Junior captured $500 scholarship after completing honors English 10 assignment last year

Junior Sophia Woods spun her homework assignment into winning a $500 scholarship. Last fall, Woods won second place in the Paul Engle Contest, winning a $500 scholarship to the University of Iowa. All of this became possible because Honors English 10 teacher Michelle Rathe assigned a personal narrative with guidelines where all her students had to correspond with a college prompt chosen by each student. 

The Honors English 10 students applied for college scholarships and grants. Students were required to write a personal essay along the guidelines of a specific college’s prompt requirements. 

“My essay was originally just a personal narrative assignment for English class in the fall of my sophomore year,” Woods said. “I wrote about a Christmas Eve tradition that my family has, and a specific moment during that night when I was sitting with my cousin in their backyard and just taking in the landscape and the memories that stem from it. I didn’t know about the contest until my teacher, Ms. Rathe, encouraged me to enter it in the spring. I did, not expecting much, and heard back five days before my 16th birthday that I’d gotten runner-up and the $500 scholarship. I’d say it was a pretty good present.”

Honors English 10 teacher Michelle Rathe said that taking the time to see steps of growth along the way of the writing process is important. “I think that self-reflection and understanding of how experience changes and affects behavior is key to finding joy in life,” Rathe said. “Considering where you have been or what you have experienced and comparing it to now leads to better understanding of what to try next or helps one appreciate how far he/she has come. Taking time to see the steps or growth along the way is just as important as the final butterfly reveal.”

Woods, now a junior, applied for the Paul Engle contest through Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, in efforts to win a grant or one year scholarship. The guidelines were to write about the Iowa environment and how it affects your life. Woods won second place and a $500 scholarship. 

“It also helps students realize that there are opportunities for them at any age level. Learning and experience go beyond college and applications. It might also help them understand that there is a purpose to the learning in classes. It can have more immediate and powerful effects and applications,” Rathe said. 

I’d definitely encourage other people to go for it. Even if you don’t think you’ll win, it’s a great way to hone your writing skills and get experience applying for scholarships, but it’s always worth a shot, and you’ve got as good a chance as anyone to win,” Woods said.
The Paul Engle contest is strictly for sophomores; however, a variety of other scholarship opportunities are available.

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