Showcasing the 2020 Undergraduate Conference on Literature, Language, and Culture Winners
- Joseph Shoulders
- Thursday, December 10th, 2020
Caitlyn Woitena (left), Hanna Van Winkle (top right), and Abigail Raley (bottom right)
The WKU Department of English hosted the 2020 Undergraduate Conference on Literature, Language, and Culture on November 13. After the event, the moderating WKU English MA and MFA students voted on three winning presentations. The 2020 Best in Conference winners were Caitlyn Woitena, Abigail Raley, and Hanna Van Winkle. The winners and their work are showcased below.
1st Best in Conference: Caitlyn Woitena, Houston, TX
Caitlyn Woitena won 1st place Best in Conference for her paper “Are We at War with COVID-19?” which analyzed President Trump’s rhetoric towards the pandemic. Woitena is a sophomore English for Secondary Teachers major. She wrote her paper in Dr. Trini Stickle’s ENG 204 English Language course. Woitena discussed her process of choosing an essay topic to presenting at the Undergraduate Conference.
“When I wrote this paper, we were all still relatively new to global pandemic life,” Woitena said. “I wanted to see what was going on linguistically with all of it. I saw Trump’s Coronavirus Taskforce briefings and knew something was there to talk about.”
Woitena’s research process for her paper was painstaking. She explained, “I had to go over each manuscript of all the Coronavirus Taskforce briefings had in April and count the [instances of words of interest].” Woitena showed the results of her research during the Undergraduate Conference in a chart that listed the words used to describe the pandemic and the numbers of instances.
Woitena decided to present at the Undergraduate Conference after being encouraged by Dr. Stickle. Woitena is grateful to have participated. “[Presenting at the conference] was eye-opening,” she said. “I’ve never submitted any of my writing to a conference—I simply didn’t think it was good enough—so, it built my confidence in my writing. I had some great questions and suggestions from my peers and professors. Overall, it was a fun experience that I hope to have again.”
With the suggestions from the Undergraduate Conference, Woitena is considering researching and revising her paper more for publication. After graduation, Woitena plans to become a teacher and then write education policy.
2nd Best in Conference: Abigail Raley, Bowling Green, KY
Abigail Raley won 2nd place Best in Conference for her paper “‘Get the Tables’: A Metatheatrical Analysis of Professional Wrestling.” Raley is a senior Creative Writing major and Gender and Women’s Studies minor.
Raley discussed what inspired her independent research. She said, “I had a boyfriend at the time that was interested in professional wrestling, so we watched it together frequently. We watched one match with imaginary fighters, and at that point, I realized that metatheatre could be applied to wrestling as an art form.”
Since Raley’s topic was unconventional, her research methods had to be unconventional, too. “For this essay, there wasn’t much academic writing on my topic,” Raley explained, “so I used videos on YouTube and wrestling compilations to supplement my work. I also used literary comparison from my own reading experience.”
The paper Raley presented at the Undergraduate Conference was a condensed version of a longer work. Her full paper was published by John Hopkins University in The Macksey Journal. “I came to publish this paper through them because I received a notification that they were having a symposium of arts and humanities,” Raley said. “I submitted an abstract and they accepted my essay. I then wrote a longer version of my essay and submitted it to their journal, at which point they assigned me an editor, and I worked with him until the essay was eventually accepted for publication.”
As a senior, Raley was familiar with the Undergraduate Conference, and she found this year especially important to submit. “My other symposium opportunities last semester were cut short because of COVID-19, and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to practice presenting for future symposiums,” Raley stated.
“Presenting at the conference was immensely fun and so rewarding,” Raley said. “It felt great sharing my thoughts and hard work with faculty as well as my peers. I also listened to every presentation and it was great hearing my peers and getting a feel for what everyone was studying as well as their fields of interest.”
Raley is currently applying for graduate school to study poetry or literature. She aims to become a professor and to continue her academic writing.
3rd Best in Conference: Hanna Van Winkle, Slaughters, KY
Hanna Van Winkle won 3rd place Best in Conference for her paper “Standard vs. Nonstandard Varieties of English” which explored the issue of linguistic prejudice. Van Winkle is a senior double majoring in Professional Writing and Communication Studies. She wrote her paper in Dr. Elizabeth Winkler’s ENG 204 English Language course.
Van Winkle explained how the idea for her paper began from an in-class prompt on linguistic prejudice, but her response developed further. “I was very interested by the topic and continued to extend my research beyond just the assignment itself,” Van Winkle said.
In addition to researching articles, Van Winkle gained information from a close source familiar with the subject. Van Winkle explained, “My mother is an English Language Learner coordinator for an elementary school, and she shared a lot about dialectal differences in other languages, as well as English. I began to see the problem and wanted to evaluate it on a more personal level.”
Van Winkle hoped to reveal the issue to the audience. “My goal was to inform the reader that linguistic prejudice is real and is evident in society,” she said. “I wanted to persuade my audience to take steps toward engaging the issue, inform themselves, and work to solve it. I also wanted to showcase the issue within the educational system and how teachers can work to educate their students on the standard and nonstandard varieties of English.”
Van Winkle decided to submit to the Undergraduate Conference after learning about it in the Professional Writing Capstone course as a way to get involved in the English Department. “The experience was extremely rewarding,” Van Winkle expressed. “I liked hearing directly back from the audience and engaging in discussion/answering questions. It made me feel like people liked what I had to say and wanted to know even more.”
From the audience’s discussion, Van Winkle plans to expand upon her paper and is considering future publication. As a Joint Undergraduate-Master’s Program student, Van Winkle will graduate from WKU with a Master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education in May 2022. Afterward, Van Winkle will pursue working in a university to assist and promote higher education.