Graduate/mature student essay winners announced

Winners of FFRF’s debut 2010 graduate/mature student essay competition have been selected from a pool of exceptional applicants. The Foundation will award $5,050 in cash scholarships to nine recipients who are either graduate students or age 25 or old. The top four essays are printed in full in this issue along with excerpts from five “honorable mentions.”

The new annual competition has been generously endowed by Lifetime Member and university professor emeritus Brian Bolton (see Page 2), and other contributors.

FFRF, which has hosted high school and college essay contests for more than 30 years, added the mature/graduate student category due to increased need and interest by older and returning students.

“We have always felt our scholarships and outreach to young freethinkers is one of FFRF’s most important programs,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-founder and co-president.

The high school winners were announced in the August issue. College winners will be announced in October.

Graduate and mature students wrote this year on “Why we need to get God out of government,” and/or “Why we need to keep religion out of politics.”

And the winners are:
• Nicole Pepperl, 23, Somerville, Mass., received the Brian Bolton Scholarship of $2,000 for her first-place essay, “Canary in the constitutional coal mine,” which earned unanimous votes from the judges, who come from a variety of ages and backgrounds. Nicole graduated in 2009 from Stanford University with a bachelor’s and master’s in earth systems.  She has completed her first year at Harvard Law School and plans to practice environmental law after graduation. Nicole is involved in environmental justice and housing rights activism.
• Andrew Seidel, 28, Pueblo, Colo., received $1,000 for his second-place essay, “We must not wait.” Andrew is a master of laws in environmental and natural resources law and policy (L.L.M.) student at the University of Denver Law School.  He graduated with a bachelor’s in neuroscience and environmental science from Tulane University in New Orleans. Andrew worked in the Grand Canyon, leading tours, and pursued his passion for photography. He then earned his J.D. from Tulane. This time next year he says he will be “looking for a job protecting our environment or the wall that our founders built.”
• Scott Johnson, 24, Madison, Wis., won the third-place prize of $500 for his essay, “Religion: The blind navigator.” Scott is pursuing a master’s in hydrogeology at UW-Madison and plans to teach at the college level.
• Andrew Catalfamo, 23, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., snagged a fourth-place prize of $300 for his satirical essay, “A brief introduction: Politics and religion.” Originally from Chicago, Andrew graduated in 2009 from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a degree in modern Germanic studies and is continuing this fall for a master’s at the University of Chicago, where he will study modern Austrian and German history.

FFRF judges awarded five discretionary honorable mention awards of $200 each. Generous Foundation members Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida contributed an additional $50 each to the honorable mentions, bringing total prize money to $250 each.

This year’s graduate/mature student honorable mentions:
• Chelsea Carr, 26, Forest Hill, Md., is working toward a master of arts in teaching at Johns Hopkins University. She holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Maryland Institute, College of Art.
• Samuel Milodragovich, 29, Lolo, Mont., is pursuing bachelor’s degrees in political science and Central and Southwest Asian studies at the University of Montana.
• Jeff St. Onge, 28, Bloomington, Ind., is a Ph.D. candidate studying rhetoric and public culture at Indiana University at Bloomington.
• Anastasia Miller, 23, Seymour, Ind., is pursuing a master’s in health informatics and a Ph.D. in healthcare economics at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.
• Jason Rodriguez, 32, Tampa, Fla., is currently enrolled in an online master’s program studying “science and the public” through the State University of New York at Buffalo. He holds a B.S. in English education from the University of Central Florida.

Freedom From Religion Foundation