Finding the Write Way Forward

Kent State Geauga Students Take Home 11 University-Wide Writing Awards

Kent State Geauga made a strong showing at Kent State University’s eight-campus annual English Department Writing Awards Ceremony, a Zoom event held on April 27, 2022. Seven students from Associate Professor Bonnie Shaker’s composition courses and four from Senior Lecturer Mahli Mechenbier’s writing courses won 2022 Writing Awards.

In his opening remarks to students and faculty award recipients, Kent State English Department Professor and Chair Dr. Babacar M’Baye commented, “You’ve worked hard and this award recognizes your accomplishment. So please be very proud of what you are receiving.”

He went on to note how the English language is “important in any part of the world to discuss any issues.” Reflecting on the news of the day, he said, “Just hearing the citizens of Ukraine speak in English in such wonderful ways — in such professional ways — reassures me on the fact that I made the right choice on being a Senegalese West African interested in English… Thank you for being ambassadors of the language. Rest assured that you have made the right choice.” 

Also during this university-wide awards ceremony, Dr. Shaker was named the Full-Time Outstanding Composition Instructor Award (OCIA), along with Dr. Alexis Baker from Kent State Stark Campus. For the fifth consecutive year, Dr. Shaker’s students earned Writing Excellence Awards at the annual awards ceremony. In total, 24 of her students have been recognized with writing prizes since 2015.


Dr. Shaker’s 2022 award-winning students include:

College Writing II Awards (22 submissions from all eight campuses)

1st Place: Makiyah Harris, “Press X for Change: Addressing Climate Change Awareness through Video Games” 

Upon announcing Makiyah as the winner of this top award, the Kent State English Writing Program Committee commented, “This essay was highly engaging, well-researched, and included an effective use of images.”
Makiyah Harris

During the ceremony, Makiyah thanked Dr. Shaker “for a really engaging and fun College Writing II class. I definitely appreciated  being able to explore some interdisciplinary topics in my essay and hope to do more of that in the future.”

Her essay outlines the severity of the climate crisis, the concerning gap between scientists’ and laymen’s knowledge on the subject, and what game developers can do to help close that divide. 

“While I was researching climate change knowledge within different populations, I noticed that the things members of the general public believe about climate change don’t always match up with what scientists have proven,” Mikiyah later explained. “This stood out to me as a problem, and gaming — one of my hobbies — presented a potential solution. Some people may not enjoy doing research or reading scholarly articles, but lots of people like playing games. In this essay, I wanted to explore some of the ways in which games can educate everyday people about climate change and inspire them to take action in a compelling way.” 

Makiyah took two of Dr. Shaker’s courses as a College Credit Plus (CCP) student before graduating from Twinsburg High School in 2021. She will start her second academic year at Kent State in the fall, majoring in Animation Game Design as she investigates careers in game writing, art and level design.

Reflecting upon her writing achievement, Makiyah said, “I’ve written essays for classes before, but this paper is probably the one I put the most research into. Making an annotated bibliography, integrating images into an essay, citing a novel outside of a book report/analysis context — these were all pretty new experiences for me. I definitely plan to take aspects of this approach into my future assignments and creative endeavors.” 

Dr. Shaker added, “Makiyah is one of those rare intellects a professor notices on the first assignment. I had her in my Media, Power and Culture course prior to College Writing II, so I knew of her ability to comprehend difficult material. What I was unprepared for was how clearly she could communicate complex ideas back to a general audience. My experience reading her essay was so smooth, I told her it went down like simple syrup. That’s quite a feat in a second-tier writing course.”


2nd Place: Sophia Balunek, “The Natural Connection Between Pandemics and Climate Change”

During the awards ceremony, the essay review committee commented, “This essay included strong connections and an interesting discussion.”

Sophia Balunek
Sophia said, “I like the piece because I think it engages in a relevant and not publicly discussed topic, the writing is concise, and it shows my interest and passion in the subject.”

A 2021 graduate of Kenston High School, Sophia spent her senior year of high school at Kent State as a CCP student. She is now a college freshman, studying geography and wildlife biology. Her goal is “to bring the social sciences and humanities into the natural sciences to explore the relationship between humans and nature.”

