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Three Muskingum College students win American Automobile Association's Home and Away magazine travel writing competition

SEPTEMBER 6, 2004 - Never let it be said that college students lack "worldly" experience. At least not Muskingum College students.
Three students at the college have taken the top three prizes in a travel writing competition sponsored by the American Automobile Association (AAA), and their work has been published in the September-October edition of AAA's Home and Away magazine.

The competition, held last spring, was open to all college students in Ohio who were enrolled in communications courses, and it was designed to expose them to the very specialized craft of travel writing.

Deborah Fry '07 won first place in the competition. She wrote an article titled The Art of Tlaquepaque, which reflected on her family's long relationship with that city in western Mexico and her change of heart about its culture and beauty.

Of Fry's writing, one judge said, "Beautiful writing using visual language paints a picture of this destination, making it easy for the reader to imagine this place."

As the first place winner, Fry won an expense-paid trip to London and Paris with Contiki Tours for herself and a guest. Perhaps more importantly for an aspiring writer, though, Fry also received an invitation to write about her trip for Home and Away's May/June, 2005 issue.

The second place winner was Anna Isabel Zapata Calle. Calle, a native of Ciudad Real, Spain, was a teaching assistant in Spanish at the college last year, and has gone on to graduate school. Her article, Of Don Quixote and Theater , examined the dramatic changes that have taken place in the town of Almagar, which is roughly 15 miles from her home in Spain.

Calle's article drew compliments from the judges, who said, "The Cervantes touch in the lead is a refreshing change from ordinary writing."

Stephanie Raach '07 was a first-year student when she wrote her article, Sun, Surf and Land . The article offers her impressions of the wide variety of experiences available in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The judges praised Raach's work, saying, "Ethnically, this piece is quite sound with a good, easy tone."

These and other students had a chance to enter the contest thanks to Assistant Professor of English Dr. Jane Varley. She was advised by her department chair that the contest was taking place, and Dr. Varley decided to build it into the curriculum of her composition class.

"I thought it would be a really interesting exercise," Dr. Varley recalled, "to let the students in the class try to write a specific kind of piece for a very specific kind of audience."

She told the class that writing a travel article could be one of their six essay assignments. The class, she explained, studied back issues of Home and Away to better understand the kind of writing the magazine used, and then each wrote an article.

"They really took to it in a big way," Dr. Varley said. "Some of them thought it was a very interesting kind of writing, and some thought it was more like trying to sell someone on a specific place which, in a way, it is."

Dr. Varley advised her students through their writing processes and then sent the finished pieces to Home and Away. While the staff at the magazine may have been surprised by a sudden surge in contest entries from Muskingum, the real surprise came when the results were announced. "It's really an understatement to say that it was a bit of a shock," Dr. Varley said, "but it was very, very exciting."

As the spring semester waned, Dr. Varley "pushed the people at the magazine a little to get the results," she recalled. "I explained to them that it was part of my course and that it would be really helpful to know how the contest turned out. But, I had no idea it would be like this."

She recalled fondly announcing the winners to the class. "It was neat. I sort of marched into class with this great news, and all of the students were thrilled. Even those who didn't place were happy for those who did."

Dr. Varley is pleased with the entire experience, both for herself and her students. "Anything you can do to make a class more interesting, more exciting is a big plus, and this worked out incredibly well That pleases me and it was great for all the students, whether or not they won. That's what really matters."