FFRF awards $23,650 to college essay contest winners

College Essay

Not pictured: Kirsten Cohns

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the disbursement of $23,650 to the 13 major winners and 16 honorable mentions of its 2020 Michael Hakeem Memorial Essay Contest for Ongoing College Students.

More than 200 college students up to the age of 24 entered the competition to write a personal persuasive essay on the topic of “The Necessity of Freethought — Why I am Not Religious.” The contest is named for the late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor who was an FFRF board chair and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning skills. His bequest has been used to fund college essays since his death in 2006.

Winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below.

First place
• Asja Misner, 20, Indian River State College (Florida), $3,500.

Second place (tie)
• Katherine Lance, 20, Tarleton State University (Texas), $3,000.
• Reese Borlin, 19, Southern Illinois University, $3,000.

Third place
• Marquez Collins, 19, Savannah State University (Georgia), $2,500.

Fourth Place
• Anna Miller, 19, Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania), $2,000.

Fifth place
• Aaron Hill, 19, University of California-Berkeley, $1,500.

Sixth place (tie)
• Eli Faymonville, 19, Northern Michigan University, $1,000.
• Hannah Hawkins, 20, Shawnee State University (Ohio), $1,000.

Seventh place
• Anne Marie Nester, 19, Georgia Institute of Technology, $750.

Eighth place
• Brenna Bigenwald, 20, University of Pittsburgh, $500.

Ninth place (tie)
• Kirsten Cohns, 19, Brookhaven College (Texas), $400.
• Parker Randall, 20, University of Texas-San Antonio, $400.

Tenth place
• Karsten Barr-Rollins, 23, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Florida), $300.

Honorable mentions ($200 each)

• Hosanna Barrett, 20, West Virginia University
• Sonja Bimberg, 18, University of Minnesota-Duluth
• Indigo Bistrup-Peterson, 19, Carleton College (Minnesota)
• Danika Brousseau, 20, University of New Mexico
• Allison Burks, 24, University of Central Florida
• Sam Christenson, 18, University of Maryland-Baltimore County
• Maya Givens, 20, University of South Florida
• Jenna Kornicki, 21, Columbia University (New York)
• Gabriel Lebon, 20, Arizona State University
• Winston McCurley, 20, University of Alabama-Huntsville
• Justin Mitchell, 21, Ursinus College (Pennsylvania)
• Fatima Montero, 18, Moore College of Art and Design (Pennsylvania)
• Rachel Panettiere, 19, University of Georgia
• Skylar Pinto, 18, Fairleigh Dickinson University (New Jersey)
• Danielle Puccio, 19, University of North Carolina
• Sharay Ropozo, 21, University of Washington

FFRF thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular group, student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total of $23,650 reflects those bonuses.

FFRF also thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of this and FFRF’s other student essays competitions. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our “faithful faithless” volunteer and staff readers and judges, including: Dan Barker, Darrell Barker, Kristina Daleiden, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Judi Jacobs, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Katya Maes, Gloria Marquardt, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey, Sue Schuetz, Lauryn Seering, PJ Slinger and Karen Lee Weidig.

“This is a secular ‘tradition’ that we’ve been proud to continue for decades now,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “There are many scholarships that reward orthodoxy of thought, so we’re delighted to offer a contest that insteads rewards freethinking, and helps students with some college costs.”

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010, one geared explicitly for students of color since 2016 and a fifth contest for law students since 2019. All 2020 winners have now been announced except the competition open for students of color only, which offers special support for a minority within a minority. Otherwise all FFRF essay competitions are open to any student attending a school in North America meeting the age/grade level eligibility. The winners of the students of color competition will be announced soon. Topics for all 2021 contests will be posted next February.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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