Students Earn 2022 Janelle Joseph Environmental Writing Contest Awards

A poignant reflection on birds and the dangers they face from urban buildings, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign undergraduate Eva Bein’s article was the grand prize winner in the third annual Janelle Joseph Prize for Environmental Writing, curated by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE).

In total, three University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students won awards in the contest this year. In addition to receiving cash prizes, their work will be published in upcoming issues of Q Magazine.

Since the summer of 2020, Q Magazine’s generous benefactor, Janelle Joseph, has sponsored the Environmental Writing Contest.

“I am proud to donate and beyond proud to see talented environmentalists put their research and experiences on the page,” Joseph said.

The contest received a record-breaking 14 entries this year. Entrants competed for cash prizes and the chance to have their work published in Q, a student-written, professionally curated publication of the undergraduate Certificate in Environmental Writing (CEW) program. The magazine tackles big environmental questions, such as the complicated relationships between humans and the species we share our planet with, battles for environmental justice, and the everyday items that clog our waste stream.

“Small Birds, Big Impacts,” by Bein, a senior in Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability (ESES), took the $1,000 grand prize. Bein writes of a day spent helping collect data — and dead birds — for the U of I’s Bird Strike Survey. An excerpt:

“As I ventured into the engineering quad toward our 7 a.m. meeting spot, the morning sun was bright against buildings lined with clean, long, reflective windows. The University of Illinois campus proved a perfect example of why cities are major death zones for birds in migration. They get confused by the reflective glass and light from windows and accidentally strike them mid-flight, causing over 1 billion bird deaths a year in the U.S. and contributing to declining bird populations. The sheer weight of that number of dead birds is comparable to 550 loaded coach buses.”

Q veteran and senior in ACE Tyler Swanson was the feature category winner with his piece, “Farming the Sun in More Ways Than One.” He explores the potential of agrivoltaics — the co-location of agricultural production and solar energy generation.

Finally, Momo Wang’s piece, simply titled, “A Ladybug,” won the memoir category. In a thoughtful meditation on the fragility of life all around us, Wang reflects on our everyday interactions with the living world, from the humble ladybug to the catfish that will soon be cooked for dinner. Wang graduated in May 2022 with a degree in ESES.

In addition to the three prize winners, three honorable mentions were selected. These authors will also have the opportunity to be published in an upcoming Q Magazine: Gabe Lareau, a junior in English; Jorge Corral, a senior in ESES; and Elaine Guel, a junior in ACE.

“The awards committee was hugely impressed by the range of environmental topics taken up by students in this year’s writing competition, and the standard continues to rise,” said Professor and CEW Director Gillen Wood. “The winners this year showcase the very best writing in our program — urgent, well researched, and with a flair for the poetic.”

The writing contest, which will be offered again next spring and summer, is open to Illinois undergraduates from any major and geared toward those with an interest in writing and the environment.

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— Article by iSEE Communications Specialist April Wendling