UH Hilo English department recognizes 2020 award and scholarship winners in virtual ceremonies

The English department at UH Hilo held virtual ceremonies May 12 for its spring 2020 awards and scholarships recipients.

By Susan Enright

Grid of students and faculty attending zoom mtg.
Screenshot of the virtual award ceremonies held by the UH Hilo Department of English on May 12. Some of the awardees were unable to attend, but several did. Attending are judges and faculty members Susan Wackerbarth, Kirsten Møllegaard, Clint Anderson, Kimberly Russell, Justina Mattos, and student awardees Braden Savage, Juliana Zolopa, Emily Burkhart and Kupono Aguirre. Not pictured are Asia Helfrich, Alexander Coley, and Sarah Pitman. Screenshot provided by Kirsten Møllegaard.

The English department at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo held virtual ceremonies on May 12 for its spring 2020 awards and scholarships recipients.

Traditionally, the department participates in the College of Arts and Sciences Student Convocation to present students with lei and certificates while creative writing coordinator Susan Wackerbarth reads the judges’ blurbs for the winning papers, and Professor of English Kirsten Møllegaard, chair of the department, does the same for the scholarship recipients. But this year, all such ceremonies have gone virtual to keep everyone safe from the coronavirus.

“We were pleased to see a robust number of student entries this year,” says Møllegaard. “The judges were impressed with the high quality of the work and congratulate the winners. The Droste Committee thanks all student submitters for taking the challenge to submit to the Droste awards.”

The Droste awards are made possible by an endowment by Howard and Yoneko Droste, who taught at UH Hilo in the art and English departments for a combined total of over 45 years. The annual Droste awards celebrate and encourage excellence in writing among UH Hilo students. The process of submission and review follows professional academic standards of double-blind review, where pairs of faculty readers (some of whom are retired) receive anonymized entries for a specific award category and together select a winner. If they disagree, a third reader steps in. The judges write a blurb about the winning entry to be read at the awards ceremony.

Also awarded were the James and Eleanor Frierson Scholarship and the Matthew Somchai Therrien Memorial Award.

Spring 2020 Droste Awards—Tuesday May 12, 2020

(held via Zoom @ noon)

Each of the first five Howard and Yoneko Droste contests comes with a prize of $250. The sixth contest, the Upper Division Essay, has a prize of $500.

  • Outstanding 100-level Composition paper: Juliana Zolopa, for her essay, “The Implementation of Safe Injection Sites to Combat the Opioid Epidemic.” The judges said, “This complex, sophisticated essay was fully developed and supported by skillfully integrated material from credible, appropriate sources. The author wrote a beautifully constructed and compelling essay on an important current topic.”
  • Outstanding 200-level paper in a literature or film class: Kupono Aguirre, for the essay, “This Land is Whose Land?: Diverging from a Settler Colonial View of Land Management.” The judges said, “This essay clearly excels in persuasive argument, compelling and detailed analysis, and a critical perspective on current scholarly conversations around land management, indigenous activism, and the racialized logics of settler colonialism.”
  • Outstanding Work in Poetry: Asia Helfrich, for her Poetry Portfolio. The judges said, “The poet’s work expertly captures both the empirical details of daily life, and the magic that lurks at its edges. In ‘Sand Worm,’ the characters traverse the spanse of a day, and end their meeting by ‘…looking for / stranger things in the sand.’ In ‘Manifest,’ the poet allows the tendrils of beauty and emotion to seep into each unfolding scene, for example, noting a feminine influence in ‘…opal expression, and painted disposition.’ Finally, the poet’s use of metaphor and unusual wordplay lend complexity to her investigation of place and identity.”
  • Outstanding Work in Fiction: Asia Helfrich, for her story, “The Mo‘o.” The judges said, “This short story focuses on the burgeoning self-awareness of a Big Island middle school student, who finds herself challenged to make choices that set her apart from her peers. A small green gecko plays a large role in widening her horizons and connecting her to her family ‘aumakua. We were impressed by this story’s tight structure, vivid details, well-formed characters, and the use of interior and exterior dialogue to drive the plot forward.”
  • Outstanding Work in Playwriting: Braden Savage, for his play, “The Sense, Not the Spectacle.” The judges said, “This play combines solid, consistent characters, an effective foundational structure, and skillful writing. The playwright resists the common urge to reveal too much through dialogue and instead allows suspense to carry us from an unknown conflict to the unexpected major revelation. Actions, too, such as the way Rina fidgets with her pen, subtly reveal bottled up emotions. The intriguing unfolding plot layers take the reader through the characters’ motivations, revealing their manipulations at every turn.”
  • Outstanding Upper Division Paper: Alexander Coley, for his essay, “Playing God Without a Mary: Male Fantasy in Frankenstein and ‘Herbert West: Reanimator.’” The judges said, “This essay captures a unique angle of analysis, elevating seemingly minor female characters’ roles and contextualizing them in a feminist framework that gives them deeper purpose. In re-animating these characters as vehicles for social commentary, the writer reveals Mary Shelley’s ‘slyly crafted simulacrum of Western gender roles’ and, for H.P. Lovecraft’s story, excavates an underlying message that ‘the dismissal of women is only ever to the detriment of men.’ Frankenstein’s monster, too, is superbly, compassionately salvaged and his potential reimagined, while his creator’s privilege and entitlement instead embody the monstrous, leaving us to speculate what our own monsters will say to a brilliant literature student in the next era—should we arrive there.”

$1,000 James and Eleanor Frierson Scholarship

The award winner for the English Department’s $1,000 James and Eleanor Frierson Scholarship this year is Sarah Pitman. Pitman fully meets the scholarship’s criteria. Her passion for English is evident in her schoolwork and creative writing. Her poetry will be published in the upcoming issue of Kanilehua. The selection committee was particularly impressed by Pitman’s determination and tenacity in overcoming obstacles in order to finish her education as well as her long-term goals to pursue graduate studies.

$1,000 Matthew Somchai Therrien Memorial Award

This year’s $1000 Matthew Somchai Therrien Memorial Award goes to English major Emily Burkhart. Matt Therrien was a senior English major at UH Hilo at the time of his tragic death in a car accident on April 6, 2014. He was a gifted poet and writer who dreamed of becoming an English professor. With an impressive 4.0 GPA, Burkhart meets the Therrien Award’s criteria for academic merit and excellence in writing. Burkhart has worked as an editor for Hohonu this year, and she presented a research paper on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at the Hawai‘i International Conference on Language and Literature in March 2020. She has plans to study abroad and, eventually, go to graduate school.


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.