Her winning essay discusses the relationship between environmental degradation and the increase in zoonotic disease that can lead to pandemics. Sophia explained that she wrote this essay during the beginning of the pandemic to demonstrate that strains on natural resources and habitat encroachment are connected to the emergence of COVID-19.

“The environment is intrinsically connected to everything humans do and I wanted to illuminate this connection in the hopes that people would realize that climate change is part of how we got into this situation,” she said.

As she reflected upon her award-winning essay, Sophia said, “This accomplishment gave me more confidence in my writing and that helps me to utilize this strength in whatever field I enter. I know that good writing is important, even outside the English discipline.”


Virginia Perryman Regional Freshman Writing Awards (from among seven regional campuses)

1st Place Tie: Olivia Swigert, “Just Come out and Change”

Olivia said that this winning essay “tells my story of a young queer person coming to terms with their sexuality and coming out in a small community during the pandemic.”

A recent graduate of Buckeye Career Center at Claymont High School in Tuscarawas County, Olivia took Dr. Shaker’s class among other CCP courses. She plans to pursue a graphic design degree in the fall.
Olivia Swigert

“After speaking with Dr. Bonnie Shaker when hearing of my placement, we discussed that my overall topic and intro and conclusion were the winning characteristics of my writing,” she said.

Dr. Shaker added, “I saw Olivia come alive in this class.”

Olivia went on to say that this award “has brought me immense confidence as a person who has struggled with learning disabilities. That I am able to receive a prestigious award is truly a testament to why early intervention is crucial to the uphill battle life with a disability is.”


1st Place Tie: Kylie Neumore, “Enough”

Kylie Neumore
Tackling sensitive gender issues, Kylie said, “Growing up as a female has been very hard for me. There are standards and expectations set for women that make me feel like I will never be enough.

“The topic of my essay focuses in on the time in my life that I was struggling with an eating disorder. I was inspired to write this essay because I know a lot of girls and young women have the same feelings and thoughts that I do. I wrote this essay to bring awareness to the subject and validate the feelings that come with it.” 

The recent Berkshire High School graduate took Dr. Shaker’s college class as a CCP student. She will enter college next fall as a sophomore, planning to major in exercise science education and then further her education to become a physical therapist. 

Kylie expressed that “this accomplishment has proven to me that I am capable of whatever I set my mind to. It has shown me that when I apply myself, I will succeed. “

Dr. Shaker added, “Kylie has a writing future ahead of her if she wants.”


2nd Place Tie: Abigail Chuckro, “One Major Change”

This essay involved the time when Abby was 8 years old and her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Responding to the prompt to ‘write about a change experience in your life,’ Abby said, “I immediately knew that I wanted to write about this experience.
Abigail Chuckro

“It was the most impactful thing that has happened in my life to this day, and I knew I could make something good out of the situation. I feel as though my writing really caught the eye of people who read it because of the relatability in it. I was writing mostly from the perspective of a child, and everyone can connect with that in some way.”

Abby was CCP student at Kent State Geauga before graduating from Berkshire High School. She will attend Kent State in the fall to study English, hoping to become either an editor or a library director.

She said that winning this award bolstered confidence and pride in her writing skills. “I used to just write to get the assignment done and over with, but recently, I have been taking more time to carefully craft my writing so that I end up being proud of it.”


2nd Place Tie: Sylvia Lasota, “From Misery to Peace”

Sylvia Lasota
Sylvia is a freshman at Kent State Geauga, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This 2011 Chardon High School graduate plans to become an emergency room nurse.

Sylvia explained that her essay is a memoir of her life as a child and how much it changed when her stepfather came into her family’s life.

“I was inspired to write about this because I knew I could write well about something that was so personally emotional to me,” she said.

Sylvia commented, “I was beyond surprised that I got second place for this award because I have always doubted my writing abilities. Dr. Shaker helped me get rid of a lot of those doubts and helped me find the confidence I needed to become a better writer."



3rd Place Tie: Zachary Beatty, “Vaccinated But Not Protected” *

Zachary attended Dr. Shaker’s class as a CCP student. He is now a 2021 graduate from Mogadore High School.

