Spring 2020 Writing Contest


Personal Essay Category: “I am a Woman of Color and That is Something to be Celebrated,” by Sumaiya Nasir

Writing Contest Spotlight Page on Sumaiya Nasir

Introduction by Madeleine Wadeson

“All three of the personal essays chosen as the final three for the WCI Writing Contest were incredibly strong and well written. They are “The Right Way” by Karishma Persaud, “New Beginning” by Youssef Jalwaj-Soubai, and “I am a Woman of Color” by Sumaiya Nasir. The winning essay, “I am a Woman of Color,” has all of the qualities that a personal essay should have and more. Upon reading this essay, I was incredibly impacted. The author did a great job of putting a reader into her shoes and making the reader feel everything that the author did as she tells her narrative of experiences. The dialogue that the author included in the essay was incredibly effective in portraying the anxiety she felt as a Muslim-American. On a personal level, I enjoyed the anecdotes where the author talked about her sister and the influence that she had on the author. I have a younger sister, so this bond that the two sisters had and their love for each other really spoke to me and made the essay even more enjoyable for me to read and experience. Another masterful technique that the author used was not telling the story linearly, but jumping around her narrative. This was done with care and intention and it makes the essay even more impactful and meaningful to a reader. Overall, I found this essay to be a very enjoyable read. The essay’s craft and skill were exemplary and the author does a fantastic job of using a personal narrative to relate and connect to a larger issue and theme in the world.”

Meet Sumaiya, author of “I am a Woman of Color and That is Something to be Celebrated,” and winner of the Writing Contest for Personal Inquiry!

Sumaiya Nasir



Sumaiya Nasir is completing her freshman year at the University at Albany. She is a journalism major, with a double minor in English and Art History. In her free time, she enjoys journaling, reading and playing Animal Crossing. She hopes to go on to grad school and study to become a journalist.


What was the experience like working on this essay?

Was it difficult to write about any part of this journey? What was challenging for you?

The whole piece was very difficult for me to write. It’s a topic that I never pondered much about, because all of the feelings and experiences I describe in my essay were very real, and very painful. It was always something I swept under the rug, passing it off as silly adolescence, but when I actually began writing about it, I realized that the feelings and experiences I was writing about were very real, and very valid. I didn’t have a specific angle when writing my first draft, but I realized that a lot of the memories and moments in my life I was talking about played a large part in my growth and development. I don’t typically like to reflect on my identity and who I am, because still, to this day, I struggle with being different. I found it hard to put my emotions, from different periods in my lifetime, into words, but I found that if I didn’t dive deeper into my emotions, I wouldn’t be able to give my story justice.

What is it like to have so many strangers read about your deeply personal experiences?

A little strange; I submitted my paper due to the encouragement of my own WCI professor, Professor Jaclyn Amoroso, and I never thought anybody would like it, much less vote for it to become winner. After my piece got published in Arch and was picked as a finalist, I got so many texts from friends who recognized my writing, and DMs from strangers on Instagram telling me how powerful my piece was, and it was a little disconcerting, but also heartwarming to know that my words had reached others.

What did writing the essay bring you? Clarity? Realizations? Insights? Surprises? etc.

I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself through writing this essay: writing it forced me to put myself into the shoes of who I was at different points in my life, and try to understand what I was feeling, and why I was feeling the way I did. I was surprised at the emotions writing this piece evoked in me, but also at how I felt a sense of clarity and serenity by the end of it, because I finally understood my feelings.

Did writing it and sharing it change anything for you? Have you changed as a result of writing it?

I feel more confident in myself as a writer after having written and shared this piece. I’m very thankful for all of the feedback and praise I received as a result of writing this piece, and it’s helped me a lot with my growth as both a person and a writer.

How did you choose the picture? What is its significance? Why did you include it?

The assignment for this inquiry was to choose an image that, at first glance, does not look to have a deep meaning to it, but in reality, has a deep background. The photo I chose is from the exact trip to Pakistan with which I open my inquiry. Pictured in the photo is my younger brother, who was then just a baby, and my older sister. I decided to include this picture because of its sentimental value. It was my first time going to Pakistan, the place from which my parents and our culture came, and because my siblings were a big part of my journey leading up to self-discovery and acceptance. My brother, three years younger than me, and too young to understand the gravity of my inner struggles, was still like a best friend to me. My older sister, who is three years older than me, has always been like a second mother to me in a sense. My mother, as hard as she tried, simply couldn’t understand why I felt the way that I did about myself. I feel as though being unaware of mental health and identity disassociation is a common factor in immigrant parents – to no fault of their own, as mental health issues are a concept unheard of in their families. This holds true even for non-immigrant families.

