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Three Students Named as Winners of
Second Annual Liberal Arts Essay Competition

RELEASED: March 9, 2007

EAU CLAIRE — Three students at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire have been selected as local campus winners of the Second Annual Liberal Arts Essay Competition, sponsored by the UW System Advisory Group on the Liberal Arts.

Matthew Brewer, Mark Olson and Brian Reisinger each will receive a $1,000 scholarship from the UW-Eau Claire Foundation to be used for UW-Eau Claire educational expenses during the 2007-08 academic year.

The winners also become UW-Eau Claire's nominees for the UW System essay competition. Their essays will be entered into a pool of essays from UW comprehensive and doctoral institutions to be judged at the system level. Two winners will be chosen later this spring to receive $2,000 scholarships.

To be eligible to enter the competition, students were required to have a current GPA of at least 3.4, to have completed at least 60 credit hours by the end of the fall 2006 semester, and to have at least one semester remaining as a full-time student. Eligible students were asked to write an essay of 1,000-1,250 words in which they discussed how their liberal arts and science education had helped them to understand, contextualize and address a significant contemporary issue or problem of their choice.

Brewer, a senior from Clintonville with a biology major and chemistry minor, wrote an essay titled "Cow Manure and a Liberal Arts Education: The Road to Success for Students," which describes a research project he undertook in collaboration with his adviser. The project involved field work and communications with farmers, farm workers, veterinarians and experts in the field of parasitology as Brewer studied the intestinal parasite Cryptosporidium, which infects animals all over the world and is common in Wisconsin dairy cattle. While he was working on a project in his field of study, Brewer described how knowledge and skills he'd acquired from other subject areas, including statistics, written communication, and familiarity with the economic, social and cultural issues involved in farming, ultimately helped contribute to a successful project with real world applications. The resulting data provides clues about how calves may acquire the infection from their mothers, makes recommendation for facility management and suggests other questions for study.

"By utilizing a working knowledge of many disciplines, I have identified a problem, understood the issue within my community, and used a multidisciplinary approach to solve the problem," wrote Brewer.

Olson, a senior from Eau Claire majoring in political science, wrote "The Dangers of Dichotomy," in which he argues that a liberal arts and science education can help lessen the tendency to see all serious issues in terms of two opposite and conflicting positions. A liberal arts education, he argues, promotes critical thinking and provides students with experiences that broaden historical and cultural understanding, which can then be applied to solving problems. He uses as his example the war in Iraq, arguing that a liberal arts education has helped him see that unless people understand that "paradigms of western individualism, American secularism, and our liberal political tradition are not necessarily congruent with the paradigms of the diverse cultures of the world, including that of the Iraqi people," they will not be able to see beyond the current stalemate over arguments for either "staying the course" or bringing home our troops.

"If we refuse simple deference to dichotomy," wrote Olson, "we can look deeper and begin to find better solutions that place an emphasis on individual human life and take practical steps forward."

Reisinger, a senior from Spring Green with a major in journalism and a minor in political science, wrote an essay titled "My Liberal Education: Repairing the Foundation of Journalism." In his essay, Reisinger describes an experience that helped him better understand "the difference between the ideal journalism of the classroom and the journalism of practice." When UW-Eau Claire began dealing with the controversy over whether resident assistants could hold Bible studies in their dormitory rooms, Reisinger was news editor for The Spectator, UW-Eau Claire's Student newspaper.

"Suddenly," wrote Reisinger, "I was directing and contributing to coverage that had some serious implications. I was also observing how the news media can inadvertently blur information, neglect content and sensationalize a story."

Reisinger went on to describe how he and the other student reporters attempted to cover the story fairly and accurately, and ultimately, how he came to believe that "good journalism is a collective endeavor between journalists who strive for the best and a public that expects it." A liberal arts and science education, he argues, "is critical to enabling journalists to produce quality work, as well as fostering an audience that calls for nothing less . . ."

For more information on the UW System Liberal Education Initiative or the Liberal Arts Essay Competition, visit their Web site.

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