Dr. Shaker commented, “Zack was a model first-year writing student: serious, prepared, disciplined. I could count on him to take notes, assimilate material, and answer questions correctly in class. Zack fully invested in his writing process from invention to proofreading, which showed in his papers. I’m so glad the judges recognized his essay for the hard work and original insight he put into it. I was proud of him.”

Dr. Shaker attributes this record number of her students winning writing awards this year to a silver lining related to the pandemic. She said, “The difference between pre- and post-pandemic is this: During shutdown, the university gave faculty the technology and training to develop remote teaching best practices. I used that time to solidify my pedagogy, creating short backup videos and class notes that students could access independently. I also redesigned some in-class exercises as asynchronous homework modules. And I learned to use remote breakout rooms and peer review tools to foster interactivity in a mediated classroom. I did not anticipate that pandemic teaching might strengthen my overall teaching — but maybe it did.”

Four students of Professor Mahli Mechenbier won Kent State University regional writing awards during the 2022 academic year.

Perryman Freshman Writing Awards:

3rd Place: Harman Kaur, “Cook or Kick, Why not Both?”        
Harman Kaur

Drawing upon her experience as a high school athlete, Harman wrote about the criticisms and conflicts female soccer players face for playing a male-dominated sport.

Her essay offered a strong argument, good analysis of quotes from outside academic sources, and excellent examples to support the argument, Harman said.

A 2021 Bedford High School graduate, Harman will be a sophomore at Kent State’s Twinsburg Academic Center (TAC) next semester. She was recently accepted into TAC’s Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)  program in her pursuit to become a registered nurse.

“Before this award, I was a bit insecure about my writing skill because English is my second language and has always been a weak subject for me,” Harman said. “But after receiving this award, I gained confidence in writing, and I am proud of myself!”

Honorable Mention: Adriana DeFabio, “The Dumb Blonde Stereotype”

This essay analyzed the movie “Legally Blonde.” Recognizing that “women with blonde hair are often underestimated and seen as ditzy,” Adriana incorporated outside examples to prove her argument that “females with colored hair are not dumb and should receive the same opportunities as females with naturally colored hair.”

A CCP student, Adriana will graduate from Twinsburg High School in 2023. She plans to continue taking CCP classes through Kent State in preparation for majoring in broadcast journalism.

“After receiving this award, I have become more confident in my work and I have learned to love writing,” Adriana said. “I am excited to continue classes at Kent next fall and continue to improve.”


Honorable Mention: Sydney McIntyre, “The Phenomenal Stranger”

Sydney was inspired by the television show “Married At First Sight” to incorporate psychological analysis in this essay.
Sydney McIntyre

“My essay is about how one person can impact an individual’s life greatly — even if they are a stranger (and how this is more common than we think),” she explained. 

The  Nordonia High School graduate just completed her sophomore year at Kent State University, studying accounting. She hopes to eventually work in the field of forensic accounting. 

“Writing has changed my mindset — conclusions come with time and provoking thoughts or ideas,” she said. “Additionally, I have learned to express myself through my writing.” 

Honorable Mention: Elizabeth Hope Wolf *

“Hope is one of my most emotionally observant students,” said Professor Mechenbier. “The strength of her writing is the result of her perception when reading and she has the ability to place herself in the scenario, not as an observer, but as a participant.  She enters TAC’s ADN program this fall and will make an excellent nurse.”

With strong showings in past years, her students are no strangers to Kent State University’s annual writing awards. In 2022, all four of Prof. Mechenbier ’s award-winning students took both her College Writing I and College Writing II courses.

While describing her teaching style, Professor Mechenbier said, “My writing prompts are (intentionally) very general, so my students are responsible for generating their own topics as part of the assessment. Each recognized student developed a thoughtful, critical, insightful, college-level analysis, and they truly deserve praise for these winning essays.  

“Regardless of a student’s major, writing is central to the way that a person presents herself as a professional,” she concluded.

“Especially in a post-pandemic environment, email and other modes of e-communication have replaced face-to-face verbal conversations; therefore, the ability to write proficiently is more important in the workplace than ever.”

* These students did not respond to interview requests.

POSTED: Tuesday, June 7, 2022 - 8:43am
UPDATED: Tuesday, June 7, 2022 - 8:59am
Estelle R. Brown