The UA Blog

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Melissa Hughes

Melissa Hughes from Western University was Highly Commended in the Social Sciences category in 2015 for her paper, “The Westray Mine Incident: Corporate Violence and Governmental Crime as the Roots of Disaster.”

Since graduating from Western University in June 2015, she has moved to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, to pursue a Master of Science in Environmental Sustainability, and she is currently also working for the Federal Government at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) as a Junior Environmental Assistant. As one of the largest Government of Canada departments, PSPC is one of the Government’s primary common service providers; accordingly, she works within National Portfolio and Asset Management in order to ensure there are effective environmental components embedded in real property investment decision-making and, more generally, in the services they provide to their numerous client departments.

In addition, she is working on her Master’s thesis, which will explore whether intergovernmental conflicts are an explanatory factor for the persistence of unsafe drinking water on Indigenous reserves in the province of Ontario – although her research orientation is constantly evolving. She has always been deeply intrigued and simultaneously troubled by the notion that environmental issues will disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, and she believes that policymakers have both the power and the duty to revert this trend.

When Melissa graduated from Western, she knew the right thing to do was to take a step back from academia and to give herself the time to be a 22-year-old and to let her heart guide her in the next direction. She began working at a microbrewery in her hometown of London (Ontario) pursuing two of her well-known passions: craft beer and local watering holes.

“After attending the Undergraduate Awards that November, I returned home with an overwhelming source of inspiration and desire to try to change the world for the better, and to pursue my (slightly more productive) passion, which is environmental policy. I attribute much of this renewed inspiration to the many wonderful, involved, intelligent, and determined individuals I had the pleasure of meeting during that special week in Dublin, and I will forever be grateful that I have been able to immerse myself in this community of bright scholars, still maintaining some of those friendships years after (#CraicSquad for life).”

When Melissa is not at work or nestled away researching in some book somewhere, you’ll find her roaming around the nation’s beautiful capital city (usually looking for dogs to pet), or experimenting with recipes in her tiny apartment kitchen. She also plays volleyball every now and again with some good friends or you can find her with her number one girl, Marley the Goldendoodle.

Read Melissa’s Highly Commended Paper on The Undergraduate Awards Library. 

Category Spotlight: Literature

The literature category is a very popular here at The Undergraduate Awards. The category is filled with papers that cover a wide range of topics.

The 2017 Global Winner was Noah Fields from Brown University. Their paper was entitled “Men reading Jane Austen: Close writing across gender scripts”. The paper poses questions such as “what exactly is subversive about men reading and moreover, like Jane Austen? How did Austen come to signify, among male readers, effeminacy? And How does Austen reconsider and reform masculinity and what are the implications for male readers who cross identify with Austen such as D.A Miller and Joseph Litvak?”.

The judges commented that “Austen studies is a massively well trawled field and its impressive to see an undergraduate student able to carve out an original angle of thinking in this area. Well written, lively, intelligent and engaging.”

As St Patrick’s day is fast approaching we will take a look at some of our UA literature papers that focus on some of our favourite Irish writers.

Ellen Howley from University College Dublin was the 2014 Programme Winner in the Literature category. She analysed the poetry of Seamus Heaney, one of Irelands greatest poets. Seamus Heaney was awarded The Noble Prize for Literature in 1995. Ellen’s paper was entitled “Seamus Heaney’s Plateaus: Transitions between air, ground and underground, and the relationship between the local and the imaginative.” She applied Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome theory to key poems written by Heaney over the course of his career. She chose this theory as it is “particularly fruitful in elucidating the non-hierarchical, connectedness of air, ground and underground in Heaney’s poetry.”

