Essay Competitions

The Writing across the Curriculum Program co-sponsors two essay competitions each year. They are

  • The UW-Superior Liberal Arts Essay Competition: The local winner is awarded a $500 scholarship from the UW-Superior Foundation. The winner and up to two runners-up are entered in the UW System Liberal Arts Essay Competition, where they could win a $2000 scholarship.
  • The Women's and Gender Studies Essay Contest: The winner in each of two categories is awarded a $150 prize.  Categories: scholarly and creative-expressive.

Visit the News and Events section for information on recent contests and winners.

Eleventh Annual Liberal Arts Essay Scholarship Competition (2015-16)

Topic: "The value of a liberal arts education is often debated. Some people will argue, 'We need an education that focuses on training for jobs that are currently in demand.' Others will claim, 'An education is more than that. It provides the foundation for a meaningful life and career.' With these positions in mind, write a letter to the editor of your hometown paper that stakes out and defends your position in this debate. Your letter may mention several arguments, but should focus on one that is derived from your college experiences, both in the classroom and beyond."

Congratulations to first-place finalist Faith King, second-place finalist Jade Tucker and third-place finalist Xuan Chen for their winning entries.

'You Never Know Where Life Will Take You' by Faith King

Dear Editor,

I am writing you to offer my opinion that pursuing a Liberal Arts Education is more important than ever. Going to a college to learn technical or job specific skills sounds practical and like a good way to avoid getting “too far into debt.” It may be, but doing that prepares you for only one line of work. What happens if you get burnt out on that particular job or laid off after a couple years and start filling out job applications?  

What will happen is that you have a lot of training and experience in just one thing. The very thing you are ready to move on from. If you got laid off or were no longer able to work that job for some reason, then you are also limited in your options. There might be multiple companies employing people in the same line of work in your community, but that will not likely be the case. It often happens that everyone else who got laid off from your employer will be job searching at the same time. This situation might turn out okay for people willing to move anywhere for work. Those who have already bought homes or have family ties have a lot fewer options.

This is the point where you need to get creative. You will draw on all your skills to present yourself as being versatile and able to excel in many areas. All those composition, art, science, diversity, foreign language and critical thinking classes they require you to take at liberal arts colleges are for a reason. That reason is to prepare you for the many directions your life may take. 

Nine years ago, I graduated with a degree in Early Childhood Education from a liberal arts college. I worked in the field for three years in a variety of different settings, before getting a job with the Duluth Public School District as Head Start Teacher. I felt so blessed to finally be making a wage that represented nearly five years of schooling. After two years I got laid off along with thirty other teachers and paraprofessionals. 

I have spent the last few years looking into other jobs that are related to Early Childhood Education, but didn’t find many that I was qualified for with comparable pay to the Head Start job. I was not the only one searching for such a job in Duluth, so the competition was high. I then decided to “cut my losses” and settle for a job at an establishment I liked until I figured out what to do next. 

The job I found paid far less than a professional wage, but it got me through for a couple years. That was when I began searching for other jobs that I might have the skills for. I drew on my writing skills from four different composition classes, my Spanish speaking skills from two semesters, my artistic abilities from multiple art classes and my critical thinking skills from a philosophy class.  Some of the classes you take along the way to getting your major and minor requirements met might be the ones you are still using years down the road. 

When I couldn’t find the perfect job I decided that it would strengthen my chances to build on skills that I had begun to explore the first time I went to college. If I hadn’t taken all those art classes the first time around, I might not have realized that I still want to teach children, but what I want to teach them is art. 

As I was filling out countless applications and attending interviews, I found myself promoting my writing skills. I stated that I had strong writing skills so many times I came to the realization that was what I really wanted to do professionally: write.   

I am enrolled at University of Wisconsin-Superior as a Writing Major and Art Minor. Almost all my credits transferred from the other colleges I attended, and I am well on my way to another degree. I thought about the issue of liberal arts versus a more focused education all over again. Taking out loans and going back to school is even more intimidating the second time around, but I am happy with my choice. 

I want to grow as a creative writer and explore the ways I can use my writing skills as an employable professional. I want to hone my drawing and other art skills so that I can continue to create art on my own and share that knowledge and passion with youth. I am now teaching afterschool art classes at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School and Pineapple Art Center in Duluth. I hope to use my experiences and training to put together an art project idea book for children ages 2-12 years old.   

One of the most substantial reasons I found for heading back to school involved my need for more online communication and computer related skills. Every potential boss seemed to want to know if I could add things to a website or what design experience I had. I know they tell you to embellish what you are capable of in interviews, but that’s just not my style. After losing several jobs to someone who I assumed was a bit more computer savvy than myself, I decided to do something about it. I knew that course expectations would involve computer presentation skills and design work. I have already met several technological challenges head on in my first semester back. I could have avoided them, but I’m here to learn. I asked the questions that I needed to and now possess website creating skills and have mastered the PowerPoint presentation. 

