Writing Across URI announces winners of Undergraduate Writing Awards

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Julie Falk
Winner of the Undergraduate Writing Award for advocacy writing, pharmacy student Julie Falk ’21, of Plantsville, Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of Julie Falk)

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 29, 2020 – Writing Across URI has selected two undergraduate students, Julie Falk ’21, of Plantsville, Connecticut, and Margaret Rodrigue ’20, of East Greenwich, as winners of the inaugural URI Undergraduate Writing Awards. The competition was announced in January to recognize and celebrate outstanding student writing across all disciplines that has an impact; understands its audience and purpose; and demonstrates scholarship, rigor and insight.

More than 100 students entered submissions for the competition. The award recognizes strong writing in a variety of genres – beyond the traditional ‘term paper’ – from blog posts, to policy briefs, to news reports. A panel of reviewers evaluated pieces for attention to audience, organization, content, style, mastery of subject matter, use of sources and the ability to convey understanding.

“All undergraduates aspire to have their voices and ideas heard. Our goal with this competition was to provide students with one such platform. The more opportunities students have to write during their college experience, the better writers they become,” said Harrington School of Communication and Media Professor Heather Johnson, director of the Writing Across URI program. “The judges were pleased with the range of writing we received for this competition and with our two winners.”

Margaret Rodrigue
Winner of the Undergraduate Writing Award for scholarly writing/research, marine biology/environmental science management student Margaret Rodrigue ’20, of East Greenwich. (Photo courtesy of Margaret Rodrigue)

Pharmacy student Julie Falk’s advocacy writing submission, entitled “Expanding access to the influenza vaccine in Connecticut,” was initially written as an assignment for her Pharmacy Leadership and Political Advocacy class. She was spurred to write when she discovered that within one week last fall more than 100 students enrolled at the elementary school in her hometown were absent due to flu and other illnesses. She wrote in favor of a bill under consideration in the Connecticut legislature that would make it possible for pharmacists to administer the flu vaccine to children, ages 12 and up, with parental consent. Current law allows only those 18 and up to receive the flu vaccine at a pharmacy.

“I chose this topic because it’s important to me,” said Falk. “I work in a community pharmacy and I see how important it is for everyone to be vaccinated. It’s unfortunate for us to have to turn parents away with their children when we could be increasing access to flu vaccinations and making a positive contribution to the public health.”

Falk, who knew she wanted to major in pharmacy from an early age, looks forward to her graduation which is set for May. “I can’t wait to start working and putting to use all of the knowledge and experience I have gained here,” she said. “I’m learning things that are really important to people in a profession where I get to help them every day.”

She hopes the paper she wrote will help highlight the role of pharmacists in helping to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

It was a passion for the environment and time spent studying abroad at the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences that spurred Margaret Rodrigue’s research on the red mangrove. Based on research and data she collected, Rodrigue worked on and refined the resulting paper, “The effect of mangrove health on fish abundance,” as part of an ongoing independent study since her time at the Institute in 2018. It ultimately became her submission in the scholarly writing/research category.

The marine biology/environmental science management dual major became fascinated with the red mangrove, realizing how vital it is – not only in creating an ecosystem and providing a habitat and food source for marine life, but also how interconnected it is to human livelihood.

“It was exciting to go through the process of creating my scientific design, looking at what gaps there were in the research and being receptive to feedback from my amazing mentor in Bermuda, Dr. Leo Blanco-Bercial. Part of what I wanted to do with this paper was make the research more accessible,” she said. “One of my big takeaways was that there should be more data and research on this topic. I hope that this paper, as well as my future work, will help to open more doors to talk about the ecological processes of mangrove forests and their inhabitants.”

Rodrigue, who graduated from URI in May, is in the process of applying to graduate school and is looking forward to continuing her research into mangroves as part of a Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute research project in Florida in the fall.

Each Undergraduate Writing Award winner received $1,000, funded by the Office of the Provost. There are plans to introduce additional categories to the competition for the 2020-2021 school year.

The Writing Across URI program began in 2016, under Professor Nedra Reynolds, to create a campus-wide culture of writing through workshops, seminars, writing retreats, and other events to support faculty and students.