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May 8, 2019

From math to mom: Powerful, insightful, fun freshmen essays earn honors

Written By: Renee Meiller

As generally is the case, the topical diversity of the winning entries in the 2019 Steuber Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing reflects the wide-ranging interests and backgrounds of the student writers themselves. The competition, whose namesake and benefactor is the multitalented UW-Madison alum William Steuber, is in its 20th year and provides an opportunity for engineering freshmen to showcase their creativity through writing.

The College of Engineering announced award recipients of the annual contest in May 2019. They include:

$1,000 and first place—Brianna Tobin, “Dear Mother.”

Tobin is majoring in computer engineering. After traveling to China in summer 2018 to visit her orphanage, Tobin says she started thinking more deeply and thoughtfully about her identity. “I chose my topic because it’s something that has always been on my mind, but I’ve just never really gotten around to expressing,” she says. “The contest gave me a motivation and reason to do so.”

$1,000 and first place—Nathaniel Schlueter, “Methods and Applications of Carbon Capture.”

Schlueter is planning to major in chemical engineering. He says he chose to write about carbon capture and sequestration because he wanted to learn what we can do to minimize the impact of climate change. “In my opinion,” he says, “climate change is the most pressing global issue, and by reducing carbon emissions, we can prevent or reduce the negative effects of climate change.

He says that even though carbon capture and sequestration might not be as permanent a solution as, for example, switching to clean energy, it can be implemented more quickly on a large scale and may be useful while the planet transitions to clean energy.

$500 and honorable mention—Achintya Krishnan, “The Math Problem.”

Krishnan sought to tell an interesting story. “After some thinking, I settled on a math problem topic because it both was interesting and tied to engineering,” says Krishnan, who is majoring in engineering mechanics and astronautics. “Also, I felt like this story allowed me to express my voice.”

$500 and honorable mention—Noah Pollard, “Find X.”

For his essay, Pollard focused on the prompt, “Find X,” and took it from there. “It was a fun challenge that opened the doors for a lot of creative opportunity,” he says. “I wanted to tell a story that wove algebra into it, as that is usually where one finds x.”

The story described a night at the park and centered around a character named Xavier—the “x”—as well as groups that leave the park at different times, but in a way that evokes a balanced equation. A biomedical engineering major, Pollard says he enjoyed writing his piece because it enabled him to combine writing and algebra—two activities he enjoys, but that don’t usually mix.