A 2017 Highly Commended essay by Faezah Zulkifli from Nanyang Technological University focused on James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce is one of Ireland’s most notable writers and influenced writers such as Samuel Beckett. Faezah paper was entitled “Anatomizing the Circulatory System in the Heart of the Hibernian Metropolis The City and the Circulation of History in James Joyce’s Ulysses”The paper focused on the opening of the Aeolus episode, arguing that the city in Ulysses is “presented as a conduit through which history is circulated around Dublin and by extension, Ireland, through the movement around the city”. Ultimately through Faezah’s findings exposes how this movement paints Joyce’s picture of Dublin to the reader.

These are just some of the incredible essays written by undergraduate students. Here at the Undergraduate Awards we are excited to see what will be submitted to the Literature category in the 2018 programme. Click here to learning more on How to Submit to the 2018 programme.

All Highly commended and Global Winning papers can be found on The Undergraduate Awards Library.

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Erika Davis

Erika Davis from McGill University was Highly Commended in 2015 in the Music, Film, Theatre & Art History category and in 2014 in the Media & The Arts category.

She was Highly Commended for her papers “Space-Space: How Artists Have Attempted to Change Human Understandings of ‘The Final Frontier’” and You Really Shouldn’t Have: A Critique of the Gift Shop’s Exemption from Cultural Education”.

Since her UA recognitions in 2014 & 2015, it’s certainly been an adventure.  She graduated from McGill University in May 2015 and hit the ground running. Almost immediately, she started as an office assistant at Atlantic Music Festival, working with Pulitzer, Grammy, & Oscar winning composer John Corigliano, and coordinating an experimental music concert series of her very own. After the festival concluded, she went on to work at a Masterwork a gallery in Boston, Galerie d’Orsay, as operations director. She has touched a Rembrandt through sterile white gloves of course!.

“Eventually, my activist instincts got the best of me—I got my degree in Art History with a focus in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist studies after all. I wanted to escape the commercial art world, and enter the museum sphere, where I could try to have some positive impact on my community.”

She moved to Providence, Rhode Island to work at Old Slater Mill Association, an industrial history museum, national historic landmark, and recently a part of the Blackstone River Valley National Park. As Program Director, she has produced Jazz Concerts, a Labor History/Experimental Noise collaboration, an outdoor film series focusing on immigration and empathy, a contemporary textile art exhibition, and countless other events.

But her work beyond her career has been even more fulfilling. In May 2016, she recruited to become a member of Providence Roller Derby, one of the countries founding leagues. She has since become the captain of one of their two travel teams, and a member of the coaching staff for new recruits. Everyone knows her as Rocket!

Erika sang opera growing up, but she is now a vocalist for two very different genres:  Western Stars is a western swing band covering Patsy Cline, Fats Waller etc. with an eight piece ensemble, including a pedal steel. The Sweeties is a collaborative synth pop duo featuring two femme voices, and a loop pedal.

She has put her training to good use by volunteering to teach vocals with Girls Rock! RI, a program where women learn to play an instrument, write a song, join a band and attend empowerment workshops. The most important lessons she imparts are “you don’t have to be a good singer to be a good vocalist,” and “make your voice heard.”

“I carved  through 20 linoleum blocks, filled pages with watercolours, and cut up dozens of books into collages. I learned how to do a headstand. I died my hair hot yellow. I came out of the closet. I was published in a Montreal Magazine, Echelles. I spoke at an International Women’s Day talk. I protested. God, did I protest. I continue to protest. I attended the wedding of my best friends. I have striven every day to be a better self.”

Read Erika’s 2014 and 2015 Highly Commended Paper on The Undergraduate Awards Library.

Category Spotlight: Art History & Theory

In 2017, it was decided that Art History & Theory should constitute a category in its own right, because of the number and quality of papers submitted on the subject. Previously, students of Art History could submit their work to the Art History, Music, Film & Theatre category. From medieval manuscripts to modern sculptures, this category covers all academic writing on the subject of Art.

