she needed personalized guidance.
"We used reverse outlining to help Jillian recognize paragraphing errors she was making," Dr. Shaker says. "Jillian went from having strong writing aptitude to being able to consistently execute polished writing. I was really proud of her, and she has since told me that she now enjoys writing."
Now for the College Writing I Essay Contest:
1st Place: Gregory Bond
While taking Dr. Shaker's College Writing I class, "She helped me realize that writing is an art form. Before the start of her class, I thought I was already a 'good' writer, but I learned quickly that that was not the case."
Greg says that he was able to learn and grow as a writer under Dr. Shaker's guidance. "I think the reason she pushed for me to enter the contest was because she could feel how strongly I felt about the topic I chose to write about. I surprised myself with how well it turned out, and I was even more surprised when my essay was selected as the winner."
Greg's essay, "Man by Definition," focused on the issue of toxic masculinity. He says, "It also points out ways that our society has perpetuated that very issue. I was inspired to write it just by observing things around me and wondering why things have to be marketed the way they are. Once I had that initial question in my mind, I ran with it."
College Writing II Essay Contest:
3rd Place: Taylor Zeigler
Taylor graduated from Cardinal High School before enrolling at Kent State Geauga and its nursing program. Now in her third year of studies, her career goal interest is developmental disability nursing.
"I liked the fact I was able to live at home and work to pay for school as I go. I wanted to stay local and get the same degree as if I lived on campus."
"Writing was not an easy task for me when I first came into Professor Shaker's class. Trying to learn how to write college-level papers from the beginning sounded like a hopeless action from my point of view. If it was not for all the time and dedication Professor Shaker gave to each and every one of her students, I would not be where I am without her. "
Taylor's essay was a multimodal research paper related to the topic of global climate change and how it could impact the health care system.
"I am currently employed through a health care facility and have seen the lasting effects COVID-19 had on the health care system from personal experience," Taylor explains. "The peak of the pandemic, unfortunately, was during the time I was given this assignment, so I was able to use input from my personal experience."
Thanks to Dr. Shaker, Taylor gained enough confidence in her writing to produce award-winning work. "She assured me I would not be where I am if she thought I was not capable of achieving such great things. From that moment forward, she would reach out to me if I needed a second pair of eyes or deeper guidance with my paper."
Now, Taylor recognizes that writing is not a task to be avoided. "Writing is all around us in daily life and something I never really thought too much about until I truly realized its importance. Nurses rely on what was past documented to correlate their care for each and every patient they take care of. I am thankful for the experience Professor Shaker has given me to expand further into my future endeavors."
When asked how the award-winning qualities of her students will serve them as they progress further in college and career, Dr. Shaker says, "I could talk about the importance of written communication to students' lives — but I think that misses the larger point. The real boon to students here is the recognition. They did something extraordinarily well, distinguishing themselves among their peers at a large public research university. That, alone, reaps incalculable long-term benefits."