URI Writing Awards recognize eight students for works in advocacy, creative, scholarly/research and science writing

KINGSTON, R.I. – Aug. 25, 2022 – Eight University of Rhode Island students were named recipients of the 2021-2022 URI Writing Award. The award recognizes an undergraduate and graduate winner in each of four categories — advocacy, creative, scholarly/research and science.

The awards were started three years ago by Heather Johnson, teaching professor of writing and rhetoric and director of Writing Across URI, to highlight student writing across a variety of disciplines. Since then, the awards have expanded to include a creative writing category and to accept submissions from both graduate and undergraduate writers.

There were over 200 submissions this year. “Each year we have been delighted to receive an increasing number of submissions,” Johnson said. “We hope that this campus-wide award will continue to thrive as we encourage all URI students to share their work. It has been a privilege to get an insight into the interests and passions of URI student writers.”

The 2021-2022 Writing Award winners

Graduate student Andrei Petro ’22 of Kingston and undergraduate Lina Altaan Al Hariri ’24, originally from Daraa, Syria and currently of Cranston, were awarded for their works in the advocacy group.

Petro’s winning work, “Protecting Endangered Species in Hawaii,” was for an assignment in Public Policy Analysis in which he had to offer solutions to a policy problem, crafting memos for the federal and state levels. He chose to write about protecting endangered bird species in Hawaii.

“Hawaii is one of the most interesting states because it has a completely unique ecosystem and it has more endangered species than any other state, including California or other much bigger states,” said Petro, who is in the Master of Arts in Public Administration program. 

“At first, I was formulating it and it was a pretty average paper. But I came across an article that nine species had been listed for extinction in Hawaii in the past week, and when I read that article, I was just mad,” he said, “and then I just rewrote the whole thing.” 

Altaan Al Hariri, who is studying International Studies and Diplomacy and Gender and Women’s Studies, submitted a film treatment, “Seeking Asylum,” which articulated her story as a Syrian refugee. 

“I wrote my story in film scene format – the film’s message advocates for fighting against a dictatorship for freedom,” said Altann Al Hariri, who wrote the treatment for an honors seminar. “Although fighting against the government is hard, freedom is necessary to live with dignity. The film also presents how severely the Syrian government mistreats its citizens, and how the younger generation is the future of tomorrow’s revolution.”

The winners in the creative writing category were Tyson Bottenus ‘09, ’22 of Duxbury, Massachusetts, and Lila Bovenzi ’22 of North Kingstown.

Bottenus, a master’s student in marine affairs, was recognized for his piece, “Toxic Black Mold Is Growing In My Brain.” It’s about his experience with a rare brain fungus called Cladophialophora Bantiana, or “black mold.” 

“The piece I wrote was about my struggles with a brain fungus that I got four years ago, and it’s led to some really not so great circumstances,” he said, “but I’ve managed to carry on and prosper and right now I would say that I’m thriving, which is great.

“There are so many people who have diseases and medical maladies that are very rare and they don’t get their word out,” he said, “so one of the things that I have tried to do with this piece is to give justice to all of the people who have rare diseases.” 

Bovenzi, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and minors in English and anthropology, was recognized for “The War on Ants,” a short story about a young girl who takes revenge on an ant colony that stole her chocolate-covered strawberry as a way of processing the grief associated with her mother’s miscarriage. She wrote it for a capstone creative writing class.

“I really like writing from a child’s perspective, because I think that it’s really refreshing and can be a good way to incorporate humor,” she said, “and that’s why I chose ‘Skeela’ as my protagonist. It’s a story about the processing of grief and loss through a child, and I think that’s something very relatable to everybody because we all go through losses, especially in childhood, whether they’re big or small, and that comes out in some interesting ways.”

The scholarly/research awards went to Colette Soulier ’22 of Lexington, Massachusetts, and Caleb Hilyard ’23 of Portsmouth.

Soulier, who will graduate in August with a master’s degree in marine affairs, wrote a piece called “Right Whale vs. Wrong Whale: A Consideration of Morality in the Species Care and Conservation of Right Whales,” that she wrote for her graduate class, Race, Gender, Colonialism and Science.

“I was doing my thesis on the media’s treatment of right whales, the North Atlantic versus the North Pacific species, and for this class we had to write a final paper using all of the concepts we had learned,” she said. “I chose to write my paper on the role of morality and ethics in modern-day whale conservation practices and how they reflect a lot of the guilt of the white settlers in Colonial whaling practices on the East Coast and how that is reflected in a lot of practices that we use in science and whale conservation today.”

Hilyard’s winning piece, “‘Sing and Make Music In Your Heart to the Lord’: Puritan Influence on the Beginnings of Music Education in North America,” is a formal research paper that was published in the Rhode Island Music Educators’ Review. 

Hilyard, a music education major, wrote the paper for an upper-level history course on the Baroque era, focusing on a topic from the time period that interested him. 

“I chose to focus on music education, and instead of focusing on continental Europe, I was interested in what was happening here in North America, because we often forget that that’s happening at the same time in music,” he said. “You think about Bach and Monteverdi and the development of opera, but people were over here settling and colonizing this area and they were making music, too.”

The awards in science writing went to Erin Harrington ’22 of Huntington Beach, California, and Cassius Benziger ’23 of East Providence.

Harrington’s “URI Campus Sustainability: Ask the Expert” is a profile on Jesse Duroha, a Ph.D. student in industrial and systems engineering for the Sustainability Innovative Solutions Lab. Harrington wrote the story for the Office of Sustainability’s September newsletter. Harrington, a doctoral student in biological and environmental sciences focusing on science writing and communication, serves as the graduate communications manager for the URI Office of Sustainability.

“When I hear about people’s scientific research, I get intrigued and want to hear more,” she said. “I had heard about Jesse’s research during Office of Sustainability meetings and this seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about what he was doing.”

Duroha’s research focuses on sustainable energy practices, specifically on the efficacy of solar panels and the safety of the workers who install them. He is originally from Lagos, Nigeria, where “inconsistent power supply is a common issue,” according to the article.

“It’s a shame that there isn’t a way for Jesse to also get an award for this research,” Harrington said, “but I hope this article will help URI community members appreciate how important Jesse’s work is.”

Benziger, who is studying animal science on the pre-veterinary track, wrote about mushroom foraging in his piece, “Entering the World of Mushrooms,” for a science writing course. He illustrated the work with watercolor paintings of the mushrooms and their environment.

“As soon as we got the brief, I thought of this because I’d really only started developing an interest in mushrooms not too long before then,” he said, “so I figured it would be a great way to synthesize what I’ve learned and what we’d been going over in class.”

Mary Lind, a graduate intern in URI’s Office of Marketing and Communications, wrote this release.