Policy Wonks and Fever Dreams

Audrey Schlimm accepts the 2017 First-Year Seminar Writing Award. Photo by Wes Lickus '17

Photo by Wes Lickus '17.

First-Year Seminar Writing Awards highlight exceptional, wide-ranging work

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Choosing a First-Year Seminar is choosing an academic adventure. You select topics that intrigue you—not necessarily related to your intended major—and join a small group of students with similar interests. Together, you dive in deep, exploring ideas, methods and ways of thinking you may never have encountered before. And you write an essay reflecting your experiences. That’s where the First-Year Seminar Writing Awards come in.

Bestowed annually, the First-Year Seminar Writing Awards recognize exceptional writing—of any length, in any genre, on any topic—produced by students in a First-Year Seminar course. This year’s awardees are class of 2020 members Ilana Gruber, Audrey Schlimm and Cooper Wingert.

Small passage, big effects

Ilana Gruber

Photo by Wes Lickus '17.

Gruber enrolled in Assistant Professor of Political Science David O’Connell’s seminar on persuasion in U.S. politics. For her final project, she analyzed American women’s accessibility to contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

First, she pored through legislation and federal guidelines—and reports of said legislation and guidelines—to find relevant passages and gain a solid understanding of the policy. She then researched its effects, based on studies and reports she found in the Jumpstart database and on the White House, Kaiser Family Foundation and Guttmacher Institute websites. “Before this class I had never read any federal legislation, and I didn't realize how complicated it can be,” Gruber said, noting that the complex Affordable Care Act alone is approximately 1,000 pages. “I found it really fascinating how one small bit of text can be the difference between one woman paying for her birth control and another woman getting it for free.”

A cautionary tale

Cooper Wingert. Photo by Wes Lickus '17.


Wingert also studied governmental policy, but in a different sphere. In a paper written for Professor of Anthropology Ann Hill’s course, Mountain People in China, he examined the effects of Chinese policy on the lives of the Wa people and argued that governmental actions have contributed to Wa poverty rates, and to loss of Wa cultural identity and traditions. He wrote that a more inclusive approach, incorporating "valuable indigenous knowledge into policymaking," could lead to better governance as well as cultural preservation.

"The research was different from my previous projects, which dealt with American history," said Wingert, a published Civil War historian, who scoured scholarly articles and travelers' accounts, rather than his usual historical archives, "and I think this assignment made me look more critically at government policy and its real impacts on peoples."

The joy of gritty detail

Audrey Schlimm. Photo by Wes Lickus '17.


As part of Professor of English and John J. Curley '60 and Ann Conser Curley '63 Faculty Chair in Global Education Wendy Moffat’s seminar on the suffragist movement, Schlimm did a close reading of a passage in The Eye in the Door, a historical novel set during World War I. A fan of both literature and military history, she chose a passage describing a vivid nightmare experienced by a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“I learned that a single passage can hold an incredible amount of meaning … and that gritty details are often what captivates [readers],” she said. “I also discovered how much I enjoy writing, and how genuinely exciting it can be to write about literature.”

Stay tuned

The awardees shared their work during a Feb. 16 reception, or “StudenTea,” in the Waidner-Spahr Library’s Biblio Café. That event kicked off the library’s signature “tea” series, informal gatherings that bring faculty and staff from across campus together to learn about recent and ongoing work.

Read the winning papers.

Upcoming FaculTea lectures:

  • March 8: Dengjian Jin, professor of international business & management and John J. Curley '60 and Ann Conser Curley '63 Faculty Chair in International Studies, "The Skeptical Stance: Toward A Transcendental Theory of Knowledge"
  • April 5: Suman Ambwani, associate professor of psychology, "Eat. Science. Love."

Learn more

Published February 17, 2017