from L to R: Jennifer Robinson, Pres. Gogue, Alicia Berdeguez, Eric Lopez

Spring 2011 Common Book Writing Contest Winners

This spring marked the second Common Book writing contest, which was co-sponsored by Auburn Connects! and the Office of University Writing. Unlike the Fall 2010 contest that was open only to incoming freshmen, the spring contest invited all undergraduate students to submit writing of any genre that connected to the 2010-2011 Common Book, Three Cups of Tea by Dr. Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin. The contest judges, Dr. Margaret Marshall, Dr. Constance Relihan, Dr. Sharon Roberts, Dr. Paul Patterson, and Mrs. Emily Washburn, read and ranked all submissions, which ranged from creative writing pieces to research papers. First place was awarded to Alicia Berdeguez for her poem, “Patterns.” Second place was awarded to Jennifer Robinson for her essay, “Missteps and Success.” Third place went to Eric Lopez for his essay that looked at the book through the lens of foreign policy implications.

Each of the winners expressed that they discovered a personal connection to Dr. Mortensen’s story of perseverance, education, and culture, which enabled them to become more engaged in the process of writing about Three Cups of Tea. These connections are well within the goals set forward by Auburn Connects! for students to gain a global perspective and to become intellectually engaged in the Common Book.

The prizes for contest winners included the opportunity to shadow Provost Mazey, President Gogue, and Athletic Director Jay Jacobs. “I truly enjoyed the opportunity of getting to shadow the Athletic Director Jay Jacobs for the day. It was a once in a lifetime experience to see all the inner functions of how a collegiate athletic department operates,” stated third place winner, Eric Lopez.

To show his support for the Common Book program, President Gogue hosted a dinner at his home where the winners were honored for their accomplishments. All faculty members who used Three Cups of Tea in their classrooms as well as others who were involved in the Common Book program were in attendance. The three winners were introduced by Dr. Margaret Marshall, who also presented each winner with a gift card for the AU Bookstore. “The dinner was a great opportunity to see how widespread the Common Book program has become in only one year. The people in attendance represented diverse fields, so it was a great chance to discuss the book and share ideas from very different perspectives,” stated Geralyn Murray, a graduate student for the Office of University Writing who helped plan the event.

Auburn Connects! has selected Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder as the 2011-2012 Common Book. This book tells the story of Paul Farmer, who has dedicated his life to bring modern medicine to Haiti as he lives out his philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity”. By continuing to sponsor the writing contest and other on-campus events, Auburn Connects! expects to engage Auburn’s community in shared academic experiences for both students and faculty through the selection of Mountains beyond Mountains.


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Alicia Berdeguez, First Place

Alicia Berdeguez is a freshman studying English and Creative Writing. When asked to describe her writing process, Alicia said “I begin my writing process with notes and ideas from the text that I want to portray in my piece. I then write a rough draft of my basic ideas and continue to edit until I reach a work that makes me proud to present.” She decided to read Three Cups of Tea when it was introduced as suggested reading at Camp War Eagle. The theme of Afghanistan children’s passion for learning and Greg Mortenson’s speech about his travels were Alicia’s main motivators for writing a response to Three Cups of Tea. As a writer, Alicia stresses the importance of writing about topics that she is passionate about. Her advice to other writers is to write constantly and to write when overcome with emotion.


Jennifer Robinson, Second Place

Jennifer Robinson is a sophomore majoring in English and Spanish. She decided to read Three Cups of Tea when she heard that Greg Mortenson was coming to speak at Auburn. When asked what motivated her response to the novel, Jennifer said; “Greg Mortenson’s story feels so human to me. I was inspired by his journey because he managed to succeed despite many mistakes. I also loved how simple his idea was. It’s something that should have occurred to everyone but it didn’t. For that, he is brilliant.” When beginning her writing process, Jennifer starts by writing what she is feeling. She then identifies important themes and organizes her thoughts into a cohesive whole. Jennifer emphasizes the importance of confidence as being the key ingredient in becoming a great writer. Her advice to other writers is “Work hard and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”


Eric Lopez, Third Place

Eric Lopez in a senior pursuing a degree in Political Science. Eric especially enjoyed the themes of foreign relations that Three Cups of Tea presented. His main motivation for writing his response was attending the lecture held by Greg Mortenson as well as an interest in the countries in which Mortenson has worked. When asked to describe his writing process, Eric said “When formulating my paper I tried to write it in a way that could show how I was affected by both reading the book and attending the event. My theme was based off of a reaction to who Greg Mortenson is, and what he has accomplished.” Eric’s main goal in his writing is to be specific and personal. His advice to other Auburn writers is “Instead of always being so focused on big words and trying to impress people with your style, simply speak from the heart and talk through your writing in a way you would explain something to a close friend.”


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