UM First-Year Student Essay Winners Announced

December 03, 2015

MISSOULA – The First-Year Reading Experience Committee at the University of Montana recently selected five freshmen as the winners of the 2015 First-Year Essay Contest:  Benjamin Hickey, Ronan Kennedy, Christopher King, Sarah Moen and Jacob O’Neill.

As part of the First-Year Reading Experience at UM, students read “The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival” by John Vaillant. An account of a man-eating tiger in Russia’s Far East, the book invites readers to consider the complex relationships among economic hardship, wildlife management, cultural beliefs, political instability and human greed. The First-Year Reading Experience Committee received several strong submissions, evidence of students’ insightful engagement with Vaillant’s book.

Hickey’s essay, “Tracks in the Snow: The Importance of Individual and Communal Identity in Primorsky Krai,” argues that individual and communal identity are formed in the context of a particular place and time. Hickey, who is from Stillwater, Minnesota, majors in human biological sciences and plans to pursue a career in medicine.

Kennedy’s essay, “Sobolonyans and the Serfs: Comrades in Suffering,” outlines a historical pattern of economic inequality in Russia, drawing parallels between the 1861 emancipation of Russian serfs and the 1989 enactment of perestroika and glasnost political reforms in the Soviet Union. Kennedy, a history major from Los Angeles, is an avid rugby player, runner and reader.

King’s essay, “Someone to Follow,” examines the conditions that allow authoritative leadership to replace coercive leadership. King, who is from Snohomish, Washington, majors in biochemistry and plans to become a doctor in an underserved community in the Rocky Mountain West.

Moen’s essay, “The Monster Within,” analyzes the concept of monstrosity in the book and demonstrates the potential for humans to transform into “willful destroyers.” Moen, a native of Eureka, majors in communicative sciences and disorders and hopes to become a speech-language pathologist who works with children with disabilities.

O’Neill’s essay, “Bringing History to Life,” argues that the book provides a humanizing perspective on a tragedy that might otherwise be reduced to numbers and nameless characters. O’Neill, of Belgrade, majors in history and journalism. He plans to pursue a graduate degree in history.

For more information call Kelly Webster, director of The Writing Center at UM, at 406-243-2470 or email

Contact: Kelly Webster, director, The Writing Center at UM, 406-243-2470,