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Students honored in anthropology writing competition

Published: 10 May 2011

Four NDSU students received recognition for essays submitted to a national writing competition hosted by The Center for a Public Anthropology.

The competition asked students to write opinion letters on a specific topic that results in a call for action. This year's focus was “Are researchers accountable, in some manner, to those who fund their research and/or the people who assist them in it? If so, how should this accountability operate?” The National Science Foundation was the specific research funding institution targeted for increased accountability.

More than 3,000 students from 20 schools across North America responded to the challenge. After peer review, four papers from NDSU students – Grant Bartley, a junior majoring in English; Rachel Geiser, a sophomore majoring in French education; and Kelsey Gisi and Robyn Stessen, both freshmen majoring in anthropology – were recognized as some of the best.

Overall, 42 NDSU students participated in the competition as part of the Anthropology 206 course, titled “People’s of the World.” The students conducted research and wrote letters during three weeks in April.

Joy Sather-Wagstaff, assistant professor of anthropology, said the competition offers valuable learning opportunities. “The project helps provide students with key skills they need to be successful in their future careers," Sather-Wagstaff said. “Most of the students find this to be a very valuable experience and it also helps to tie together many issues we discuss in class.”

The competition used a peer-review judging system. Each student submitted a letter online and then received five letters in return from students at five other universities to review, evaluate and grade. Grades were based on five specific criteria: Does the piece have a point that is clearly expressed? Does the piece persuade the reader? Is the paper thoughtfully organized? Is the piece written clearly and with few grammatical errors? Is the piece presented in a polite and respectful manner?

Once reviewed, students could see the top-score earning letters and could sign their names to ones they wanted to support. The letters with the most signatures were chosen as winning letters. Students also had the option to send their letters to their congressional representatives.

The Center for a Public Anthropology is a non-profit organization that encourages scholars and their students to address public problems in public ways. Center director Rob Borofsky uses the Community Action Website Project,, to engage introductory anthropology course students across the country with various societal problems. According to the website, its key objectives are to help students think critically, communicate effectively and become an active citizen. 

Sather-Wagstaff has involved her students with The Center for a Public Anthropology since spring 2007. This year's participating schools included North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, University of South Florida, George Mason University, University of Iowa, University of Nevada-Reno, University of New Mexico, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Missouri and College of DuPage.

To view the students’ essays, visit For more information on Public Anthropology’s Community Action website, visit

For more information on NDSU students’ involvement, contact Sather-Wagstaff at or 1-6498.


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North Dakota State University
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Last Updated: Sunday, August 25, 2013