The 2017 Global Winner of the Art History & Theory category was Eden Gelgoot from Queen’s University at Kingston. Her paper was titled “The Role of The UNESCO World Heritage List in The Commemoration of World War II”

The essay examined the Development of UNESCO as a direct response to the damage and looting of cultural heritage by the Nazis during the Second World War. It also explored the preservation and conservation efforts employed to safeguard Auschwitz-Birkenau and The Hiroshima Peace Memorial for future generations. Lastly, it compared Compared the risk factors that challenge the retention of authenticity at both cultural heritage sites.

A paper that clearly stood out to our judging panel. The judges noted that her paper was “a thought-provoking, balanced examination of the issues surrounding two comparable ‘monuments’, and their tangible and intangible values.”

Also, in 2017 Sacha Dillion from University College Cork received Highly Commended for her paper “Discuss How Mainie Jellett combines the Ideals of Ancient Ireland with those of the Irish Free State to create a nationalistic painting in Composition With Three Elements, 1935

The essay explored how through Jellett’s unique use of Cubism, created a visual language with which to express Irish identity which spoke both to Irelands Celtic past and Christian present. It looked at how Jellett drew inspiration from ancient Irish art and Celtic belief and fused it with the Christian iconography of the new Catholic Irish Free State to create an artwork which encompassed Irelands main strands of Nationalism; Heritage and Religion.

We are particularly excited to see the incoming submissions to the 2018 Programme because of the top-quality research being completed by undergraduate students in this field. If you would like to find out how to submit click here.

If you would like to read any of the Global Winners papers or Highly Commended papers go to The Undergraduate Awards Library.

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Carly Welham

Carly Welham from University of British Columbia was the 2014 Global Winner in the Cultural Studies category.

Carly is a community-based researcher and health activist living in Vancouver, Canada. After completing her undergraduate degree in Gender, Race, Sexuality & Social Justice at the University of British Columbia, she undertook a Masters of Public Health specialising in Indigenous Health. Carly’s graduate research explored how environmental health impacts food security and reproductive health.

While completing her graduate studies in Montreal, she also interned with Breast Cancer Action Quebec to develop and evaluate an environmental health program for high school students focused on overcoming environmental risks through community action. Throughout her degrees, Carly presented and published research on food sovereignty and environmental threats to health at conferences across Canada.

“Receiving the Undergraduate Award in 2014 for my paper “Selfies vs Sealfies: Inuit Subsistence Hunting, Food Insecurity, and Animal Rights” helped me realise my passion for research as a tool for social change.”

Carly currently works as the Data and Evaluation Officer on the research team at the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, an innovative HIV health care facility. Through the Foundation’s harm reduction programs, Carly has had the opportunity to contribute to addressing the opioid overdose crisis currently devastating North America. Her main role is providing knowledge translation and capacity building support to other community-based organisations who are implementing Supervised Consumption Services in order to prevent overdoses and the transmission of infectious diseases.

Carly also spent the last two years contributing research to student food non-profit Meal Exchange’s Real Food Challenge campaign to shift post-secondary food systems to more ethical and sustainable food sources. She founded and is a facilitator of a national book club on Decolonizing the Food System, which explores the role of colonialism in Canada’s food systems. Carly built on this experience as a member of the 4RS Youth Movement’s National Learning Community, a network looking to build respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth through cross-cultural dialogue.

Carly loves getting the opportunity to share her passions with others. She has volunteered as a sexual health educator in high schools and online with a variety of community-based organizations, as well as volunteering as a birth doula.  She enjoys hosting a series of DIY community workshops on toxic-free body products, and was recently recognised as one of Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 for her volunteer work as an environmental educator. She sits on the Board of Directors of Learning for Sustainable Futures, a non-profit which seeks to integrate sustainability education into all levels of schooling. In her spare time, she also started a line of eco-friendly soap and candles made from organic herbs she grows and harvests herself.

Carly follows in a line of quilters and bakers, and also loves to spend her time gardening. Since graduating, she has enjoyed having time to indulge her passion for science fiction and explore the beautiful west coast of Canada.

