Student Writers Go Public: 2020 Mandell Prize Winners

May 14, 2020

The Samuel P. and Ida S. Mandell Undergraduate Essay Contest recognizes students whose writing fosters informed, civil public discourse. Students who publish the Op-Eds or other writing they produce for their Writing Seminars are eligible for a prize. Other prizes are given to students who build on the research project they began in their seminars, as well as students who publish substantive research articles in one of Penn’s undergraduate journals. The 2020 winners are annouced below.

Prize for Distinguished Research Writing Initiated in a Writing Seminar

A first prize of $500 went to Arnav Lal (C’23, pictured at right), who wrote a review of literature on “Comparative Genomics in Infectious Disease” for Dr. Aurora MacRae-Crerar’s Writing Seminar in Biology, “Magical Microbes.” Arnav later expanded and, in co-authorship with his mentors at CHOP and Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, published the article in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Current Opinion in Microbiology in February, 2020. “This is really exciting and happy news—a big encouragement for me,” remarked Arnav when he learned of winning this prize. “I know that this wouldn’t be possible without my research mentors and Dr. MacRae-Crerar, my amazing and inspirational Writing Seminar Instructor.”

Prizes for Distinguished Research Writing Produced in a Seminar: Op-Ed Winners

First-Place prize ($750) winner for distinguished writing produced in a seminar—and one of this year’s new Writing Fellows—Marilyn Pereboom (C’22, pictured at right) published “New York needs to make college more accessible to rural students” in the Ithaca Journal. Pereboom’s Op-Ed surveys financial aid initiatives for low-income and rural New Yorkers such as the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and Excelsior Scholarship, efforts she argues have stalled in the legislative branch and fallen short of expectations. The Op-Ed makes a case for increased funding—noting the compatibility of such policy with Governor Mario Cuomo’s original campaign platform centered on reversing economic decline in the upstate region.

Marilyn researched and drafted her Op-Ed for Dr. Julie McWilliam’s Critical Writing Seminar in Education, “A Nation of Immigrants.” Pereboom praised Op-Eds as an assignment and a genre for how they “empower writers and democratize news platforms, allowing for more diverse voices to be heard by the public,” and expressed her gratitude for the writing program’s “efforts to support students in publishing their work and getting their voices heard.”

Ethan Kharrazi (C’23, pictured at right), Honorable Mention ($100), published his Op-Ed, “Public education gave me skills and memories that I will cherish for a lifetime,” in the Los Angeles Times. Ethan was determined to share “the merits of public education in a publication that was widely read by local community,” adding that his goal was “to communicate this message while reflecting the gratitude I have for my education.” Ethan drafted his Op-Ed in Dr. Adam Mohr’s Writing Seminar "Global Health."

Eytan Deener-Agus (C’20, pictured at right), another Honorable Mention ($100), shared his enthusiasm for frisbee and his talents as a writer with his Op-Ed, “Why Children Should Play Ultimate Frisbee,” published in Playing Times and first drafted in Dr. Amy Paeth's Writing Seminar "The Art of Persuasion." Upon receiving news of his award, Eytan wrote, “Thank you to the Critical Writing Program for giving me the opportunity to share my passion for ultimate frisbee with the wider community!,” and said that his hope was that his Op-Ed “will add to the fast-paced growth of a sport and community that I love.”

Alana Davis (C’23) also received an Honorable Mention ($100) for her Op-Ed “Exploring Electroconvulsive Therapy as a Treatment Option,” which appeared in The Mighty Blog. Alana drafted the Op-Ed in Dr. Phillip Fackler's Writing Seminar in Cinema Studies.

Prizes for Distinguished Research Featured in a Penn Undergraduate Publication

This prize is given to a Penn undergraduate who has published an outstanding source-based, sustained academic argument or explanation in one of Penn’s many undergraduate academic journals, annually published in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and business.

This year’s first-place prize of $750 goes to Aris Saxena (C'21), whose article “Coca-Cola and Life Saving Medicines” was published in Synapse: Penn's Undergraduate Medical Connection. Saxena’s article considers the possibilities in improving global medicine supply chains for remote regions by looking to Coca-Cola's robust logistical infrastructure, and posits that the routes and resources available for these products might also be used in closing a glaring healthcare access gap.

Brooke Krancer (C'20, pictured at right) received $500 for her second place entry, “'Winning Little Bannockburns': Memory, The Great War, and the Rise of Scottish Nationalism,” was published in the Penn History Review 26:1 (2019): 50-73. In her article, Krancer traces the legacy of Scottish martial history and its function in a shift in national identity, from unionist sentiments in the lead up before the First World War to a revived call for independence thereafter. Reflecting on her experience, she noted the challenges of researching and writing for a longer piece, and the opportunity to explore a topic outside the scope of her coursework. “These were all lessons that took me directly to my thesis,” she said, “and this paper made me realize that writing a thesis was not only something I could do but something that I wanted to do.”


This was a tough competition, for our undergraduates produced such outstanding work that they managed to get their work published in professionally edited publications as well as in Penn's top-notch undergraduate journals. The writing faculty and the editors of these publications, as well as the authors, deserve our applause for their hard work.

We are also grateful to the faculty judges, who read and considered all student submissions, as well as read every long-feature research article in Penn's 16 undergraduate journals: Committee Chair Jo Ann Caplin, Michael Chiappini, and Keahnan Washington for Research Writing Initiated or Produced in a Writing Seminar, and Committee Chair Adam Mohr, Sara Byala, Aurora MacRae-Crerar, and Fayyaz Vellani for Distinguished Research Featured in a Penn Undergraduate Publication.

Finally, a special thanks to the Mandell family for their longstanding commitment to the fostering of student writers.

Back to Marks Family Center of Excellence in Writing News