Did you experiment with different structures before you landed on this one? For example, from the beginning, did you know that you’d pivot back to the moment with your aunt?

I knew that I wanted to start the essay out with the moment between my aunt and my sister and me, because I thought it was the perfect way to introduce the topic of my personal essay, which is the disassociation and alienation that I felt between my Pakistani-Muslim background, and my American identity. Around my Pakistani relatives, I always felt too American, but to my peers, I always come off as too foreign. This caused a lot of confusion and resentment towards myself and my Pakistani-Muslim identity, and fueled my need to fit in and seem more American. The flashbacks give more insight to my thoughts and development through the years.

What inspires you the most about your family?

How far we’ve come. My mother came here with some family members, and had to raise my sister by herself, while my dad worked in Pakistan, waiting for his Visa to be approved, which didn’t until after I was born. We started from essentially nothing, living in a tiny apartment in downtown Albany, but I’m blessed to say that that is not the case anymore. I’m also inspired with how well my parents have raised me and my siblings – we’re all a handful, but in the end, we all care very deeply for each other. My sister has always been my biggest inspiration – she was someone who I fear disappointing, even to this day. She’s always been the standard for me, in all ways possible, and I hope to be as good of a person as she is.

How are you keeping busy these days?

I’d like to say I’ve been keeping up with homework and studying, but that is far from reality! I’ve mainly been trying to keep in contact with people, catch up on shows, read more books, and write. I also get to go back to work in a few weeks so that’s exciting!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write! Make sure you’re always writing! Even if you have writer’s block, or you feel as though you don’t have anything substantial to write, it’s important to always be writing. This could be through a small poem, or even a journal entry about your day – no matter what it is, or how good it is, it’s an accomplishment!!!

What Students Had to Say:

Hasan: “I really enjoyed your essay, and I can see why it was nominated to become the contest winner. The way you told your story was really fluid and immersive, you didn’t just tell your story in one paragraph and reflect on it in another, you had seamless transitions between the two to make it an amazing piece. I also enjoyed it for personal reasons as well. I am also a Pakistani Muslim, so I went through the same types of things you did, so I guess that made me feel more captivated by your writing because I wanted to see how you grew through it and become a more confident person.”

Tamia: “To Sumaiya, I want to say that I appreciate that fact that even though you came from a different culture, you still found a way to make your writing relatable to people of all backgrounds by finding common core struggles. You showed that wanting to fit it and really belong to something is a fight that anyone can fight, not just an immigrant, but you use the context of being one to show the intricacies of your struggle. I appreciate the way that you go and the rich journey of self-discovery until you got to the point where you could say the things that make you different are the things to be celebrated.” 

Brandon: “Some things I could point out that really affected me was the fact that her were looked at differently than everyone at her school when she had her hijab on. It is something that I could definitely relate to. As a man of color, I usually look different that the majority in a setting like high school. I think the question that I posed in my mind was that if so many people are feeling ostracized and alienated in this country where will it ever stop. Skin color is not in any way a determinant of someone’s worth or even personality. Judging someone for something that is completely out of their control is never a good thing. It challenged my thinking because it made me wonder if everyone is bias when they see someone’s outward appearance.  I know for myself I do judge people that I don’t know off of their appearance sometimes, but I’m trying to do the opposite of that.  It is a very hard task, but I think I’m getting there. She makes me reflect on the past memories I’ve had regarding the alienation from others based on preconceived notions based upon my appearance.  I feel like that’s why I connected with this story a bit more.” 

“This essay really did challenge my normalization of unwilling assimilation to the culture and being so full of anxiety just because you don’t want to be seen as different. I think in a way I understand your struggle and while it’s not the same, I can understand it. I admire the way you became so confident in your own skin from being around people who validate you. A question it raises for me is if you think of your home country as still another home or is it only the US now. Because in my own personal experience the Philippines is always going to be my home, but the US gave me the opportunity to start a new home so in a sense I have two homes now, because there’s no defeating the way you feel when you are surrounded by your own people.

