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Big Mind Learning Scholarship Contest

2012 Contest Winners

Big Mind Learning is delighted to announce the winners and finalists of our 2012 second annual Scholarship Essay Contest. The judges were very impressed by the quality of the entries, and we are always happy to celebrate personal essays that express directness, maturity, and style while discussing compelling subjects. We honor all the students who submitted their work and hope they will continue to write with candor and expressiveness.

To the schools and students who submitted, thank you very much for your participation. We look forward to your continued interest next year.

In 2013 we will expand the scope of our contests to include a competitive fellowship for teachers concerning a project related to the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. Please look for the announcement of both contests in August.

Congratulations to our winners and finalists! Read the winning essays by clicking on each name.

Winning essays from previous years can be accessed by clicking on one of the links to the left.


  1. First Place:   Katie Farineau, Schoharie Central High School
      “Go With the Flow”
  2. Second Place:   Matthew Beckwith, Saratoga Springs High School
      “How I Became a Political Junkie”
  3. Third Place:   Marcus Toedt, Colonie Central High School
      “A Second Chance at Happiness”

       Sierra Pizzola, Maple Hill High School, Castleton-on-Hudson
      “Diamond Strong: A New Field, A New Respect”

       Megan Szpak, Saratoga Springs High School

Finalists and their essay titles (in alphabetical order)

  1. Mattia Cornell, “Emma”
  2. Shannon Faulkner, “Coney Island Seashells”
  3. Bridget Ficaretta, “Another Door Opens”
  4. Diana Jones, “The Beauty of Nature”
  5. Deanna Loucks, “Guts”
  6. Erica Molenaar, “Strength through the Struggle”

The judges used the following rubric of criteria to make their decisions:

  1. Clarity
  2. Honesty
  3. A narrowly defined and compelling focus
  4. Creativity, originality, and interesting use of language
  5. Guidance by one of the quotes

Thank you to our judges

The contest essay team at Big Mind Learning is very grateful to our judges for their intelligence and acuity. Many thanks to Tina Lincer, Phyllis Hillinger, and Maureen McCauley.

Tina Lincer is associate director of Communications at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Her feature articles and essays have been published in numerous national and local newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Her personal essays have aired on WAMC Public Radio.

Phyllis Hillinger worked as a writer and editor for many not-for-profit organizations in Albany, NY before exploring creative writing in all its forms. She has published her poetry in several magazines and journals and has contributed Listener Essays to WAMC Public Radio.

Maureen McCauley is an attorney and writer living in the Capital District. She writes fiction and non-fiction and is currently completing a memoir.