Papers on subjects ranging from random number generation to a 17th century nun-composer have earned four Southwestern students prizes of $1,000 each.

The four students are winners of the 2013 Shearn Writing Award, which was created in 2012 to recognize one exemplary student from each of the school’s four divisions. The 2013 winners are Ashley Kraft, Paris Nelson, Evan Rodriguez and Quinlyn Morrow.

Kraft won the award from the Division of Fine Arts for her paper titled “Lucrezia Vizzana: The Caged Bird Sings.”

“I have hardly ever seen such a good undergraduate paper,” said Thomas Howe, a professor of art history who assisted in judging the division’s submissions. “I was most impressed by the vivid and sophisticated way she analyzed the historical context in which the nun-composer lived, what it was like to be an aristocratic lady assigned to a convent, the politics and class system which existed within the context, and the way her composition interacted with the larger politics of the church and the world outside the convent.”

The division judged the papers anonymously to introduce students to the process of independent, anonymous peer review practiced in the academic world.

“The papers were read and critiqued solely on the basis of their content,” said Michael Cooper, professor of music and fellow Fine Arts Division judge. “Ashley’s paper was thus selected through a process that was both rigorous and thoroughly professional.”

Cooper said Kraft took on a topic in a fairly young subdiscipline of musical research, and one that has been dealt with only poorly by the senior scholars who have begun this line of inquiry. “She recognized the topic’s potential, did some important legwork and some difficult intellectual work, and presented her findings in a fashion that’s exceptionally strong − especially for an undergraduate,” Cooper said.

Rodriguez received the award from the Division of Humanities for his paper titled“‘Won’t Bow, Don’t Know How’” about New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. The paper was written for his Communication Studies capstone project under the direction of Davi Thornton, associate professor of communication studies.

“What especially impressed us about Evan’s paper was its intellectual daring,” said Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton, an associate professor of English who helped judged the papers. “His paper brought together very sophisticated theory and cultural criticism with a deep experiential engagement with his subject, the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians. We believe that this kind of compelling work speaks to Southwestern’s core academic purpose, which is to encourage fearless intellectual pursuit that is also driven by a passionate engagement with the world.”

The Division of Humanities awarded honorable mentions to Jacob Brown, Andrea Gannon and Elise Riggs. “Each of these papers brought something special as well,” Piedmont-Marton said. “Elise for her scrupulous research and methodology; Jacob for the elegance and clarity of his prose; and Andrea for the sophistication and originality of her treatment of a canonical text.”

In the Division of Natural Sciences, Paris Nelson won for his paper titled “On Random Number Generation,” which was written for Suzanne Buchele’s Computer Systems course. 

“When I read these papers, I looked for a big picture question, a reasoned and supported methodology and the student’s ability to ‘translate’ the technical science into a media that made sense for practice and purpose,” said Romi Burks, an associate professor of biology who was one of the judges. “A well-written paper should allow me to go and talk with someone else and do a reasonably good job of explaining what the student did, what they found and why one might care.”

Morrow won the award from the Division of Social Sciences for her paper titled “Does Support Effectiveness Vary as a Function of Self-Efficacy and Support Type?” Morrow did the research for the paper with fellow student Cristina Muyshont and wrote the paper for her capstone project under the direction of Eric Crockett, assistant professor of psychology. Crockett, Morrow and Muyshont plan to continue working on the paper in the fall and eventually submit it for publication.

“Quinlyn is a very talented writer who is gifted at clearly and succinctly presenting her ideas,” Crockett said. “I am very thankful to have been able to work with her.”


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