Assistant Professor Bonnie Shaker’s English Students Take Top Writing Awards

Effective communication skills are the basis for success in all realms of life. Consequently, Assistant Professor of English Bonnie Shaker, Ph.D., is committed to equipping her students with improved literacy proficiencies. Three of her first-year Kent State University Geauga Campus and Regional Academic Center students, Emma Wilcox, Yaseen Shaikh, and Lauren Evans, were recently awarded for their exceptional writing skills at the Kent State University English Department Spring 2019 Awards Banquet. 

Dr. Shaker says, “I hope this has helped students realize that writing quite literally has value; it is a ‘currency,’ as our Assistant Dean Susan Emens likes to say. I appreciate that the Kent State English Department rewards good student writing with both public and monetary recognition; each of these students received a check for their work. Professionals have always had to be good communicators, and that is even more true today with digital media such as email. Good speaking and writing skills can earn job promotions; they can even win the presidency.”

The awards were presented as follows:

  • Emma Wilcox, 2nd place, Perryman Award (first-year writing competition among seven regional campuses), $35. Emma took Dr. Shaker’s Introduction to Literary Study Online, which teaches students how to critically analyze literature.
    • Emma wrote a researched literary analysis of Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening. Dr. Shaker says, “Emma demonstrated an exceptional ability to grasp literary theory, to read texts sensitively and to synthesize secondary source material with her personal explication. Emma’s paper has the potential to contribute to the Chopin scholarship. I have offered to help her work on it toward publication, and I hope she takes me up on the invitation."
    • Emma describes her writing sample further: “It specifically focused on the ideas Chopin expresses through the main character of Edna that relate to social structures. Chopin and her character Edna express progressive views about the role of women in society but were thoroughly [complicit] with the racism of the times. I compared Edna's time period to modern feminism and issues of intersectionality.”
  • Yaseen Shaikh, 3rd place, Perryman Award (first-year writing competition among seven regional campuses), $25. Yaseen took Dr. Shaker’s College Writing I, the first-year, college-ready writing course at Twinsburg (RAC). 
    • Dr. Shaker explains that Yaseen was recognized for his personal essay about nearly drowning in his youth. “His narrative was searingly honest, funny, and wise beyond his years. The best personal essays balance observation with insight; they require writers to describe their past outwardly while exposing their inner vulnerabilities. Yaseen did both with aplomb. I was really proud of him.”
    • According to Yaseen, “The story opens up on a warm, sunny day where I'm at my friend's home, enjoying my friends' company. The narrative emphasizes small details, actions, and feelings that I encountered and yet failed to act upon, whether I should have confessed something, apologized for something or simply loosened up a little. I kept quiet when I shouldn't have. The bottom line was that the accident showed me that I shouldn't always put things off for the 'perfect time' because there's no such thing. As the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz said (translated loosely), ‘Speak, for your lips are free...Speak; your life is still yours.’"
  • Lauren Evens, 4th place, Tier One Writing Award (a university-wide first-year writing competition among eight campuses), $50. Lauren took Dr. Shaker’s College Writing I course at Burton and is exploring a Journalism and Mass Communication major.
    • Lauren wrote a critical research paper using a pop culture reference, the “Ban Bossy” commercial, to launch an investigation into how social constructions of femininity can harm girls’ development. Dr. Shaker comments, ”Lauren’s choice to address a timely topic made her paper pulse with relevance; her critique was incisive and revealing, and her narrative voice was snappy. Judges called her paper ‘feisty.’”

Dr. Shaker’s instructional approach guides students into expressing themselves effectively in writing. She uses composition theory to establish pedagogical cornerstones so students can build their writing skills from a solid foundation. She also chooses readings that inspire students’ interest and curiosity. Finally, she provides feedback that guides them toward becoming independent critical readers of their own writing. “That is the goal,” she says.
That goal is being brilliantly realized in her award-winning students. Emma is a recent graduate from Hudson High School. She took classes at Kent State as a College Credit Plus (CCP) student, so she was simultaneously earning high school and college credit. This fall, she is an incoming college freshman with 18 Kent State credit hours already under her belt. With her sights on becoming a professional writer, she is working on getting pieces published. 

“I am so glad that I took classes at Kent State Geauga because I stepped outside of my comfort zone and learned so much,” Emma says. “Everyone was friendly, welcoming, and supportive, and I witnessed different perspectives of the world because everyone came from a different background than I. I grew academically and benefitted in countless ways inside and outside of the classroom. Now, I will be a full-time college student in the fall, and I feel prepared for the classwork because Kent State Geauga prepared me academically.”

Similarly, Yaseen is a current CCP student who actually just finished his freshman year of high school through the Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA). This online school makes it easy for Yaseen to attend Kent State as a CCP student because of the flexible schedules. “This enables me to seamlessly attend all of my classes without compromising high school for college, or vice versa. With that said, I still feel as though I'm a college student more than a high school student, as I have been taking almost all of my courses through Kent State,” Yaseen explains.

Yaseen appreciates Kent State Geauga and Regional Academic Center because of its close proximity to his home. “I was also drawn to Twinsburg after seeing the great course options and hope to continue there until I decide on a major.“

As an incoming high school sophomore and a CCP student, he looks forward to fulfilling all of his core college requirements and accumulating enough college credits to finish his undergraduate degree early. His ambitious plan is to be a Kent State senior right out of high school. Beyond that, Yaseen is “slightly unsure as to what my career plans are. I'm interested in the medical field, but also feel a calling in architecture. I definitely don't want to decide on something too early; if there's one thing I know, it's that there's such a thing as over-planning. Rather, I'll take my time to find the right balance between my strengths, passions, and practicality, and then make a decision.”

Undoubtedly, these young award winners are proving their academic mettle, thanks in part to the supportive environment of Kent State Geauga and its devoted faculty members.

Dr. Shaker asserts that Kent State Geauga's “small campus environment and limited class sizes matter tremendously. I typically know students by name just a few weeks into the semester and can address them personally in the hallways. We faculty have the same terminal degrees and research experience as our colleagues on larger campuses, but we have the time to invest in our students, to meet with them individually, to answer their emails, to get to know their strengths and weaknesses and to customize their opportunities.”
She goes on to say that these writing award winners “are not anomalies at the Geauga Campus. Seven other students have been recognized with English awards since 2014, bringing the total to 10 Geauga winners in the last five years. That’s a strong record for a campus our size, and I don’t think it’s an accident. Our English faculty coordinate composition instruction consistently to produce what our colleague John Metz has called ‘a culture of good writing.’” 

Regardless of what the future holds for Emma, Yaseen, and Lauren, their success will be dependent on their ability to communicate effectively at work, at home, and throughout the community. They are well on their way.

POSTED: Friday, July 19, 2019 - 2:00pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 8:29am
Estelle R. Brown