Skip directly to: Main page content

UC Davis Magazine

Volume 26 · Number 2 · Winter 2009

Prized Writing

Here we share two excerpts from Prized Writing 2007–2008, the student anthology that encourages and rewards good writing by students in every major.

Aggie athletes have their NCAA championships; civil engineers have their concrete canoe competition. For the University Writing Program, the signature event is Prized Writing, now in its 20th year. This fall alone, the contest drew 332 submissions of essays and technical papers (all had their origins as assignments in undergraduate academic courses). The 23 winners received a cash prize, a certificate, public recognition at a fall awards reception — and the thrill of having their work appear in Prized Writing 2007–2008. The anthology is on sale at the UC Davis Bookstore and will be used as a text in composition courses.

Students from physics and genetics, American studies and art, film studies and queer studies, among other academic areas, entered this year’s contest. The multidisciplinary nature of the pool is no fluke: The University Writing Program’s mission is to ensure that all UC Davis students leave campus with the skills they need to write — with clarity and style — about their chosen fields. The program aims to produce computer engineers who can communicate with computer users, doctors who can explain treatments to the lay public, and social scientists who can make their work come alive on the printed page.

U.S. News & World Report recently recognized UC Davis as one of just 23 universities nationwide that “make writing a priority at all levels of instruction and across the curriculum.” Davis-based novelist John Lescroart is also a fan. Lescroart has donated money to support student author events on campus, at which prized writers read their work and talk about their writing process before campus audiences.

But the Prized Writing 2007–2008 excerpts below speak for themselves: “‘I Did Not Get My Spaghetti-O’s’: Death Row Consumption in the Popular Media,” by American studies student Stevie Jeung, was a winner in the essay category. “A Race Against Time: An Overview of Progeria and Its Clinical Symptoms,” written by Kyle Davis, now a first-year medical student at UC Davis, won in the scientific and technical paper category. To read other winning papers dating back to 1989, click here.

Stevie Jeung photo

(Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“I Did Not Get My Spaghetti-O’s”: Death Row Consumption in the Popular Media
By Stevie Jeung for American Studies 101D: “Crime and Punishment in American Culture”

Jesus Christ: Roast lamb, matzo, wine; around AD 30. Perry Smith and Richard Hickock: Identical meals of shrimp, french fries, garlic bread, ice cream and strawberries with whipped cream; 1965. Timothy McVeigh: Two pints of Ben & Jerry’s mint chocolate chip ice cream; 2001. Tony Soprano: Holsten’s onion rings; 2007. Karl Chamberlain: final meal yet to be consumed; 15 days from now.

While executions historically demand a certain degree of morbid curiosity, the last meals of the condemned seem to stimulate heightened interest. Indeed, a prisoner’s final feast has almost become an event in its own right, not only for the prisoner, but for the prison staff and the public. Web sites, novels, movies, television shows, newspapers and even cookbooks report, dissect, criticize and speculate regarding last meals real and imagined. When confronted with the ultimate consumption of dying people in so many areas of our popular media, the truth becomes alarmingly clear: This is odd behavior. There must be some reason that we institutionally allow our most hated and feared prisoners to choose and enjoy their final meal before we execute them, and there must be some reason that we like to watch and reproduce the event in popular culture. . . .

More . . .


Kyle Davis photo

(Photo: Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

A Race Against Time: An Overview of Progeria and Its Clinical Symptoms
By Kyle Davis for University Writing Program 104 E, “Writing in the Sciences”

The idiom goes, “With age comes wisdom,” but this is only a partial truth. Had the intellectual who proclaimed this waited another 40 years, he might have instead stated, “With age comes wisdom and possibly success, followed by a certain decline in health, waning looks and eventually the dulling of one’s mind.” Today, and for millennia past, an individual’s biological clock has seen to it that this progression remains a verity. Although admirers of George Clooney might disagree, given enough time even the best aged wine will sour. Yet we live in a society that can launch men to the moon, visualize and split atoms, and transmit invisible waves through the air to be unscrambled thousands of miles away. Relatively speaking, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that the aging process could be halted, or reversed, for those beyond their prime. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We must first understand the mechanisms behind aging before we tamper with them. But where to begin? How might this be accomplished? And if we could, should we meddle? Recent research into the aging process shows promise, and scientists have turned toward an uncommon disease that instigates early aging in children, hoping to learn more.

Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS) has been fairly well documented since the late 19th century, although little aside from its expressed symptoms was known about the disease. Giant leaps in the field of molecular and cellular genetics have allowed researchers to shine some light on the matter, as well as on the normal aging process. HGPS is extremely rare and affects merely one in 4 million to one in 8 million born, depending on the statistical source. Nevertheless, compared with more common diseases, it receives a disproportionate amount of attention due to its peculiar symptoms. Of these, the most easily recognized is described within the Greek roots of the ailment’s name: Pro ‘early’ and geras ‘old age.’ It was initially termed progeria by Dr. Hastings Gilford, although Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson first explained the ailment in 1886. Hutchinson, a famed British surgeon and expert on syphilis, originally described the aged appearance of a 6-year-old boy who looked many times his age. The report was plainly titled, “A case of congenital absence of hair with atrophic condition of the skin and its appendages.” Gilford described an identical case in a 3½-year-old with a misdiagnosed case of ectodermal dysplasia (which affects child tissue development) and subsequently published his own detailed study, complemented by pictures, in 1904. As the disorder’s full name indicates, the two doctors share credit in the discovery and early analysis of Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome — more commonly abbreviated as progeria.

More . . .