Jemsy: As I read your essay, I thought how relatable it was. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my experience as an immigrant. I was also able to compare my experience to a different person’s experience and recognize the differences and similarities. Like how in my middle school, approximately there were only a handful of Filipinos – without counting my two cousins – there were perhaps only four others and one of them was from my grade. And even though he was Filipino, it was obvious he was raised here, and he was already used to the life here and had already assimilated. In a way, I was forced to assimilate as quickly as possible just to try and fit in and not stand out from the girls in my class and not be seen as different. So in a way from reading this essay, it really had my thinking of the struggles I also faced that, reflecting from now doesn’t really seem like a big deal anymore but it was a big deal back then.”

Luke: “This entire essay works coherently. I like the details of her struggles. The way she describes her embarrassment about her mom’s hijab is fascinating to read about since it’s something I could never experience myself. Also the fact that she talks about how her Urdu isn’t very good was a realistic part. Another large merit of this piece is the realism. She does a great job fleshing out her own story for the reader and making herself a character. The piece jumped around in time a bit but you could clearly see the connections as you traced the author’s life with the journey she was guiding you on. Finally, I really enjoyed the small details in then beginning about how she was simultaneously too American and too Pakistani, like how in Pakistan the water hurt her stomach because it was unfiltered but in America the other kids would point out how her lunch was different from theirs. She does a great job illustrating the struggles of second-generation immigrants while simultaneously creating a compelling narrative for the reader all in the span of 8 pages.”

Read Sumaiya’s essay here: “I am a Woman of Color and That is Something to be Celebrated.”

Analysis Category:  “The Roots of Schizophrenia: The Effects of Growing Up with a Schizophrenic Parent” by Mehr Sharma

Writing Contest Spotlight Page on Mehr

Introduction by Tamia Wellington

“The Analysis portion of the Spring 2020 Writing contest is an important way to highlight the many impactful ways that a student can use and display the words of scholars, the media and other sources to fully highlight the importance of a problem and how effectively it can be communicated. As judges, what was most important were the relevance of the inquiry, how challenging the inquiry was to discuss, the relevance of the sources used and, because we focused on rhetorical analysis, how well the writer analyzed the effectiveness of the rhetorical techniques used by the sources, as well as their impact. We also considered, broadly, the writer’s ability to break down texts, conversations, and issues into significant parts and then reconstruct each in a way that reflects the writer’s more complex understanding of what has been analyzed. The three finalists for the analysis unit are Mehr Sharma, who wrote "The Roots of Schizophrenia: The Effects of Growing up with a Schizophrenic Parent", Nazafat Jarrin, who wrote "US Foreign Policy on Religious Persecution" and Justina Moczulski, who wrote "A Conversation with the World."

In “A Conversation With the World” Justina finds a way to beautifully balance a casual conversational tone with the severity of racial inequality. She effectively uses and analyses a personal piece called “Between the World and Me” by Ta Nehisi Coates, to show how well it communicates a personal, written account of racial inequality and how it effects people of color. Nazafat uses "US Foreign Policy on Religious Persecution" to show how religion, despite being a right given in the first amendment, is often persecuted and that persecution is overlooked. It is made particularly effective by the many real instances in history that the writer uses to prove that the urgency of the issue and how effective of a source the past can be.

I am pleased to announce that Mehr Sharma and the essay "The Roots of Schizophrenia: The Effects of Growing up with a Schizophrenic Parent" is the winner of this analysis essay contest. Mehr’s piece beautifully ties together everything that was important to judges, as well as factors that we hadn’t even considered could make an essay so powerful. Mehr uses difficult personal experiences as a child to let the reader in, which I personally found to be effective both as a reader wanting to connect to a writer, and someone who personally also had a difficult childhood who appreciates finding common ground to relate to. Mehr makes the choice to use the memoir of an individual who has Schizophrenia, Marin Sardy, as well as scientific evidence to explain the experiences focused on to, show how schizophrenia affects individuals from both a scientific and personal standpoint, and makes it even more powerful by connecting it to her own childhood. Mehr continuously asks questions through the essay to illustrate how much deeper and more complex the inquiry becomes as the piece moves along. This essay effectively finds a way to bring to bring the audience on the journey of having schizophrenia by putting the reader into the shoes of not one, but two individuals. The essay even ends on an incredibly powerful line with the image of how the effects of schizophrenia spread to many aspects of an individual’s life, the same way the roots of a tree can go much deeper and wider than just the area occupied by the tree itself.”

