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May 22, 2014 — In Wyoming, the saying goes that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” Water also was the recent subject of a little writing.
Three University of Wyoming students were named winners in the recent “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest. The Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) and the UW MFA in Creative Writing program partnered to sponsor the contest. WyCEHG is funded through an award from the National Science Foundation to Wyoming’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).
Any UW or Wyoming community college student was eligible to submit a nonfiction essay. In the undergraduate category, essays had to be 500-2,000 words. Graduate student essays had to be 1,000-5,000 words.
The contest awards $500 prizes to undergraduate and graduate student winners; provides publication in an anthology for winning and honorable mention essays; and organizes a public reading of selected essays. The contest is part of WyCEHG’s Communicating About Water program.
Allison Cetak, a UW junior studying to become an English teacher, won the undergraduate category with her entry, titled “Water in Wyoming: Three Stories Over My Life as a Wyomingite.” Cetak’s essay chronicled time she spent ice fishing at Boysen Reservoir with her father; her attempts to capture minnows in the Tongue River, but being thwarted by her dog, Abby, who splashes in the water and scatters the fish; and a camping trip at Sibley Lake in the Big Horn Mountains, where she had to dive into the lake to save a Thomas the Train toy for a small boy who is a family friend.
“I have spent my whole life in this state and love to fish, hunt, golf and be outside as much as possible in the mountains or around town,” says Cetak, of Casper. “Some of my most joyful childhood memories happened in and around water in this state, so it truly seemed like a natural fit for me to write about. I just pulled from my funniest, happiest memories and polished them into a short set of vignettes.”
Cetak plans to use her prize money to help pay for the remainder of her college.
Michael McNamee III, a UW graduate student in public administration and environmental and natural resources, and Erin Jones, a UW student pursuing her master’s degree in creative nonfiction and environmental and natural resources, were co-winners in the graduate category. They split the $500 prize.
McNamee III wrote “Cool, Clear Water,” a remembrance of his grandfather, Michael McNamee Sr., growing up on a farm in Egbert during the Great Depression and, after World War II, going to UW on the G.I. Bill to study agriculture mechanics. McNamee Sr. later worked for the UW Agricultural Extension Service and helped the state’s farmer and ranchers better use available water through technological advances. For example, McNamee Sr. mixed bentonite, a type of clay, with natural soil to form a sealant in irrigation ditches. The essay’s title comes from the name of a country ballad McNamee Sr. and family would sing in the evenings after a long day’s work.
“This award means a lot to me because it was a way for me to honor my grandfather,” says McNamee III, from Butte, Mont. “Sometimes, we forget about the impact that our grandparents made in their professional lives. He was and continues to be an inspiration as a grandfather and a professional.”
McNamee says the money will go toward paying school expenses.
Jones wrote “The River,” which depicts the journey of living organisms and materials -- such as clay, silt, sand and rocks -- that travel down a river. The essay also delves into the complications of the Colorado River Compact, a law that determines how much water each of seven states can receive during a calendar year.
“I ended up writing about the Colorado River Basin and how, ultimately, state lines in the West are arbitrary because they don’t correspond to water needs,” says Jones, of Lubbock, Texas. “Writing about the Colorado River Basin and water in Wyoming made me realize how little I know about it, and gave me ideas for more things to research and write about in the Rockies.”
Jones plans to use her winnings toward The Connor Project, stories she’s writing while traveling on the road this summer. She describes the writing project as “the embryo of my master’s thesis.”
“I was awed by the quality and quantity of essays submitted by UW and Wyoming community college students,” says Elizabeth Nysson, Wyoming EPSCoR’s education, outreach and diversity coordinator. “From personal story to investigative journalism, the essays in the 2014 Communicating About Water Anthology are as diverse as the waters of Wyoming.
“By bridging the sciences and humanities through thoughtful dialogue, Wyoming EPSCoR hopes to continue to grow these conversations about water and other natural resource issues throughout the state.”
To read the anthology’s nine essays, including those from the three winners, go to http://www.uwyo.edu/epscor/resources-and-links-for-epscor-programs/anthology.html
Allison Cetak, a UW student from Casper, was the winner of the undergraduate category of the “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest.
Michael McNamee III (right), a UW graduate student, displays his winning certificate while posing with his grandfather, Michael McNamee III. McNamee, who honored his grandfather in his essay, was co-winner of the graduate category of the “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest.
Erin Jones, a UW graduate student, was co-winner of the graduate category of the “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest.