Webster University Celebrates Student Writing Excellence

Julian Schuster award winners hold their plaques at the end of the ceremony.Staff and student awardees at the Julian Schuster Writing Awards: from left, Josette Bradford, Andy Castello, Megan Meade, Kaitlyn El-Sheikh, Nancy Hellerud, Laura Hardin Marshall, Jayne Herter and Nelly Hashemi, on-screen. 

On April 25, Webster University honored freshman student writers at its Julian Schuster Writing Awards Ceremony. The event recognized outstanding academic and creative writing pieces nominated by faculty across Webster’s campuses around the world.  

The Julian Schuster Writing Awards, formerly the Freshman Writing Awards, is an annual event open to students from all Webster University campuses which began in 2006. The awards underwent a name change in 2024, as Webster University President Julian Z. Schuster increased his sponsorship to fund the initiative. All courses, disciplines, assignments, genres and styles are eligible for submission. 

In total, 61 nominated pieces were submitted this year from students across Webster's global campuses. Winners of the Julian Schuster Writing Award received an educational grant of $200 for first place, $150 for second place and $100 for third place in both academic and creative categories. 

This year's winners displayed both skill and creativity in their nominated works. Jayne Herter took home the first-place award in the academic category for her insightful analysis titled "Juul Kraijer's Woman and I: A Mirror." Her piece was written as part of a global cornerstone seminar with instructor Mary Baken.  

“Kraijer’s woman isn’t helpless, nor stagnant, but a metamorphosis,” Herter shared when asked about the piece. “In her I can see that, and in myself.” 

Herter stands at the front of the ceremony room as attendees look on..Jayne Herter reads an excerpt from her winning academic piece at the Julian Schuster Writing Awards Ceremony. 

Nelly Hashemi earned second place in the academic category for her probing essay "Unravelling Austria's Environmental Façade," written in an environmental ethics course with Ryan Crawford. Hashemi's work provided a critical look at Austria's sustainability practices and contradictions. 

“In my investigation of the environmental, ecological and Anthropocene debates in Austria, I attempted to uncover the complexities of the country's professed environmental consciousness,” shared Hashemi. “While Austria may portray an image of environmental stewardship, my study goes into the finer details, revealing the disparity between reality and what is perceived. By examining the naturalized mindset surrounding excessive consumption and the rise of consumer society, I hope to shed light on the critical need to reveal Austria's genuine environmental landscape. My writing seeks to be an impetus for a more multifaceted understanding, transcending conventional tales and contributing to a more robust conversation around sustainability.” 

The third-place academic winner was Olly Persoon for the piece "Untitled (Analysis on Portrait of Ross in L.A.),” which was also written as part of Baken's global cornerstone seminar. Persoon’s work was cited as being insightful and wise by the writing award judges. 

On the creative writing side, Andy Castello took first place for the evocative poem "Eye to Eye," which drew inspiration from perspectives explored in Kim Kleinman's global cornerstone seminar. Castello’s sonnet calls attention to the beauty and interconnectedness of the world – encouraging the reader to make eye contact with a potato, observing life inside one of its many eyes.  

Andy Costello holds his first-place plaque with Nancy Hellerud and Josette Bradford on either side of him.Andy Castello, center, accepts a plaque for his first-place win in the creative writing category from Webster University Vice President for Academic Affairs Nancy Hellerud, left, and Reeg Academic Resource Center Director Josette Bradford, right.

Second place for creative writing went to Kaitlyn El-Sheikh for her piece "Decaying,” which was written as part of Mary Baken's introduction to creative writing course.  

“This piece is about the experience of losing my grandpa to pancreatic cancer,” explained El-Sheikh. “I’m honored to be able to share his story with everyone! He was a very talented and hardworking man with all the knowledge in the world. I know he would be proud that I took this moment in our lives and turned it into something good.” 

Rounding out the creative writing winners was Megan Meade with her personal narrative, "My Dynamic Journey to a Relationship with Nature." Meade wrote the piece as part of Corin Pursell's Introduction to Sustainability course and took third place in the creative writing category.  

Semi-finalists who were also recognized at the ceremony included Octave Brun, Shelby Ilko, Muslima Murodjonova and group, Parker Murrow, Styx Nappier and Veronika Tomchani. 

Special thanks to this year’s judges:  
Carolyn I. Brown - Assistant Director, Reeg ARC, Webster Groves  
Shokhsanam Djalilova - ESL and GCP Program Lead, Tashkent 
Kim Kleinman – Special Assistant to the Director, Gleich Honors College, Webster Groves  
Ralph Olliges - Chair, Graduate Department of Education, Webster Groves  
Carolyn Trachtova - ESL Program Director, Webster Groves  
Kwan Willhoft - Head Writing Coach, Reeg ARC, Webster Groves 

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