That sums up the beauty and necessity of liberal arts education to me. You graduate fully certified in your major and minor, but you also leave with a tool box of skills on the side. You will most likely need those skills somewhere along the line, in fact they may prove to be a much bigger part of your life than you could ever have imagined. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this!



Faith King

'The True Value of a Liberal Arts Education' by Jade Tucker

Dear Editor,

There is so much a liberal arts school has to offer. When I was looking into my college choices I made sure to seek out these universities, eliminating other schools from my list without a second thought if they were not liberal arts. You see, there is a missing value in our lives that come from the arts that science can never hope to achieve on its own. For example, imagination is the blueprint for scientific inventions. Curiosity is the drive for scientific discoveries, and the successful scientists are those whom can think outside of the box. These desired and honored characteristics are common and nourished on a liberal arts campus.

Let us set one thing straight to start: I am not attending college—liberal arts or otherwise—for a job. I have a job right now as a movie theater usher and I work it every summer. This is because a job is a short-term stepping stone with little or no room to move up within. I am attending university for a career and one in which I can happily spend the rest of my working life occupied in. One in which I believe in its mission and would willingly sacrifice my time endorsing and improving. One where promotion is only the cherry on top. A liberal arts school encourages its students to find their passions and follow them, which will start them on these career paths. This is done by setting the bar high for creativity unlike a non-liberal arts college. For example, perhaps a student finds a new way of understanding the lesson that the professor had not thought of. Well, if it works for them why change their thought process? Why break down their methods until they fit into someone else’s nice, little imaginary box suited only for the current job market?

Also, the lack of emphasis on the current job market should not be frightening. In fact, it should be comforting because what is current while a student is in school is not what will be current after their four or more years of schooling. In actuality, preparing students for current job openings is preparing students for closing and temporary career opportunities which spiral downwards into a post-graduating life of debt and unemployment. By not focusing on one area of study, liberal arts schools refuse to give up hope on career paths not currently trending. Who knows, these fields may be growing and in need by the time these students have finished their programs. This is accomplished because liberal arts universities instead emphasize a meaningful growth experience when demanding students take certain curriculums. It is from these experiences that lessons are not only learned but knowledge is gained and practiced. Education has no worth if those who have been educated are unable to swiftly apply their knowledge in real-life situations.

These experiences encourage meaningful growth in raising students’ tolerance levels so that we can face difficult and challenging situations calmly and with an open mind. This is especially significant in a reality where it appears that everyone is so easily offended. Lessons in liberal arts classrooms allow diversity to blossom and prosper, respecting differences in context and cultural backgrounds. This not only fosters critical thinking but brings forth critical awareness. If people were not aware of what they were learning, doing, or reflecting then they would lack the necessary conscious awareness and thought that would help them stand out in a crowd of similar résumés. They would be no better than mindless robots, acting on behalf of others’ set of values and goals.

These experiences may push students out of our comfort zones, but this is essential for us to appreciate both new and old ideas, ways of thinking, and ways of acting. One personal experience happened during my introductory philosophy course, in which the lesson plans consistently included examining our own life experiences and independent values. For example, simply by recognizing that there are normally more than two sides to every argument threw students off-guard. Suddenly we were paying special attention to how we defended our beliefs and what we were assuming other people meant when they disagreed or offered other suggestions. By pushing out our comfort zones to accommodate the education we are receiving, students are better able to relate to others instead of constantly worrying about accidentally upsetting and offending one another. This supports and inspires networking possibilities, especially between students in separate and different areas of study and non-academic interests. The easy access of networking capabilities also strengthens the feel of community relationships which fosters empathy and collaboration. This can occur between students and staff, peers, and those who interact with campus extracurricular clubs and groups. This is important for universities to establish and maintain in hopes of keeping students and recruiting future students.

Respectfully taking students out of their comfort zones also helps us acknowledge and experience different ways of thinking. To be able to change perspectives in evaluating a single subject is extremely helpful in finding practical and successful solutions, theories, and ideas that may have been otherwise overlooked or ignored. This ability makes for a wellrounded person that can better contribute to the progression of society as well as their career path. It is with these alternative ways of thinking that new solutions to complex and controversial issues can be found and applied, increasing unity between prior adversaries.

My own experiences have helped me grow not only as a student but as a person. I have questioned my beliefs—religiously, politically, and socially—until I am sure they are my own and not media fed strings of lies and illusions. This is extremely important because I cannot always rely on what others want and think when making decisions that will directly affect my life. I have found my voice when standing up for my values in equality, justice, and care ethics among others. In the classroom I am encouraged to learn from my peers as well as help enrich their own educational experience. My professors have interacted with me as if I still have so much unlocked potential, never giving up hope and never allowing myself to settle for only one thing or another. I have found my passion and my faith in what I want to do with the finite time we are allowed to grace Earth. This is how I know a liberal arts education is without a doubt worth it.

