St. Joseph-Benton Harbor Rotary Names Scholarship Essay Contest Winners for 2019

The businessmen and women who comprise the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor have been sharing their largesse with the community of Michigan's Great Southwest for decades, but none of the myriad programs of support they bring to the table issues quite the challenge to local youth as does their annual scholarship essay competition.

Today's meeting of the club was dedicated to the recognition of the participants and winners of the 2019 Rotary Scholarship Essay Contest, an annual collaboration with Berrien RESA.

Rotary Scholarship Essay Contest chair Jacqui Winship says, “Especially given the rigorous nature of the contest, these essays demonstrate impressive thoughtfulness and skilled writing abilities. The quality of the essays submitted was remarkable and we thank the educators in the communities for teaching and mentoring these outstanding students.”

The club celebrated with congratulations to the winners of the 2019 competition, including:

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  • 1st Place - $2,000 Scholarship - Carter Welch, Lakeshore High School
  • 2nd Place - $1,000 Scholarship - Kaila Nichols, St. Joseph High School
  • 3rd Place - $500 Scholarship - Caroline Miota, Lake Michigan Catholic High School

They shared more about the winners:

Carter Welch (1st Place) was born in Niles, and has attended Lakeshore since kindergarten.

Transportation and the ways and means of the nation and its government are profoundly intriguing to Carter. He also loves to write poetry and short stories. He’s played tennis on the Lakeshore Varsity team for four years, and he works at Red Coach Donuts on Saturdays and during the summer. Carter is excited to be attending Dartmouth College in the fall where he plans on majoring in either economics or government with a minor in Spanish.

Kaila Nichols (2nd Place) is a senior at St. Joseph High School and dual-enrolled at Lake Michigan College. She is the founder of her school’s cultural awareness club Bridging Our Natural Differences (BOND) and is a member of Key Club, Film Club, Broadcast Club, and the National Honor Society. At St. Joseph High School, she was also the News Editor for The Wind-Up, Public Relations Director for the Interact Club and a hurdler on the Track and Field team. Outside of school, she enjoys reading, writing, watching the latest films and spending time with family and friends. After graduation, she plans to attend a four-year university to study media, film and journalism.

Catherine Miota (3rd Place) is a senior at Lake Michigan Catholic High School. She participates in Interact Club, Key Club, National Honor Society and is the captain of the Varsity volleyball, basketball, soccer, and softball teams. She’s also volunteered as a camp counselor, is a Big Sister for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and has participated in a mission trip to Mexico. In her free time, she enjoys playing club soccer and spending time with her friends, family, and dog. Caroline plans to attend college and pursue a degree in law with the goal of becoming a prosecuting attorney.

The Rotary Scholarship Essay Contest is now in its 39th year and 2019 marks the 11th year partnering with Berrien RESA to advance the program. The partnership was invaluable in expanding the opportunity to encompass over 20 schools and coordinating alignment of contest parameters with high school social studies content expectations.

The Rotary Scholarship Essay Contest promotes critical thinking, writing skills, and awareness of contemporary social issues. The contest is open to one senior nominated from each high school in Berrien County, plus one homeschool student.

This year, 11 students participated in the competition:

  • Emma Vanderwaal from Andrews Academy
  • Tekasia Spencer from Benton Harbor High School
  • Emily Johnson from Berrien Springs High School
  • Tori Blank from Brandywine High School
  • Parker Cote from Bridgman High School
  • Caroline Miota from Lake Michigan Catholic High School
  • Carter Welch from Lakeshore High School
  • Melanie Rock from Michigan Lutheran
  • Riley Cain from New Buffalo High School
  • Kaila Nichols from St. Joseph High School
  • Elaine Koshar from Watervliet High School

The Essay Background/Prompt for the competition was this:

In the recent midterm election, a record number of college-educated women were elected to the United States House of Representatives. Write an essay about the importance of that election and discuss why so many women campaigned for a seat in the U.S. House. What does that portend for the current administration and for the future of the United States?

The students were provided with the topic of the essay question last December. In early February, the students reported to the Berrien RESA Technology Center to complete their essay. The rules and proctoring of the contest are rigorous to ensure a fair competition.

  • 2 hour time limit
  • No internet or cell phone use
  • Allowed one 3” x 5” index card containing no more than 30 words
  • Allowed a dictionary and thesaurus

Judging of the essays was blind with students identified only by an assigned number and were judged by representatives of both Berrien RESA and the Rotary Club of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor. Judges were asked to set aside any personal opinions on the essay topic and judge solely on the basis of how well the arguments were crafted and supported, utilizing the four key criteria of (1) content, (2) coherence and unity, (3) originality and style, and (4) grammar, punctuation and spelling.

The success and longevity of this program is a credit to the many community members who volunteer their time to make this project possible. Rotary issued special thanks to Superintendent Dr. Kevin M. Ivers of  Berrien RESA as well as Karen Heath, Lauren Todd and Tonya Snyder from their staff. Contest judges from Berrien RESA include Kim Knowlton, Amanda Lezotte, Chris Martin and Kerry Mindeman. The Rotary Scholarship Essay Contest committee is chaired by Jacqui Winship and includes Patti Kutz, Dave Kirshenbaum, Bill Benner and Gordon Hosbein. Rotarian contest judges include Ann Cardon, Lisa Cripps-Downey, Nicole Heugel, Dave Kirshenbaum, Trevor Kubatzke, Jim O’Malley, Jack Sukup and Janet Zielke.

Rotary is an organization of business and professional leaders united worldwide who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world. Rotary club membership represents a cross-section of the community’s business and professional men and women. The world’s Rotary clubs meet weekly and are nonpolitical, nonreligious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds.