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2018 Writers’ Conference

15th Annual Undergraduate Writers’ Conference

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Conference Director: Norah Ashe-McNalley

Keynote Speaker: Alex Espinoza

2018 Program

Analytical Essay

Researched Essay

Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning

Creative Work

USC Schwarzenegger Institute

USC Levan Institute


Analytical Essay
(165 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Garrison Hall
A Theoretical Analysis of Gonzales v. Carhart

This paper uses Gonzales V. Carhart – a 2007 Supreme Court case that upheld a ban on late-term abortion – as a case study to consider two opposing views of the American judicial system.  This essay… represents analysis in its purest form.  Paragraph by excellent paragraph, the author sifts through the (ample) evidence to consider alternatives, objections, complications, and multiple perspectives.  This is not just careful writing but writing that is full of care – for what truly elevates this essay is the author’s keen understanding of how analysis serves a larger social purpose.

2nd Prize
Max Kapur
“When I Turn into a Leaf and Empty Myself”: Trees, Transcendence, and the Ecopoetic Imagination in Contemporary Korean Poetry

In this masterful essay – closer kin to a journal article than an undergraduate essay – Kapur argues that the vocabulary of ecopoetics can help us to appreciate two poems that “offer contrasting narratives of humans who . . . seek communion with nature.”  Kapur’s literary analysis is top-notch….  What truly makes Kapur’s essay meaningful, however, is its determination to include a new critical vocabulary in the discussion of contemporary Korean poetry….  Kapur… put[s] forward an argument that feels – in the truest sense of the word – like a generous and open-minded contribution to the scholarship.

1st Prize
Angelina Sophonpanich [Sofon-pa-nich]
Hearing History: Iterations of Modern Identity Politics in Philip Metres’ “Sand Opera” and Monica Ong’s “Silent Anatomies”

Demonstrating her authority as a literary commentator, Angelina Sophonpanich juxtaposes a pair of literary texts in order to examine “voices and identities that have been silenced by political forces or cultural taboos.”  Focusing on the multiple meanings and instantiations of “silence,” the author offers a smart, insightful close-reading in light of current understandings of intersectionality.  Sophonpanich develops her argument with subtlety and grace, not only opening up Metres’ and Ong’s texts but also revealing how certain cultural spaces effectively silence alternative voices.

Researched Essay (105 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Alejandro Schugurensky [Al-ee-han-dro Shoo-ger-en-sky]
Charter Schools and the Growing Opportunity Gap in California

The question driving Schugurensky’s research is whether students across racial/ethnic backgrounds, disability status, and English language proficiency have the same access to educational opportunities at charter schools as at public schools…. Through conducting a thorough literature review and analyzing a large dataset of [8,486] California schools… Schugurensky… find[s] that “charter schools tend to have larger gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students when it comes to access to educational opportunities when compared to traditional public schools.”

2nd Prize
Lauren Brackmann, Hannah Fahsholtz [Fash-olds], and Alanna Schenk
Arctic Stewardship: Treaties and Regimes

By confronting sustainability from the standpoint of policy and arctic diplomacy, this boots-on-the-ground research project represents an impeccable form of writerly activism. Its expansive scholarly framework and considerate handling of interviews allow this project to emerge as a signpost for undergraduate research at USC and abroad. As collaborators and perhaps future colleagues, Brackmann, Fahsholtz and Schenk deserve a national platform – their policy recommendations are well-reasoned and impossible to ignore.

1st Prize
Rose Campion
Forging the Folk: The Development of a National Musical Identity in Edwardian England

Through her research on music’s role in helping England shape its national identity, Rose joins the ranks of our most accomplished undergraduate writers. Her project synthesizes a vast assortment of primary and secondary sources while positioning her inventive argument squarely within the discourses they reflect. On the sentence level, Rose’s elegant prose illuminates every claim. Clearly, she writes both for discovery and for joy!

Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning (84 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Sonali Seth
“The Library Cad of Morning Glory High” Memorandum

In this sterling legal memorandum, Seth provides her reader a thorough, organized and astute analysis capable of guiding any fellow lawyer through her finely-wrought syllogisms….  Most impressively, she accomplishes all of this while writing in a style that is accessible to any non-lawyer: educating and persuading her reader about byzantine issues within America’s First Amendment jurisprudence.  It is both a fine piece of lawyering and a fine piece of prose, from a future lawyer/writer whose potential, no doubt, knows no bounds.

