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Big Mind Learning Scholarship Contest

2014 Contest Winners

First Place:

$500 awarded to Olya Rizzo

Second Place:

$100 awarded to Richard Rovelli

Third Place:

$50 awarded to Safieddine Meza

$50 awarded to Brendan Kelley

As we celebrate our fourth year of the Big Mind Learning Essay Contest, we are delighted with the scope of entries and maturity of style. This year we received more essays than ever before, and we sincerely appreciate all of the submissions from six New York counties: Albany, Columbia, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie. We look forward to the continued interest next year of dozens of high schools as we continue to honor all students who express themselves with honesty, clarity, and intelligence.

This year the winning First Place essay genuinely impressed us and gained the following comment from the judges:

"This essay exhibits a powerful command of language, a beautiful lyricism, and impressive maturity. The writer manipulates tone well beyond her years and pulls a reader into an evocative memory of the desire to break into a larger, newer world. With poetic details, self-confidence, and style, this writer creates a lingering mystery of a place at once original and recognizable."

While we wish we could honor all participants, we are very grateful for the participation of the many students and schools involved. We salute all of our winners and finalists who showed great talent and liveliness.


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.


First Place:

Olya Rizzo, Jefferson Central School, Schoharie County
“Dreams of Escape”

Second Place:

Richard Rovelli, Colonie Central High School, Albany County
“Emerson and Biochemistry”

Third Place:

Safieddine Meza, Troy High School, Rensselaer County
“Coming to America”

Brendan Kelley, Schoharie High School, Schoharie County

Honorable Mention:

Daniel Levers, Schoharie High School
“Electric Guitar”

Gazi Sakib, Hudson High School
“The Illuminati of Bangladesh”

Owen Pace, Bethlehem High School
“A Blue Sky”

Finalists and their essay titles (in alphabetical order)

  1. Ashley Foland, “The Feeling of Flying”
  2. Danielle Hilt, “The Strength to Progress”
  3. Brandy Intelisano, “The Mask”
  4. Derric Jankowski, “My Second Home”
  5. Saphire Jones, “The Lights Are On”
  6. Cole Keyser, “Sold!”
  7. Heather Ladanye, “Elegant Silver”
  8. Mary La Point, “Paving My Own Way”
  9. Diego Lezama, “From Las Sidras”
  10. Connor Weeks, “The Guitar”

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 who lives in the Capital District. She writes fiction and non-fiction and is currently completing a memoir.