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UW Students Perry, Julian Win ‘Communicating About Water’ Essay Contest

May 31, 2017
man standing beside a stream
Tyler Julian, a recent UW graduate from Sheridan, won the undergraduate essay portion of the “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest. His essay is titled “Sans Water, Sans Life.” (Emily Julian Photo)

In Wyoming, water has long been a precious resource. Two University of Wyoming students were able to write eloquently on the topic of water and help themselves a little financially in the process.

Cody Perry and Tyler Julian were recently named winners in the “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest, which is part of the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG) Communicating About Water program.

Perry, who recently finished his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction in the College of Education, won the graduate essay contest with his work, titled “Oasis Among the Clouds,” which describes a challenging mountain hike he took with his wife. Perry is originally from Otis, Colo.

Julian, a recent UW graduate from Sheridan who majored in global and area studies, and Spanish, won the undergraduate essay contest with his work, titled “Sans Water, Sans Life.” His essay stresses how everyone -- from ranchers to legislators -- relies heavily on spring snowstorms and snowmelt to provide water to the state.

The contest, with a theme of “Carving Out a Sense of Place” this year, awarded $500 prizes to the undergraduate and graduate student winners.

“The two winning essays each stuck to the writing prompt, which ultimately led to their awards,” says Emily Stewart Vercoe, education, outreach and diversity coordinator for Wyoming’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). “In addition, essays were rated for idea development, voice, word choice and sensory detail.”

To obtain his Ph.D., Perry says his courses were very “writer-intensive.” For a break and change of pace, he wanted to write something for pleasure that was nonacademic in nature.

“The story that I chose to tell is one I often tell in person to family and friends, and thought it would make a great fit for the contest,” Perry says. “Additionally, it was a story of perseverance and overcoming difficulty and obstacles, which is an important part of many people's struggles in life. I wanted to convey the resilience of nature and how life and growth continue even in the face of monumental destruction. “

“These diverse stories were a rollercoaster of a read. Some were more pensive, while others grabbed the reader by the arm and took them along for a ride,” Stewart Vercoe says. “That was what captivated many of us about Cody’s piece. We were on the hike he described, whether in the shoes of the narrator or his wife. There were nods around the table of agreement or empathy with each of the characters.”

man standing in front of lake
Cody Perry, a recent UW Ph.D. graduate student from Otis, Colo., was the graduate winner of the “Communicating About Water in Wyoming” writing contest. His essay is titled “Oasis Among the Clouds.” (Annette Perry Photo)

Perry says he will probably use some of the money to take a short weekend trip with his wife, and the remainder will be saved for when he moves to a new location, as yet unknown, this fall to start a job as an assistant professor.  

Julian wanted to enter last year’s contest but missed the deadline. This year, he waited until the last minute to write his essay but had been reflecting upon it for some time.

“I loved the idea of this year’s theme: that water carves out an identity,” Julian says. “This is unbelievably true for Westerners, and it's a fact often lost on our ‘Eastern cousins,’ as my grandpa would call those Americans who live east of the Mississippi. That's what I wanted to convey in my piece -- just how reliant we are on water out here. “

“Tyler’s piece stood out in a creative manner. It wove together poetry and prose, all with a very Wyoming feel,” Stewart Vercoe says. “While a tie to the state was not written into the prompt, many pieces referenced it. Tyler’s did a nice job painting a picture beyond words.”  

Julian says he will use the money to help with a few rent checks and grocery bills this summer.

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 EPSCoR.

Any UW or Wyoming community college student was eligible to submit a nonfiction essay. The undergraduate category essays were to be 350-600 words. The graduate category’s essays were to be 600-1,000 words.

Including the two winners, there were 20 essays submitted, Stewart Vercoe says. Unlike prior years, an anthology hard copy will not be published. Instead, she says a digital version will be published mid-summer and be posted on the EPSCoR site.

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