Here’s what student have to say about “The Roots of Schizophrenia”:

Jemsy: This essay was written well, and it shows that they read their sources and examined their sources well. I think one of their strengths it being able to add some personality to their essay if that makes sense. I really like how they added some of their experience, but it didn’t stray away from their analysis. I think the way they effortlessly included their own thoughts before and after the quotes/ideas from the sources they used was impressive, like it didn’t break away from the information that was being provided. Personally, I don’t think the essay is short on anything, like they have the questions, their personal thoughts intertwined throughout the whole essay, obviously well-researched sources, etc.

Will: This essay is incredibly strong due to its continued usage of the author’s own experiences to give the reader a sense of connection to the issue. The continued thread of one mentioned source/author throughout the essay also allows the reader to feel as though they are almost reading a story. The final section of the essay is one of the most compelling, as it is a quoted personal experience that again allows the reader to feel that the issue is important.

Tamia: This essay was powerful from the moment that the inquiry was made clear. The writer is very accomplished in stating the issue of growing up in a household with a schizophrenic parent, the effects it has on the mental health of this individual, as well as tying these factual aspects into their real experience. There are so many well thought out ideas that are backed up by evidence and are thoroughly explained by the writer and the use of a personal statement at the end gives it a powerful edge can only come from having something as raw and real as something that personal. It was also very important to see how the ideas from different sources were tied together and how they worked in tandem with each other. Overall, it is an extremely powerful essay that gives the reader an inside look into a life that they don’t have or understand, while leaving them curious to learn more.

Brianna: This essay is even more powerful the second time I read it. I love how the author added their personal stories to introduce the essay and some of the points they make in it. There is plenty of evidence cited throughout the essay and the flow from one source to the next is very well done. I like how the author tackled multiple different aspects of schizophrenia from the definition of stigma to stress. The conclusion offered a great summary of the evidence and how they all intersect. Overall, it is clear that the author spent plenty of time developing their ideas.

Gina: I absolutely love the structure and flow of this essay. This one grabs your attention in a way that I actually wanted to keep reading the essay purely out of interest and I would have read it even if I didn’t have to. The way that personal experience is intertwined with the conversation between other researchers makes the essay more touching and relatable.

Baylee: The analysis was clear, the content was concise, and there were a multitude of sources that were all connected together. The conversation was multidimensional and looked at many aspects of how mental illness affects other.

James: This essay was very well put together for a number of reasons. Primarily, I see this in the usage of a large number of sources and the efficiency at which those sources were used was strikingly the most impressive part of the piece. To find sources that aren’t only interesting but are related can be used in such a fluent way is an important quality.

The feelings and emotions that are portrayed throughout this paper make you want to research the topic yourself.

If I could recreate even a fraction of this paper’s inquiry, I will feel like I have accomplished my mission.

The writer is obviously is left with many other questions at the end of the paper, but successfully analyzes the information she displays.

This gave me greater understanding of the disease and its effect on its victims and the most vulnerable people---children.

Highlights a life that many of us do not understand

This essay provides more insight…into disease that has drowned in societal stigma.

I can feel the author's connection to the piece…and it’s coupled with enough science to make it a compelling and educational essay

You can read Mehr’s essay here: "The Roots of Schizophrenia: The Effects of Growing up with a Schizophrenic Parent."

