Clark University has announced the winners of the inaugural essay contest held jointly with Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. The contest, which was sponsored by the Paul Family Foundation, was created to give students the opportunity to broaden their thinking about economic and social topics on a national level.
Students were asked students to write a 12-to-15-page essay about current economic and social trends, suggest how those trends will impact the nation by 2025, and explore how the trends will impact their generation. The writers also were required to explain the rationale for the choice of trends and to discuss how the trends intersect with the value of free speech.
Brenna Leigh Donahue ’23, a psychology major with a minor in education, received the first-place prize of $10,000 for her essay, “Trends in Youth Mental Health.” She identified social media, depression rates, racial and ethnic inequalities, health care access, and school funding as issues that are having a major impact on young people today.
Donahue says her goal was to raise awareness about the youth mental health epidemic and the role that schools can play in reducing — or perpetuating — the intensity of this crisis. “The impact of these factors on youth mental health emphasizes a greater call for mental health reform in our schools, where these adolescents are directly located,” she says, adding that to truly reverse how these trends elevate inequalities and mental health stigma, school administrators must actively work together with their communities.
“The scholarship will be extremely helpful as I pursue my academic goals — both at Clark and in the future,” says Donahue, who plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in school psychology. She added that she is grateful to the Paul Family Foundation for the award, and is particularly appreciative of the Goddard Library staff who helped her with her research and citations.
Second place ($5,000) was awarded to Anna Kathryn Hodges ’23 for her essay, “The Changing Nature of Work in the Age of Pandemics and Technology.” Hodges is majoring in sociology at Clark.
Ashley Valois ’25 received the third-place prize ($2,000) for her work, “Speech Powers Change.” Valois serves on the Equity and Inclusion Cabinet of the Undergraduate Student Council and is a member of the Asian Cultural Society.
Clark and Washburn universities have similar histories. Both institutions opened in the late 19th century and have ties to Worcester. Ichabod Washburn, like Jonas Clark, was a successful Worcester businessman who recognized the importance of education. Their financial generosity assured that the universities could survive in a challenging time.