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Aetna Freshman Writing Prize

The First-Year Writing program coordinates the Aetna Freshman Writing Prize (sponsored by the Aetna Chair of Writing), an award for excellent nonfiction composed in a First-Year Writing class. Winners are awarded cash prizes, they read from their work at an awards ceremony, and their pieces are published online. Instructors of FYW courses may nominate students for this award.

Submissions for student writing completed during any term from Fall 2016 to Fall 2017 are now open. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. on February 2, 2018.

Submissions may be nominated by an instructor or self-nominated. To submit your (student’s) work, please:

  1. Download and complete the prize submission form.
  2. Remove student and instructor names from the paper.
  3. Email both the submission form and your essay (in either DOCX or PDF format) to

A committee will review all submissions in early spring. Good luck!

The 2015 winners were:

Aetna, First Prize: Joshua Weist, “Corruptive Villainy: Finding the Root of Evil” (Instructor: Melissa Rohrer)
Ratcliffe-Hicks, First Prize: Julia Nattila, “Easy is the Descent into Hell”: Seeing the Pain of Others in Breaking Bad” (Instructor: Emma Burris-Janssen)

The 2014 winners were:

Aetna, First Prize: John Peters, “The Silent Treatment: Have We All Lost Our Voice?” (Instructor: Eleanor Reeds)
Aetna, Second Prize: Marisol Gallo, “Freedom Writers: The ‘Invisible’ Period of Racism in America and Hollywood” (Instructor: Melissa Rohrer)
Aetna, Second Prize: Dominique Martin, “Irene Adler: Making a Statement” (Instructor: Emma Burris-Janssen)
Ratcliffe-Hicks, First Prize: Sarah Coughlin, “The Communicative Paradox” (Instructor: Alaina Kaus)

The 2013 winners were:

Aetna, First Prize: Michael  Caruso, “Ain’t No Whig o’ Mine: Sir Robert Walpole, the South Sea Bubble, and a Pissed Irishman” (Instructor: Erick Piller)
Aetna, First Prize: William Lanzoni, “Dockers Define Manhood.”  (Instructor: Kate Gross)
Aetna, Second Prize: Zachary Stack, “The Unconscious Vampire” (Instructor: Denise Lovett)
Ratcliffe-Hicks, First Prize: Keith Appleton, “The Obscure Social Acceptance of Facebook” (Instructor: Scott Wade)

The 2012 winners were:

Aetna, First Prize: Antonio Rivera, “The Silent Treatment: Have We All Lost Our Voice?” (Instructor: Samuel Robinson)
Aetna, Honorable Mention: Marcey Lewin, “Curious About Curiosity: An Investigation” (Instructor: Roberta Marggraff)
Aetna, Honorable Mention: Tanner Rathbone, “Fragmentation and its Positive Effects on Mentally Ill Patients” (Instructor: Alaina Kaus)

The 2011 winners of these contests were:

Aetna, First Prize: Kaley Kruger, “Empirical Reality to Authenticity: Joyce’s Development of the Work of Art in The Dead” (Instructor: Michael Bartch)
Aetna, Second Prize: Coree Charette, “The Truth” (Instructor: Maria Seger)
Aetna, Third Prize: Emili Mahon, “Redefinding of ‘Separate Spheres'” (Instructor: Maria Seger)

The 2010 winner was:

Aetna, First Prize: Christian Gibney, “Profile of a Hero: Rorschach” (Instructor: Kisha Tracy)

The 2009 winners were:

Ratcliffe Hicks: Marianne Correa, “Living in Blight and Anti-Semites: A Striking Comparison in the Development of Violent City Youth and the Militaristic German Nazi” (Instructor: Lisa Zowada)
Aetna, First Prize: Lisa Ruohoniemi, “History and Heritage: Telling the Story of a Nation Through a Single Soul” (Instructor: Lynn Z. Bloom)
Aetna, Honorable Mention: Janine Johnson, “The Effects of Sexism and Racism in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye” (Instructor: Abbye Meyer)

The 2008 winners were:

Ratcliffe Hicks: Leigh Sager, “Are You a Moody Fish?: Reading Stanley Fish’s Criticism through Rick Moody’s ‘Boys'” (Instructor: Sarah Rasher)
Aetna, First Prize: Zach Dorn, “Night of the Living Post-Modernist” (Instructor: Eva Teague)
Aetna, Second Prize: Stephen Corbo, “A Different Type of Panopticon: Fight Club” (Instructor: Kristi Garvin)
Aetna, Third Prize: Kerri Fenton, “Nature and Ecocriticism inFahrenheit 451” (Instructor: Patricia Taylor)
Aetna, Honorable Mention: Thomas Dimauro, “On My Honor: Narrative of an Eagle Scout” (Instructor: Sean Forbes)

The 2007 winners were:

Ratcliffe Hicks: Angela Yuan and Elizabeth Zhu, “The Philosopher’s Elysium” (Instructor: Lynn Z. Bloom)
Aetna, First Prize: Lauren Silber, “Forces of Creativity Surpassed for a Greater Purpose” (Instructor: Abbye Meyer)
Aetna, Second Prize: Kerry Smith, “Funding Distribution of the Endangered Species Act” (Instructor: Corey Mahoney)
Aetna, Third Prize: Caitlin Cuskley, “Unearthing a Voice: Releasing the Creativity of the Women of the Past” (Instructor: Abbye Meyer)
Aetna, Honorable Mention: Brian Kelly, “Guernica: Capturing the Essence of War” (Instructor: Trudi Bird)

Every fourth year, the essays of the winners of these awards are collected in Essay Connections: Freshman English Prize Essays.

There are also a number of essay and creative writing competitions available to freshmen and other writers in the University. The Creative Writing Program administers most of these competitions.