Argument/Conversation Category: “Children and Nature – There’s a Connection," by Karishma Persaud

Writing Contest Spotlight Page on Karishma Persaud

Introduction by Sharaz Mohammed

“In discussing this writing assignment, my class valued and looked for the ways in which these wonderful essays incorporated relevant and appropriate sources and connected with the reader. I'm so pleased to introduce the winner, Karishma Persaud, who wrote “Children and Nature: There’s a Connection.” Persaud’s work spoke to us, even as some of us grew up differently and didn’t share Persaud’s experiences. Getting a different outlook on growing up made some of my classmates appreciate what they had growing up, what their parents gave them, and the freedom and the luxury they experienced. Persaud’s essay explores the connection between nature and the health of young children. She writes about the academic and social effects of having parents who were hesitant to let their children out of the house. Unlike the other finalists, Persaud’s paper is based on a personal experience, and she constantly relates back to her experience throughout the paper. She includes multiple points of view, including the parent’s perspective and the child’s perspective. We chose “Children and Nature: There’s a Connection” as the winning essay because we felt that it hit home for many readers, that the paper was well-constructed and understandable, and that she incorporated her sources well. What we admired was Persaud’s ability to create a piece of work that, when boiled down, is relatable, and which gives recognition to or can be a realization to many, that people grow up differently and parents have a very influential role on children.”

Meet Karishma, author of “The ‘Right’ Way” and “Children and Nature – There’s a Connection.” “The ‘Right’ Way” is a finalist in the Personal Essay category.

Karishma Persaud

Karishma won the Writing Contest’s Conversation Essay category with “Children and Nature.”


Hello, my name is Karishma Persaud. Next fall, I will be a Sophomore (Junior by credits). I am currently majoring in Biology and hope that one day I can contribute towards either the medical or environmental field. Besides the Sciences, I have a passion for the Arts so outside of school I enjoy dancing, singing, playing the piano and I am also a henna artist :) Stay safe and have a wonderful break!


Tell us a little bit about how "Children and Nature " came to be. What was the process like?

“Children and Nature” was originally my IB CAS project topic and because I was really hooked on the importance of it, I decided to continue researching on the topic, especially since one of the tasks was to incorporate different perspectives, I saw it as an opportunity to extend my IB research and to learn more about it.

Do you think that a lack of nature can result in major mental and physical detriments?

Honestly, I don’t think that losing out from nature is necessarily the CAUSE of these major mental and physical problems. However, as mentioned in the essay, I see nature more as a REMEDY or RELIEVER to many of these mental and physical issues (e.g. obesity or ADHD)

Would you ever consider revisiting this essay and writing more? For example, do you still have questions you need to answer or aspects you want to learn more about?

Of course! If I have to write an extended essay inquiring about more on a topic, it will be based on “Children and Nature.” I have looked into a few perspectives such as the addiction to technology and parents being concerned about outdoor dangers but some other perspectives that I would love to touch base on include how can children overcome allergies while still spending time in nature, or how they tend to cope during winter.

How did you find ways to incorporate your personal voice and experiences while maintaining formality?

Incorporating my personal voice or experience is a habit I tend to do when writing essays. I think it is important to connect with your audience in some sort of way and to also show them how you can personally relate to the topic being written about, keeping in mind at the same time that formality is important depending on the audience.

Is it your natural writing style to use flowery words? If so, how did you transition to more formal style in "Children and Nature"?

Yes, the usage of flowery words is indeed my natural writing style. It makes it easier for me to get my thoughts out on paper. I also took it to my full advantage knowing that the first essay was a “personal” one and just wanted to be creative and make it fun to read. In contrast to the personal essay, formatting “Children and Nature” into a professional article definitely influenced the way I worded my thoughts on paper.

What inspired you to submit your essays to the Contest?

A good long chat with Prof. Ryan about my personal essay is what convinced me to submit my essay. However, I decided to submit all three of my essays because I wanted to test my writing limits and to push myself out of my comfort zone, especially since I consider English one of my weakest subjects.

What do you hope readers will take away from your personal essay? Your conversation essay?

One of the points in my personal essay was to inform the audience, especially children, that having a voice in their household is important. IT MATTERS!

From my conversation essay, I hoped that the take away was that it is necessary for us to connect with Mother Nature in some kind of manner, it doesn’t have to be often but going outside DO make a difference.

What are you doing to keep busy these days?

Finishing up my assignments for classes and preparing for finals are what are keeping me busy these days along with my 2 yr old super-energetic nephew. Besides this, when I’m bored, I just go out for long drives to watch the sunset while listening to music :)

What advice do you have for other writers? For students entering WCI in the fall?

