Oakland Community College

2014-15 Student Essay Competition

With the generous support of the OCC Foundation, 1st – 3rd place winners were awarded $1,000, $750 and $500, respectively. Five honorable mention winners received OCC Bookstore gift certificates valued at $200 each. Essays were scored by a committee using college writing and critical thinking evaluation rubrics that were developed through previous assessment activities. 

Student winners are:

First Place Connor Newton - Bio - Essay
Second Place Robinder Sohal - Bio - Essay
Third Place Deborah Mattson - Bio - Essay
Honorable Mention Andrew Alber - Bio - Essay
Honorable Mention Natalie Cieslak - Bio - Essay
Honorable Mention Olivia Martin - Bio - Essay
Honorable Mention Nabah Rizvi - Bio - Essay
Honorable Mention Andrew Timlin - Bio - Essay

2014-15 Essay topic is "The Role of the Nemesis." Students were asked to address the following prompt:

Overcoming a nemesis requires more than strength or speed or brains; it requires change. In all the stories that we love to hear and tell, central characters, real or fictional, overcome some challenge that is so difficult that it forces them to change. Easy victories do not make good stories because nothing really happens-- no one is challenged or changed. Conflict makes the story as characters grow and reach their potential, and any conflict can be seen as a nemesis. So does the nemesis create the hero? Is Superman really Superman without Lex Luther? Would there be a cold war and a space race without Joseph Stalin? Are we to thank the villains of fiction, history or our own personal lives for helping us reach our potential?

The nemesis can arrive in many forms; it does not need to be an evil super villain or a criminal or a bully; it does not even need to be a person. Your essay can be based on a personal, fictional or historical nemesis. Describe a nemesis and how he/she/it forced someone to reach their potential (even if they didn’t reach their goal).

In an essay between 1,000-1,250 words, chose a single nemesis from the options below and describe how their presence drove a change in a personal life, a fictional life or in history.

  • The personal nemesis could be your own story or that of someone you know, and how facing a challenge in life resulted in a better, stronger person. The focus should be on the opposing force and how he/she/it shaped someone you know.

  • You could even write about yourself as the nemesis. You may be the hero in your own story, but in someone else’s story you were the challenge to overcome.

  • The historical nemesis may come from any time period. Choose a villain from history and describe the impact of their policies and actions and how humanity’s opposition led to progress in science and/or culture. What good emerged through the efforts to overcome or oppose the dictators, tyrants and sociopaths that have gained power throughout human history?

The essay must take an academic approach, and your ideas and conclusions must be supported by information from outside sources. They can include books, magazines, documentaries, graphic novels, biographies, interviews or historical documents. Support your conclusions and ideas with established theory, perhaps psychology or sociology, historical facts, published character profiles, or eye witness interviews. Your essay must include four references from outside material, and your citations must be in MLA or APA format.


Left to right are: Chancellor Meyer, 3rd Place Deborah Mattson, 1st Place Connor Newton, 2nd Place Robby Sohal, Foundation Board Chair David Ong

Congratulations to these students and thank you to all of the students who submitted an essay for the 2014-15 competition. The 2014-15 Student Essay Contest winners are:

First Place, $1,000 – Connor Newton - Essay

Connor Newton lives in Waterford and wrote an essay titled “Bellows for the Inferno: The Printing Press and the Decline of a United Christian Europe.” Following his studies at OCC, he plans to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in English at Wayne State University, where he also hopes to minor in German. He then intends to continue on to graduate school, where he may study creative writing, but is also considering studies in law, biology, or history.

For his career, Connor hopes to write and teach, but also intends to take the Foreign Service Exam and pursue employment with the State Department. Additionally, he would be interested in a career in Radio Journalism and Public Radio.

Beyond his academic interests, Connor collects comic books, paints miniatures, gardens, and fulfills his love of film and the theatre through work at the Waterford Kettering and Waterford Mott Performing Art Centers.

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Second Place, $750 - Robby Sohal - Essay

Robinder Sohal - Robby Sohal comes from West Bloomfield and wrote his essay, “Hannibal ad Portas,” about the historical influence of military leader Hannibal Barca on the Roman Empire.