Read Carly’s Winning paper on The Undergraduate Awards Library.

Category Spotlight: Music, Film and Theatre

Previously, students of Music, Drama, and Film Studies could submit their works to the Media & The Arts category, which later became the Art History, Music, Film & Theatre category. In 2017, it was decided that  Music, Film & Theatre should constitute a category in its own right given its performance-base nature along with the quality and quantity of papers submitted.

The category is introduced to celebrate the work of students studying courses such as Musical Theory, Musicology, History of Music, Music Technology, Theatre, Dramatic Theory, Performance, Theatre History, Stage Management, Script Analysis, Film Studies, Cinema Studies, and more.

Entry for the category must be within the 5,000-word limit and have received a 2.1/A grade.

The 2017 Global Winner of the Music, Film and Theatre category was Conor Brennan from Trinity College Dublin. His paper was entitled All those who no longer are, are there”: Between what lasts and what is lost in the passing on of ‘The Last Witnesses’”.

His paper impressed the judges “in examining a specific example of performance, it manages both to capture the intimate and the epic dimensions of memory and reflection”.

Conor Brennan was also Highly Commended for two papers in the Literature Category. Have a look at Conor’s Winning paper on The Undergraduate Awards Library.

We look forward to receiving submissions for this year’s Music, Film and Theatre category. Thinking about submitting The Undergraduate Awards? We have 25 categories that you can submit to.

Submit today for The Undergraduate Awards 2018 Programme.

If you are interested in Judging for The Undergraduate Awards 2018 programme, Click here.

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Natalia Beghin

Natalia Beghin from Australian National University was highly commended for two papers in the 2015 programme. Her papers entitled “Just a little bit of healthy competition” in the Economics category and “This is how we drink up the sea” in the Philosophy & Theology category.
Also in 2016 Natalia was the Global Winner in the Politics & International Relations for her paper “Perverting the Panopticon: Feminism, Peace, and the prospect of a ‘new Totalitarianism”.

Natalia has completed her Masters in International Affairs and Development from the Australian National University in July, and have since started work as an advisor within the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government (AKA the Australian Nudge Unit!). There she works on  policy and projects, with a focus on the aid and security space.

She is passionate about aid and development, and has a particular interest in access-to-medicines issues. In 2013 she started the first Asian chapter of the advocacy group ‘Universities Allied for Essential Medicines’. The group petitions universities across Australia to allow their medical breakthroughs to be distributed in generic form, so that people all over the world will have affordable access to the medicines they need to survive and prosper.

“Even though I’m not at university anymore I’m still passionate about scholarship, and I’m still working on a couple of papers and at the moment. In November, for instance I was invited to present at the Conference of the International Society for Military Ethics about Thomas Aquinas’s ‘Doctrine of Double Effect’, why I think it might be wrong, and what this could mean for the future of war.”


Read Natalia’s Highly Commended Economics and Philosophy & Theology papers on The Undergraduate Awards Library. Also take a look at her 2016 Global Winner paper in the Politics & International Relations category. 

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Laura Cummins

Laura Cummins from University of Leeds was highly commended in 2015 in the Music, Film, Theatre & Art History category.

Her paper was titled ‘The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not the exception but the rule.’ (Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’) Discuss this quote from Walter Benjamin in relation to the films/texts explored on this module.

“Before the UA global summit, I hadn’t considered doing a master’s degree, but while I was there I met a few organisations and realised it was an option for me. The experience also showed me that I was good enough to continue my academic work.”

Laura was lucky enough to win a scholarship to Uversity’s MA in Creative Process in 2016-2017, meaning she got the opportunity to return to Ireland to study. She was able to design her own master’s across three different universities, and so spent a semester each in Dublin, Limerick, and Galway, studying diverse subjects from playwriting to cultural policy and festival management at UCD, UL, and NUIG.

