On the morning of April 28, 2018, an awards banquet was held to honor the twelve winners of this year’s AuthorShip! Writing Contest; all but two winners and their families were able to attend. The winners were all beaming as they came up to receive their awards, and their parents and grandparents offered many thanks to us for hosting the contest. As one parent said of her daughter, who won second place for middle school poetry, “Thank you so much; she is over the moon with excitement to be a part of this!” The Cora I. Grove Spiritual Center—the venue in which this prosperous ceremony was held—was beaming with excitement from several adolescents whose adrenaline could not match any kind of description.
Some of our Sigma Tau Delta members also major in the secondary education certification program here at Shippensburg University, and therefore concentrate in both English literature and writing but also teaching, too. Co-Presidents Allison Morrill and Spencer Pechart, as well as historian Summer McDannell, and Heather Ritter all student taught during the spring 2018 semester, during which this contest was announced. Quite frankly, we were equally thrilled as our winning students to use this early opportunity to promote a lifelong love for writing in our secondary classrooms. It is noteworthy that three of Pechart’s eighth-grade students from Greencastle-Antrim Middle School won in the middle school essay and fiction categories, especially seeing as Pechart concentrated in the high school submissions. “Student teaching was a great way to get our contest information out to districts who were previously unaware of what we do,” Pechart acknowledged. Pechart, as well as the rest of the Phi Psi Chapter, are incredibly proud of this experience—especially considering he, too, won the contest back in Spring 2014. His poem, “The Astronomer,” won first place for high school poetry that year. He and Morrill were both thrilled to continue the tradition this year, and are confident that Emily Fogelsanger, another veteran member, will exceed expectations in leading the Phi Psi Chapter next year.
We begin by sending notifications of the contest to teachers from over 20 different school districts across central Pennsylvania. We accepted submissions online (via JotForm) until March 31 and ended up receiving an impressive 330 manuscripts in the various categories—this represents over twice the number of submissions from just two years ago! Ten members from the Sigma Tau Delta Shippensburg University chapter helped to judge the contest: co-presidents Morrill and Spencer Pechart, secretary Henry Le, treasurer Emily Fogelsanger, historian Summer McDannell, and Korina Bachman, Casey Leming, Megan Reif, Heather Ritter, and Rachel Smith. We split our members into committees where one of our officers directs the judging process. Then, we meet face-to-face and come to agreement unanimously on winning entries. The anthology of winning submissions was compiled by the Writing Contest Subcommittee to distribute to winners. The Project Grant money will be used for the prize money ($450 for twelve prizes) with the balance ($50) being put toward the cost of printing the booklet. Each winner was given three copies of the booklet, and many of them requested more so that they could share it with family and friends.
For other chapters hoping to initiate a similar project in their own region, our recommendation would be to start small—maybe focusing on a few awards in just one division (middle or high school) and then expanding as appropriate. Perhaps limiting the categories to two instead of three is another idea to consider. With 12 awards, finding funding for the contest—especially when we’re not eligible for the Chapter Project Grant—is an annual challenge that we feel obligated to meet since the community looks forward to the contest every year. Pursuing a contest on a smaller scale would be a good way to make it more sustainable as the chapter figures out what resources it has to support the contest on an annual basis.
In terms of future growth, the English Department is pursuing the possibility of incorporating the ceremony as part of a larger celebration of writing to be held in the spring since the ceremony coincides with the publication of two undergraduate anthologies, a literary magazine (The Reflector) and a collection of undergraduate research essays (Write the Ship).