Three Seniors Awarded the 2016 Stanford Calderwood Prize in Public Writing
For the second year, the College has awarded the Stanford Calderwood Prize in Public Writing to three seniors for exceptional work in the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing program.
"Public writing involves translating complex arguments and professional jargon to a broad audience," said David Lindauer, Stanford Calderwood Professor of Economics. "The winners of the Calderwood Prizes all select interesting topics, address their audiences and make their points accessible. They draw the reader in, explain why their subject is important and do so with writing that is authoritative and engaging."
The top essays were nominated by instructors, then a faculty committee selected one prize-winning essay each from the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. This year's Calderwood Prize in the Humanities was awarded to Eloisa Cleveland '16; the Calderwood Prize in the Sciences went to Adele Clifford '16; and the Calderwood Prize in the Social Sciences was awarded to Tamar Davis '16.
Cleveland's essay, "It's Not about the Drugs: What Is Missing from the Current Smart Drugs Debate," from PHIL 330: Ethics for Everyone with professor Erich Hatala Matthes, assistant professor of philosophy, was about the ways in which debates over smart drugs tend to overlook fundamental issues at the heart of smart drug abuse by focusing on the drugs themselves.
"I was specifically interested in how smart drug abuse indicates how intensely focused we've become on getting ahead and being 'successful,' and how afraid we are of failure," Cleveland said. Her essay was selected by Jonathan Imber, Jean Glasscock Professor of Sociology, to appear in the May/June issue of the social sciences journal Society.
Cleveland called the seminar experience "extremely valuable," and said, "In learning about how to write for a public audience, I became much more conscious about writing in a clear and straightforward way, and I think this has definitely impacted the way I write for all of my classes."
Clifford's essay "The Other Half of Evolution," from BISC 340: Biology in the News with Martina Königer, adjunct assistant professor of biological sciences, features an interview with Emily Buchholtz, Gordon P. Lang and Althea P. Lang '26 Professor of Biological Sciences, about her work with three-toed tree sloths to discuss how the molecular mechanisms of developmental biology constrain evolution.
"Both the essay and the class showed me that complex science can be made accessible and interesting to the public," Clifford said. "Often science is seen as too complex and too esoteric to be of interest to the general public... there is so much science, and so many new discoveries, which are not only interesting and important, but can be effectively communicated."
Davis' essay, "Which Black Films Matter?" written for SOC 324: Public Sociology with Joe Swingle, senior lecturer in sociology, explored the lack of diversity within the Academy. "I felt that I could present the issue from a perspective that I believed would be new and unique to my audience," Davis said. "The fact that only a few months later the #OscarsSoWhite controversy would grab the nation's attention made writing the piece all the more rewarding and meaningful."
From the seminar, Davis said she acquired new skills that differed from academic writing. "I learned that you can continue to infuse academic ideas and concepts into your public writing in ways that will still make it understandable, relevant and intriguing," she said.
Now completing their third year, the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing have been enthusiastically received by the faculty who teach them and the students who take them. The courses empower a student's knowledge in her major and help her to identify her voice in her chosen field.
"Writing, editing and rewriting each week not only improves a student’s writing skills but provides practice in the types of writing many students engage in after college,” said Lindauer. "Students also comment how different Calderwood Seminars are from other courses, highlighting the camaraderie among classmates and the independence to pursue their own ideas. Many students tell us their Calderwood Seminar was the best course they took in college."
Nine Calderwood Seminars will be offered next year. Two new seminars will be introduced, in MATH and CHEM. They join seminars in BISC, CAMS, CPLT/FREN, ECON, ENG, ES and WRIT.
"Just as students often seek out classmates who studied abroad to learn about a particular program, I encourage students considering a Calderwood Seminar to seek out students who have taken one to learn about their experience," Lindauer said.