“I conducted a research project that established a link between doodling and the development of ideas, and built on this for my thesis, which was the development an artwork and research project that demonstrated the potential of drawing as a means of investigating inequality in culture.”

This resulted in her creating a participatory artwork with members of the public on the main street in Galway, making a large communal drawing that was then displayed in Dublin. She has since been commissioned to repeat the project, and hope to add to it in a few different settings.

Having finished her MA, Laura has continued her itinerant lifestyle and is currently doing some project work with an arts organisation in Wakefield (in Yorkshire) aimed at increasing diversity in arts leadership and the cultural sector. She also doing some freelance article writing for people like Visual Artists Ireland, and working on a public health project that will use drawings for maternal education practices in The Gambia. As might be apparent, she has very varied interests, and is always willing to work on something if she think it’s interesting or important, so she doesn’t know what she will be doing next but she is sure it will at least be a challenge.

Read Laura’s Highly Commended Paper on the Undergraduate Awards Library.

AUCA Joins The Undergraduate Awards!

The Undergraduate Awards is delighted to welcome the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) as an Associate Institution. The American University of Central Asia, located in Kyrgyztan, is a liberal arts university which has been offering education in the American model since 1993. They offer Bachelor of Arts degrees in 16 undergraduate programmes, along with a number of postgraduate courses and masters’ degrees.

AUCA develops future leaders for the democratic transformation of Central Asia. American University of Central Asia is an international, multi-disciplinary learning community in the American liberal arts tradition. Its curriculum includes the Preparatory Program (New Generation Academy), fourteen undergraduate majors and four graduate programs. In addition to its top-flight academic programs AUCA is committed to freedom of expression, critical inquiry, and academic honesty. AUCA is the first university in Central Asia to offer US accredited degrees in liberal arts programs through a partnership with Bard College in the United States. In addition to Bard, AUCA maintains partnerships with a number of universities and organizations worldwide.

For more information about Associate Partnerships, contact Samantha Gordine at

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Simon van Oort

Simon van Oort from Utrecht University was Highly Commended in 2014 for his paper “State Dissolution and UN Membership: Comparing the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia” in the Law category.

Simon is currently living in The Hague, the Netherlands, where he is putting the finishing touches on his LLM-dissertation on the intellectual history of constitutional review in the Netherlands.

Since taking part in the Undergraduate Awards, Simon has graduated from Utrecht University with a double degree in liberal arts & sciences and law. Since that moment, he has attempted to reconcile his academic interests in law and history with his seemingly insuppressible urge to do something practical. After finishing the MSt in US History at the University of Oxford, he chose to combine the intellectual challenge of the LLM in jurisprudence and political theory at Leiden University with the more hands-on experience of working part time as legal assistant in a top law firm, moving back to the Netherlands to do so. Contemplating his next steps, he hopes to either pursue PhD working on a broadened version of his current research, or to start a career in government legal practice.

Academically, Simon is interested in the histories of constitutional ideas, constitutional theory and political culture. The latter manifested itself in an MSt dissertation on the origins and uses of the phrase ‘Founding Fathers’ in American political discourse.

In my leisure time, I enjoy cycling in the dunes surrounding my new home, coaching a competitive rowing crew and doing laps in the pool in a feeble attempt to swim less like a drunken labradoodle (hitherto unsuccessful).

Taking a break from all these strenuous activities, he can be found cooking a hearty meal or slumping down on the couch reading books and newspapers whilst consuming copious amounts of coffee. Occasionally, he travels to Peterhead on Scotland’s North Sea Coast, home of many a company in the extractive industries as well as his fiancée (and go-to editor).   

Read Simon’s Highly Commended Paper on The Undergraduate Awards Library.

Where They Are Now Wednesday: Ellen Howley

Ellen Howley from University College Dublin was a 2014 programme winner in the Literature category. Her work paper was titled “Seamus Heaney’s Plateaus: Transitions between air, ground and underground, and the relationship between the local and the imaginative.”