A liberal arts education “provides a foundation for a meaningful life and career.” This type of degree dares to dream and encourages dreamers to keep dreaming. This type of education refuses to settle for preparing its students “on training for jobs that are currently in demand” because it realizes that currency is temporary. A liberal arts school should be praised for its willingness to prepare students not only for a job, but for a happy postcollege life and a meaningful career. This type of degree has a value beyond basic education which is important because we cannot spend our whole lives being educated. Eventually it is us whom become the educators and a liberal arts education prepares us for this destiny.


Jade Tucker

'Liberal Arts: The Seed' by Xuan Chen

Dear Editor, 

After spending three and a half years studying at a liberal arts college, with a “howcould-you-make-a-living-on-that” major and a “no-job-other-than-teaching-could-be-found” minor, I have deeply experienced the worldwide stringent expectancy for education that could lead to a bright future. The encouraging attitude seems to only be set up for majors that could potentially earn a lot of money, but for those that are not demanded...even a very old doctor in a small drugstore very much enjoyed insulting me, saying, “Ah, seriously? Why don’t you study something like business or chemistry, more practical and useful?” When similar situations happened often, I found a way to contribute to the world peace by replying, “No, no, actually, they just don’t have a philosophy major and what I really study at is how do we know what we know and if the life is worthy of living.” 

If I only mean to open a window that other people try to forbid me from opening, I had better announce that my goal is to take off the whole ceiling. Before the elder humiliated my writing major and philosophy minor, I spoke to her to get writing material for my summer research that enabled me to experience living as a professional writer and paid me a stipend. If the standard of earning money determines that some windows should be closed tight, the liberal art education should support each individual to discover his or her own window with no limitation and enlighten them to eventually formulate their own view of life. 

The meaning of education should not be limited by market desires. Education should help each individual to have an inquiring mind that seeks for the answer of how to live a life.    

My entire college experience is haunted by this very honest and cruel statement: “I don’t know what to do about my future.” However, classrooms became my playfield after I declared my passion for creative writing and philosophy, and I lived like an eight-year-old who was always playing, wondering, and learning, until my family cut me off and labeled my decision as hasty and naïve. 

“Be serious, you aren’t even a native speaker!”

I protested, “Even if I were a barbarian, what I could feel is no less than the greatest poet who knew millions of fantastic vocabulary.” 

My family seemed to be right after I became trapped by the problem of being unable to stay in this country another year after graduation. I could not find any yearlong paid internship in either my major or minor departments, while other international students found some from the business or biology field. 

I wrote to some of my professors and mentors who have encouraged me a lot on writing. I told them that now I knew what my parents yelling “reality is going to pound you down!” meant, and only having a passion was insufficient for making a living. They replied to me with a long list of possible jobs and publishing opportunities. The Writing program enrolls every writing major into the widely known online association of writers and writing programs, and holds events like “Careers in Writing Night” to connect us with professional writers who have had similar struggles at the beginning of their careers.

However, my struggle was no longer about the question, “What do I do about my future?” Rather, my college life evokes the new question, “Why do I need to find out the answer for what to do about my future?”

I wrote to a former professor who is a Mexican but teaches English writing that, “I feel I could go to live in a jail after graduation, which would provide me potential safety, food service, and a stable place to read, write, and live without worrying about money.

Besides, my prisoner-friends would inspire me in an unpredictably valuable way. ” 

She responded, “The prison possibility sounds interesting, but remember you have to commit a crime in order to get a free pass—something to ponder… (You know I am smiling as I type). Keep writing. ” In another week, she sent me a list of recommended writing programs and graduate schools.

I should have threatened my family that if they stopped supporting me, I would send them a handwritten letter with my dried tears and the jail address; however, with my summer research fellowship and three other scholarships I earned mostly because as a nonnative speaker I won an essay contest and well presented my philosophy paper in a social inquiry conference, I was able to pay for my last year at college.

With a creative mind that is nurtured by my liberal arts education, the jail plan remains compelling to me. Nevertheless, not many people would agree that living in a jail should be the destiny where my education should lead. Education is expected to better a person’s life, therefore, it is wise to choose major and minor that could most potentially pave the way to a bright future. However, not many people have realized the real difference between living a life and simply being alive. 

While I was working on my summer research, when I walked alone on the street and looked at people I had searched for a long time in both my mind and the reality of me standing in the city that I was writing about, I asked myself often, “Am I writing about the city, or am I the character that is written by someone else who is doing the character study of representing this city?”

To limit the value of education by market demands is similar to asking, “Am I the original writer of my life, or only a character in other writers’ script?” 

It is indeed important to learn the skills of making a living, but if we love a giant tree, we should also learn to love the hundred year span that the tiny seed needs to grow into the tree that brings us the joy of the shade in summer and sweetness of fruits in autumn. The liberal arts education is the seed, and if we focus on the consequence of harvesting the fruits, desperation will clutch us whenever the seed dies; however, with the same duration of waiting, either the growth or the death of this seed will inspire in us a new point of view in life. We should not concern ourselves much with the pursuit of consequence, but more with the process of pursuit.      

Xuan Chen