Making the transition from high school to college and finding a home away from home was the theme of the winning essay of NIU’s “Make Your Home Among Strangers” contest.
Freshman Shandiez Holmes, a fashion merchandising major from Chicago, earned top honors for her essay, “What’s in Name?” a poignant tale of how getting involved in a campus poetry group helped her find her voice and her niche as a Huskie.
“This was an outlet to tell my story about how I made NIU a comfortable place,” Holmes said. “I wanted to show people (that) everyone settles in a new place differently; whether it be through activities, sports or just the atmosphere, there is always a special way to do it.”
The essay contest, based on Jennine Capó Crucet’s book of the same name, is part of NIU’s Common Reading Experience (CRE), which encourages reading and critical thinking while providing a shared experience among first year students.
Throughout the essays, students address the themes of adjusting to college life, educational access, immigration, the unique challenges faced by first generation college students and other topics raised by Crucet’s text.
“Opportunities like this essay contest bring our students into an important conversation nationally and across campus, a conversation in which they have much to offer,” English instructor and NIU Writer’s Workshop director, Suzanne Coffield, said.
Coffield said Holmes’ winning essay was written with a “powerful, lyrical voice,” and spoke to her experience of finding her place on campus after joining the poetry group, 4 Poets One Mic.
“Like Lisette of ‘Make Your Home Among Strangers,’ Shandiez struggled to fit in the new, daunting environment of college,” Coffield said. “But she persevered, ultimately achieving success.”
The Make Your Home Among Strangers essay contest is sponsored by a partnership with First-and-Second-Year Experience, the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the Department of English. Along with Holmes, the following students were recognized for their outstanding essays during an awards ceremony for first-year student winners on Nov. 14:
First Place – Shandiez Holmes for “What’s in a Name?” (Jeanne Jakubowski, instructor)
Second Place – Dymond Fairley for “My Reason Being” (Maria Alderson, instructor) and Sydne Robinson for “G.I.R.L.” (Jeanne Jakubowski, instructor)
Third Place – Cecilia Hernandez for “Where are your roots?” (Jeanne Jakubowski, instructor) and Jianni Ransome-Miller for “Skittles and Hoodies” (Maria Alderson, instructor)
Honorable Mention – Jordyn Crosby for “Big Change” (Rosalind Bowers, instructor)