Returning from Scotland to Dublin in 2016 to undertake PhD at Dublin City University, Ellen continues her passion for literary research. She completed a Masters in Modern and contemporary literature at the University of Edinburgh and spent a year working in a tech start-up in Glasgow before returning to academia to pursue her love of poetry.

Her research investigates connections between contemporary Irish and Caribbean poetry, focusing on the work of acclaimed poets including Lorna Goodison, Seamus Heaney, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Derek Walcott. She is particularly interested in how these poets think about their colonial past, seeking the similarities that draw their work together as well as the contrasts which distinguish each poets’ voice.

In addition to her love of research, Ellen is delighted that the PhD has given her the opportunity to travel to conferences to present her work. In 2017 she presented at conferences in Ireland, Paris and Prague and hopes to continue to engage with other researchers globally at such events. Elsewhere, she was selected as runner-up in DCU’s Tell It Straight final, a competition which challenges researchers to present their research to a non-specialist audience in just five minutes. Her experience taking part in the UPresent portion of the Undergraduate Awards gave her the confidence needed to take on the task.

Ellen brings her love of literature to her life outside of university, attending a monthly feminist book club and various events on Dublin’s vibrant literary scene. She was lucky enough to hear both Arundhati Roy and Mohsin Hamid speak in Dublin last year as well as attending a lecture by Ireland’s current Professor of Poetry, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin.

Recognising the importance of an active lifestyle, especially for a PhD student, Ellen recently took up running and managed to complete her first ever 5km race in Dublin last summer. She also joined DCU’s tennis club but reckons a spot at this year’s Wimbledon tournament is unlikely!

She will continue her research over the next couple of years and hopes to visit the Caribbean at some point before submitting the final thesis.

For me, the Undergraduate Awards was a wonderful experience. The summit was an opportunity to make connections with students from around the world and gave me a taste for communicating my research both to researchers in my field and outside of it. I would encourage everyone to apply.

Read Ellen’s paper on the Undergraduate Awards Library 

Where Are They Now Wednesday: Himel Dev

Himel Dev from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology was the 2014 programme winner in the Computer Sciences & Information Technology category. His paper was titled “User Interaction Based Community Detection in Online Social Networks”.

Himel is currently a third year PhD student in Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests are in the area of data mining and data science. He is working on a variety of research projects encompassing social media mining, visual analytics, and user behaviour modeling.

“My day-to-day activity involves both torturing data (data science), and building tools and techniques for torturing data (data mining). There are good days and bad days. On good days, my results are statistically significant and my model provides explanation. On bad days, either of these two could go wrong.”

Himel is most excited about his current works on the sustainability of social media platforms. This research integrates and extends stylised facts from social science and related disciplines including economics, sociology, and ecology to develop explanatory models for mining and modeling social media. One of his recent contributions will be appearing at the World Wide Web Conference (WWW)—the premier venue to discuss research relevant to the web. In this work, he portrayed community question answering websites (such as Quora and Stack Overflow) as knowledge markets, and analysed how and why these markets can fail at scale. The broad implication of this research is to shed insights into knowledge market failures, and design policies to prevent these failures for general social media.

They are developing conceptual bridges to integrate social science concepts, especially economic theories, into data science methods. The application area is very exciting—understanding how and why a social media platform succeeds or fails, e.g, why did Orkut fail, while Facebook continues to thrive. The eventual goal for them is to provide insights on how to design a sustainable social media platform.

“Being recognized at UA is one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was a launching pad in my academic career that led to several other recognitions including the National ICT Achievement Award—prestigious recognition by the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. When I received the news, (coincidentally) I was attending Heidelberg Laureate Forum—another treasured event of my life. The overwhelming appreciation I received in next few weeks was incredible. It keeps inspiring me in my darkest hours.”

Read Himel’s paper on The Undergraduate Awards Library. 

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