Personalized Attention at Kent State Geauga Produces Award-Winning Writers
Writing is a process of discovery. Sharing one’s writing with others is an act of vulnerability and trust secured over time through individualized attention. When one’s writing is considered worthy of an award, it’s cause for celebration and recognition.
Accordingly, congratulations are in order for three Kent State University at Geauga students of Associate Professor of English Dr. Bonnie Shaker. All three writing award-winners are freshmen who submitted essays they had written for Dr. Shaker’s College Writing I course. Their wins make them part of an unbroken line of 28 writing award-winners since 2015 among Dr. Shaker’s students at Kent State Geauga.
Each spring semester, the KSU Department of English awards student prizes in creative writing, critical writing, and writing in freshman English classes.
Isabel May’s essay earned her the first-place Regional Perryman Award.
Cassidy Shaffer won the first-place Kent Perryman Award.
Sierra Graham took the second-place College Writing I Award and the third-place Regional Perryman Award for two different essays.
“I applaud all three students for their combined four awards,” states Dr. Shaker. “While I emphasize that students are free to choose their own topics, Cassidy, Sierra, and Isabel took risks by addressing very personal ones. This allowed them to be invested in their writing and to use writing as a tool for self-discovery.”
Isabel May is a junior at Chardon High School who takes classes at Kent State Geauga as a freshman-level College Credit Plus student. She took the first-place Regional Perryman Award for "A Beautiful Kind of Pain,” a personal memoir about how she spent Christmas break with her great-grandmother before she passed away.
“This helped me to resolve my guilt surrounding the loss of my Nana only a few months prior,” she explains. “The night she died, she texted me, and I did not respond because, at the time, I was in a dark place with my mental health. I pushed away anyone who showed even the slightest bit of love towards me because I felt I did not deserve it.
“So, when I found out she had passed, the guilt immediately drowned me, and I did not think I would ever be able to resolve it. However, a few months later, when my Great Gram was getting ready to pass away, I took it upon myself to stay by her side at her home, day and night, acting as her caregiver in an attempt to resolve my past guilt over not being able to properly say goodbye to my Nana. I spent the entire week with my Great Gram, and the night before Christmas, I reluctantly had to go home to open presents with everyone on Christmas morning.
“On that last day—the 26th—I got the phone call I had been dreading but also subconsciously waiting for. My uncle called to tell me my Gram had passed. I forced my parents to drive me over to her home to be with her before she was taken away. I took it upon myself to slip off her wedding band—her most prized possession. However, when I tried to give it to my uncle, he simply put it back into my hand and said ‘She would have wanted you to have it.’ I finally felt the guilt within myself about my Nana start to lessen with the knowledge that I got to take care of Gram in the way I wished I had taken care of my Nana.”
Isabel has been taking Kent State Geauga’s core requirements to prepare for her intended major in Human Development and Family Studies. She wants to become a clinical counselor and help those struggling with mental health.
Isabel goes on to say, “Without Dr. Shaker, I would not have the confidence I now do about my writing capabilities—she has helped me to further see how I can make an impact with my words. I feel comfortable going to her for guidance, and I only hope her future students can allow themselves to be taken away by her amazing teaching skills so they too can become more fluent writers.”
Regarding her award, Isabel shares, “Being recognized for my writing has helped me to gain confidence about my writing abilities and has helped further motivate me in achieving my goals of being open about my life experiences so others do not feel alone in what they have also gone through. I hope my writing can help others feel as though their stories are valid as well, and deserve to be told.”
Cassidy Shaffer is a 2019 graduate of Cuyahoga Falls High School who is studying Speech Pathology and Audiology at Kent State. She won the first-place Kent Perryman Award after taking College Writing I through Kent State Geauga.
Her essay, “Gain Through Loss” was “incredibly personal, as I wrote about losing my twin brother at the age of 12, and then described the rollercoaster of emotions that it put me through, ultimately concluding with the sentiment that you should always treat people with kindness because you don't know when the last time you will see them will be,” she explains.
“I think it won because it was raw and real. I don't know if many of those who read my essay can relate to my specific situation, but can relate to the sentiment.”
Cassidy shares, “I loved having more individualized attention from Dr. Shaker when it came to not only writing my essay but just being a student in her class. She always listened, supported, and encouraged all of her students. She taught me that there is no such thing as a bad writer.”
“Writing this essay and receiving an award for it has made me want to delve deeper into writing, and using it as an outlet as I pursue my career in speech pathology,” Cassidy concludes. Her career goal is to work in a hospital to help with the rehabilitation of patients who have suffered strokes or similar issues.
Sierra Graham graduated from Rootstown High School in 2020. She started this first year of college as an English major with plans to become a language arts high school teacher in the future.
Sierra took the second-place College Writing I Award for “The Faulty Criticism of Transgender Women in Sports.” This essay focuses on the debate around the fairness of women’s sports when considering the inclusion of transgender women.
“I wanted to broaden my understanding of the complexity of this subject matter so I could better involve myself in discussions and activism,” Sierra explains. “In short, my essay concludes that the attempts to exclude transgender women are the only consistent thing harming the fairness of women’s sports, as it ultimately creates a physiological upper limit of women’s success.
“I would like to believe that the winning characteristics of my essay include a good focus on my thesis as well as the impactful evidence supplied to support it. I find the topic covered to be important and a necessary discussion to push, as well.”
Sierra also received the third-place Perryman Writing Award for “Regardless,” an essay covering “the everyday kind of homophobia that many face and the story of me coming to terms with my sexuality and having to overcome my family’s viewpoints. It concluded in saying that I had to love myself instead of pushing myself into boxes for people who chose to love me despite who I am instead of regardless.”
Sierra adds, “I believe that my storytelling as well as my conclusion and how it tied into the title were the main winning characteristics.”
Sierra reflects, “Dr. Bonnie Shaker made my transition back into education and classes incredibly easy and helpful to build my confidence back up in my writing. The personalized instruction from a regional campus was genuinely very helpful and almost felt like a good transition from high school instruction to college. I felt that my writing was given more attention and gave me the ability to actually grow and create finished products that made me feel accomplished.”
“This writing recognition has really grown my hopes for my future writing abilities as well as given me the drive to involve myself more in my writing and with my instructor,” Sierra concludes.
Nodding to the personalized attention Kent State Geauga students enjoy as a benefit of small class sizes, Dr. Shaker can’t say enough about Isabel, Cassidy, and Sierra. “All three were superb students. They spent the time I asked of them in the early phases of writing in order to produce pieces they could be proud of. I am delighted the judges recognized their work.”