I would say that one of the most important things students entering WCI in the fall should keep in mind is that before starting a paper, choosing a topic that you feel passionate about can make such a big difference in your writing.

Compared to my personal and conversation essays, I noticed a huge difference in my writing for the analysis essay.  My writing felt disconnected and confusing, all because I was not inspired about the topic I chose to write about. Therefore, CONNECTION and INSPIRATION are both crucial aspects in writing.

Here’s what students have to say about “Children and Nature”:

Kristina: I believe “Children and Nature: There’s a Connection” has a correlation to our modern day during the COVID-19 pandemic. We, as people, come together around the world and realize how important having the freedom to go outside is. This topic is very unique and I enjoyed the personal connection the writer had to the piece of writing. The relation to the effects of mental health included detailed evidence from scholarly articles. The opposing argument that stated that we should watch over our kids was also quite appealing and appeals to me personally. “So, let us not have our future generation replace their green time with screen time” (9).

Arianna: “Children and Nature: There’s a Connection” provides a strong argument on the importance of being able to go outside and how it is often experienced less because of technology. This is very relevant and important topic that should be talked about. Often people talk highly about technology but sometimes it limits the other things we do in life. 

Leah: “Children and Nature: There’s a Connection” highlights a growing issue in the world today while also drawing from personal experiences. I am a big advocate for children getting outside rather than sitting behind a screen, as it allows for more stimulation of the brain. I grew up constantly being outside and playing with friends and I feel that it has shaped the individual I am today in terms of my creativity, social skills, and problem-solving abilities. Playing outside can be dangerous; however, the benefits of exposure to the outside much outweigh the deficits which is clear from this author’s analysis. 

I also like the point that the author of this essay brings up about how spending time outside helps to bring awareness to the importance of our environment. We only have one planet and it is important that we love and care for it, and that starts with engagement with thee outside at an early age. I feel that this author was successful in their argument and chose a side that both had evidence and connected with the reader. I also liked how they used personal experiences to strengthen their overall argument, not for just the side they supported, but for the side that opposed as well. 

Gabriel: My favorite part of the paper was the mention of how being outside could help boost immune systems and help children with allergies. Since I grew up with allergies, I could relate with that and there are millions of kids with allergies. It was also interesting how they put photos in the document. I also like how they do not completely blame technology and say part of it is the parent’s fault. The conclusion was good in showing that having students go outside could help with different environmental issues that we currently have. 

Kate: This paper had all of the elements of a good argument paper, including claims and counterclaims. It was well framed in terms of importance and provided limitations. The author acknowledged that their experience wasn’t necessarily universal, but they also provided sources that are more relevant to American audiences. 

Jacob: I first liked the way that the author hooked me as a reader into the story, mentioning their time growing up in Guyana, and how their parents did not allow them to play outside as other children did. I also think that the various illnesses that the author touched on, like ADHD, that can be prevented by encouraging outdoor play were also interesting, and weren’t something I would’ve thought would be affected by a topic such as this. Along with the counterclaims that some make against the points made in the paper, I think that the arguments made were good, and the topic itself very important as more and more kids choose (or their parents choose for them) the amount of time they spend indoors rather than out.

Sherrod: I really enjoyed the intro to the essay based on the sole fact that my parents were just like her parents, and wouldn't let me go outside to run around with my friends. The facts brought up about not letting a child see the outside world at a young age directly made me interested because I was in her same shoes and I became addicted to videotapes due to the lack of freedom to go outside and play with friends. The points she makes about the relationship between quality time outside and health are backed up with real research that is rather important with all these new diseases that are being found rapidly around the world. 

You can read Karishma’s essay here: “Children and Nature – There’s a Connection.”

Finalists for Each Category

Personal Essay Category

Finalist: “New Beginnings” by Youssef Jalwaj-Soubai

Finalist: “The ‘Right’ Way” by Karishma Persuad


Analysis Category

Finalist: “US Foreign Policy on Religious Persecution,” by Nazafat Jarrin

Finalist: “A Conversation with the World” by Justina Moczulski


Argument/Conversation Category

Finalist: “On How We May Prevent Recidivism in the United States” by Justice June

Finalist: “Acculturation: Dominant and Ethnic Relationship Formation Scale,” by Jasmine Buenaventura