Entering college represents a new chapter in a student’s life — a time when excited minds are asked to polish their voices and translate thoughts into words.
Entering its fourth year, the Don Rothman Writing Award is given out every fall, rewarding outstanding first-year writers. Applicants submit an essay at the end of their first year, and over the summer the essays are assessed by a panel of judges from the UCSC Writing Program, acknowledging up to five students with an awards ceremony and scholarships.
The two winners of this year’s Don Rothman Writing Award are current second-year students Alma Morales and Jeremiah Tsyporin. Morales’s essay, “Niña de Mexico, Student of America — Daughter of Nowhere,” won first place, and Tsyporin’s essay “Mega University” received second place.
“I was a mediocre writer in high school,” Tysporin said. “When I began college I decided to approach writing from a different perspective — one of intrinsic motivation for writing itself rather than completion of an assignment. After that, I won this award.”
An extensive judging process narrowed down this year’s winners to the final two.
“[There are] dozens of hours of attentive reading of the essays and meetings to discuss their relative merits,” said UC Santa Cruz writing teacher and awards judge Margaret Amis. “Each of the judges is a member of the UCSC Writing Program with several years of experience in teaching undergraduate writing skills at the University of California.”
Humanities dean William Ladusaw emphasized how Morales’s and Tsyporin’s writing skills are an invaluable asset not only as a mental exercise and as an opportunity for a potential career.
“Strong writing and oral communication skills are fundamental to success after graduating in nearly any career you’d pursue,” Ladusaw said. “Our alumni show that an education in the liberal arts centered in the humanities provides a strong foundation for professional success.”
Amis attributed a similar importance to writing skills.
“The importance of good writing skills are at least twofold,” Amis said. “Writing helps you discover how you think about a difficult and relevant problem and then turns around and helps you express those ideas clearly, in a reasonable and responsible order, in nuanced and polished prose.”
The writing award is named after 39-year Oakes writing teacher Don Rothman. He was a beloved Oakes educator whose passing last year had a huge impact on the UCSC community.
“This year was the first year that the founder of the prize, the late Don Rothman, could not participate in the reading — a task he enjoyed enormously,” Amis said.
The award is not only for promising young writers, but also the teachers who inspire them. Diana Rothman, Don Rothman’s widow, was unable to attend the awards ceremony, but she sent a letter to the UCSC Writing Program explaining her husband’s vision for the award.
“This award was close to Don’s heart, as it is to mine,” Diana Rothman said in her letter. “In addition to celebrating first-year writers, Don saw the Rothman Award as an acknowledgment of the teachers who play such a critical role in the education of first-year students. For him, the conversation about why and how we teach never stopped.”
Aside from establishing the writing award and leaving a definite impact on UCSC, Don Rothman also founded the Central California Writing Project. Started in 1977, its aim is to connect teachers to one another, in hopes that consistent communication among educators fosters better teaching. This strong emphasis on communication is present in the students who recieve the awards.
“I think that the ability to communicate one’s ideas effectively is the most important human virtue,” Don Rothman Writing Award-winner Jeremiah Tsyporin said. “The world we are living in is also becoming increasingly complex, as are the ideas we explore. You can’t get anywhere if you can’t effectively convey your ideas.”