Robby has been encouraged in his writing by instructors and peers at OCC. He plans to transfer to The University of Michigan—Dearborn, where he will pursue a major in history and a minor in mathematics. His career goal is to become a high school history teacher.

In his spare time, Robby likes to write fiction, play poker, and spend time with friends. He loves to travel and his favorite destination is San Diego. He is a second generation American whose parents come from India. He also currently works at a grocery store while he attends school. Finally, he is a die-hard Lions fan who holds out hope for a future Superbowl win.

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Third Place, $500 – Deborah Mattson - Essay

Deborah Mattson resides in Davisburg and is a dual enrolled high school homeschooled student. Her winning essay “Mercy: An Insurmountable Nemesis” was inspired by her favorite book, “Les Misérables.”

According to Deborah, “the characters have such deep morals, obligations, and worldviews that immensely affect how they live their lives. I think that mercy is essential to this world, and Victor Hugo fills his story with the powerful message that mercy changes people, and can sometimes be their downfall.”

Deborah will attend Ball State University in the fall to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in architecture, and from there she intends to earn a Master’s degree to become a certified architect.

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Honorable Mention - Andrew Alber - Essay

Andrew Alber lives in West Bloomfield and wrote his essay titled “The Nemesis in Me” about his personal growth and use of poetry to overcome life challenges. He was motivated to write the essay in order to express a meaningful transition in his life.

Andrew will complete the Early College program at OCC next year, at which time he plans to transfer to Grand Valley State University. While at Grand Valley, he hopes to double major in business and psychology for his Bachelor’s Degree, then continue on to Moody Theological Seminary to earn a Master’s degree in counseling.

Andrew’s desire is to become a youth pastor and counselor, so he can “make a difference in the lives of the next generation.” Outside of class, he enjoys participating in youth groups, volunteering, and spending time with friends. He also loves different forms of acting and performing, especially spoken word poetry.

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Honorable Mention - Natalie Cieslak - Essay

Natalie Cieslak comes from Clarkston and wrote her essay titled “My Own Worst Enemy” about the philosophy of overcoming personal challenges. She is interested in public relations and other careers that involve writing, and she intends to complete her Associate’s degree at OCC before transferring to a four-year college or university.

Outside of class, Natalie plays soccer in a coed league and works at a café during the weekends. She attributes her success to the support of her loving and caring parents.

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Honorable Mention - Olivia Martin - Essay

Olivia Martin is a Royal Oak native whose essay, “The Endless Battle of Good and Evil: the Role of the Nemesis” focuses on the longstanding popular video game franchise, “The Legend of Zelda.”

Olivia plans to earn an Associate’s degree in Cinematic Arts at OCC before transferring to a four-year college or university to complete her Bachelor’s degree. Career goals include acting, writing, or designing costumes for the film industry. In her spare time, Olivia enjoys playing video games, reading, drawing, and creating her own YouTube videos.

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Honorable Mention - Nabah Rizvi- Essay

Nabah Rizvi comes from Waterford and wrote her essay, “Robespierre’s Reign of Terror: A Necessary Evil,” about one of her favorite controversial historical figures and his impact on French society in the 18th century.

Nabah plans to major in international relations, with a minor in French, and wants to become a professor. In her free time, she enjoys blogging, singing and reading. She grew up in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and the United States. She loves travel and hopes to be fluent in five languages one day.

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Honorable Mention - Andrew Timlin- Essay

Andrew Timlin from Birmingham wrote an essay titled “Mental Illness – A Mysterious Nemesis” about how research and public involvement can help those whose lives are impacted by mental illness. He “chose to write about mental illness because it is a critical topic today” and a “globally sensitive subject.” As he cites, “millions of people suffer from mental illness” and “in the United States alone, it is the leading cause of disability.”

After completing his studies at OCC, Andrew plans to obtain his bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in business. His ultimate goal is to be an entrepreneur and to “create solutions to complex technical problems.” He believes that “great products should simplify people’s lives in a positive way” and is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s quote: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Outside of work and school, he has a passion for politics, soccer, and running.