2nd Prize
Mary Cate Hickman
Spanish Politics and Religious Monuments: The Case of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba

Hickman’s well-researched and meticulously argued essay is a fascinating timeline of the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, a finely-curated lesson on Spanish politics, and a forceful and persuasive legal argument about property, the Catholic Church and the Spanish Constitution…. Hickman’s honors thesis reads like the culmination of months—if not years—of arduous research and labor; it announces its precocious author as a burgeoning scholar in her field.

1st Prize
Olivia Steinkamp
Wandering Thoughtfully Through the 21st Century: The Evolution of Benjamin’s Flaneur

In this extraordinary paper, Steinkamp examines the nineteenth-century romantic notion of the Flaneur, a peripatetic urban intellectual who spent his or her days wandering through Paris…. With grace and aplomb, the writer traces the flaneur ideal from the Arcades of 1820s France through the wide boulevards of Paris that comprised the heart of Napoleon’s 1860s urban modernization project to the technologically saturated urban landscapes of the 21st century. It is in the modern cityscape, Steinkamp reveals, that we can see how the flaneur experience has been democratized by technologies such as Uber, digital maps, and the “hive mind” of social media, all of which make wandering an easily accessible experience.

Creative Work (140 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Diana Postolache [Post-a-lach]
“scrap metal & white space”

Postolache’s inventive poems are wonderfully playful and thoughtful. With references to Greek myth, literature, and history, Postolache’s poetry display a breadth of knowledge that she weaves effortlessly into evocative imagery. Her ability to use form, space, and word play make these poems both a delight to read and a cause for reflection.

2nd Prize
Jensen McRae
Requiem for Bundy

McRae’s collection of sixteen poems takes readers into the head and heart of a young woman suffering from a series of chronic, overlapping, unrequited loves. But the poems also have much to say about being an undergraduate, a Los Angeleno, a progressive in this fraught political moment. The language and cadences are sharp and inventive, and the tapestry is evocative—a vivid portrait of a certain girl in a certain place at a certain time. As McRae writes in her poem “Big Bang,” “Occam’s Razor states / that if two theories explain a phenomenon / equally well, / The simpler explanation / must be best. / You have unzipped me. / I am done trying to think / of a better way to say it.”

1st Prize
Kanak Kapur
“In the Kitchen”

From the very first sentences readers know that they are in the hands of a masterful writer.  The language throughout the entire story is beautiful and precise….  Whether describing the sound a pillow makes thumping to the ground, or the intricacies of a young girl’s relationship to her caretaker, Kapur imagines a vivid world that invites readers to suspend their disbelief and enter the story wholeheartedly.  The piece raises necessary questions about the dynamics of family and the power of service without ever becoming didactic or preachy.  “In the Kitchen” does what the very best stories do: it tells an engaging narrative that can’t help but make us consider our world a little bit differently once we’ve finished reading.

USC Schwarzenegger Institute

2nd Prize
Alexandra Demetriou
Seeking a cure for Governmentitis

The Schwarzenegger Institute supports political and civic engagement, and encourages leaders to put people over political parties and take a bi-partisan approach to solving the critical issues of our day. Not only does this paper provide a number of solutions for improving healthcare in America it actively encourages doctors and health providers to take a leading role in the political process and a hands on approach to shaping healthcare policy.  It is easy to call for charge but harder to make it happen.  This paper recognizes that point and calls on doctors to “be the change” that is needed to improve access to healthcare in America and the lives of millions of people.

1st Prize
Sebastian Walter Young
Blackouts and Bills

Climate change is one of the most important and challenging issues facing our generation and clean, renewable energy is key to helping mitigate continual harm to the planet caused by pollution and green house gas emissions.  The State of California continues to lead the way in showing that it is possible to address climate change and reduce harmful emissions while still fostering economic growth and job creation.  Smart public policy making and strong leadership in Sacramento have driven California’s leadership and we at the Schwarzenegger Institute are always excited to see the next generation of thinkers explore ways to continue protecting and improving our global environment.  We were very impressed with Sebastian’s understanding of energy grid technology and both the opportunities and difficulties that renewable energy provide.  Governor Schwarzenegger had to weigh many of these concerns during his tenure in the Governor’s Office and we believe he would have enjoyed having Sebastian and his intellectual dexterity advising him while deciding which renewable energy projects to support and which to avoid.

USC Levan Institute Ethics Essay Contest

Ethics Essay Contest winners were also announced at the Writers’ Conference. Click here to view the winners.