The Gayle Morris Sweetland Center for Writing bestows six Upper-Level Writing Prizes annually in recognition of outstanding student work across the curriculum. Two prizes are awarded within each division of the College of LSA: humanities, social science, and science. All LSA undergraduates take at least one upper-level writing-intensive course. Those of us who teach these courses discover anew each term how a focus on writing improves students’ thinking, learning, and rhetorical creativity. At the end of each term, we applaud our students’ various achievements and the ways they have grown by applying themselves seriously to the hard work of designing a study, conducting research, addressing an audience effectively, crafting a multimedia essay, refining their prose style, reading and giving feedback on peers’ drafts, or engaging with counter-arguments. These are rewarding courses to teach, as witnessed by the significant number of faculty from all disciplines who participate robustly in the upper-level writing program each year.

Each year, faculty and graduate student instructors encourage undergraduates to submit their very best work for the Upper-Level Writing Prizes. Fellows in the interdisciplinary Sweetland Seminar for Writing Pedagogy read the submissions and rank them according to their overall excellence. This is an intellectually interesting exercise and generates considerable discussion about what we value when we read students’ work. The Fellows this year described for each other the qualities they admired in the submissions: the relationship between existing scholarship and a student’s position is clearly detailed and persuasive; the argument is complex without loss of clarity or purpose; the piece presents a novel argument or assertion (e.g., coming to their own conclusions based on multiple texts); quotes are thoughtfully introduced and integrated into the argument; the evidence is compelling; and the writers use precise language, appropriate to their rhetorical purposes. All of the essays submitted are outstanding, and all of the students nominated for a prize should feel very proud of their achievements.   

This volume showcases the prize-winning essays, which are truly impressive. They witness to the robust intellectual life of the university, and to the splendid courses and instructors who inspired and supported the writers’ accomplishments. Each essay speaks to how much our students contribute to the creation of new knowledge. The prizewinning essays exemplify the best of their genres: a review of humanities scholarship, a narrative argument, a family history, a thesis proposal, a social science argument, a review of science scholarship, and a journalistic research essay. To read these essays is to encounter the students’ rigorous thinking, careful organization of ideas, ability to integrate substantial research into their work, and resourcefulness in identifying scholarly and creative topics to which they could make substantial new contributions.

Thanks are due to the many people who made this volume possible. The Sweetland Fellows who thoughtfully judged the essays are Laura Clapper, Sweetland Center for Writing; M'Lis Bartlett, Program in the Environment (PITE) and School of Environment and Sustainability; Jennifer Metsker and Ali Shapiro, Stamps School of Art and Design; Daniel Weissman, Psychology; Eimeel Carolina Castillo, History & Women’s and Gender Studies; Mirit Friedman, Urban and Regional Planning; Soren Frykholm, Museum of Anthropological Archaeology; Daisy Haas, Chemistry; Brittany Hardy, Classical Studies; Joshua Schulze, Film, Television, and Media; Moniek van Rheenen, Philosophy: Linguistic Anthropology; and Zoe Waldman, History. Much gratitude is due to Aaron Valdez, who designed this volume; Laura Schuyler, who coordinated the submission and judging process; and Gina Brandolino, who chaired the Sweetland Prize Committee and edited the volume. Finally, thank you to the students and instructors who strive for—and achieve— excellence in writing and writing pedagogy.

Theresa Tinkle
Sweetland Center for Writing
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Professor of English
University of Michigan