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Merritt Writing Fellowship

2024 Merritt Writing Fellowship Prize Winner and Honorable Mention

The Merritt Writing Fellowship Selection Committee is pleased to recognize Priscila Valle as the winner of the 2024 Merritt Writing Fellowship. This annual award honors an undergraduate who has demonstrated analytical skills, creativity, and research promise in first-year writing.

Priscila’s writing demonstrated a keen ability to tell an informative story in a compelling prose style. Drawing from a range of primary and secondary resources, her research essay featured a distinctive and accessible voice that put readers at ease while also piquing their interest in an unfamiliar topic of social consequence and contemporary importance.

Prompted to research and write about a problem connected to Yosemite, Priscila focused on the lack of proper recognition that Chinese immigrants have received for their crucial contributions in establishing Yosemite National Park and shaping the experience of the park’s visitors from the earliest years of its operation.

As Priscila’s Writing 10 instructor, Loretta Kennedy, aptly noted in recommending her student for this award, “Priscila used her analytical skills and unique voice to meaningfully connect with her audience, as she identified the problem in a creative way by sharing stories and critiquing how the park could do more to honor the Chinese laborers.” After further explaining how the recent research and activism of Chinese-Americans proved instrumental in moving the National Park Service to a belated recognition of the key role played by Chinese immigrants in Yosemite’s history, Priscila concluded her paper with a call for the National Park Service to be more proactive in seeking out and highlighting these and other stories from various culturally diverse groups to spotlight and strengthen their sense of connection to our national parks.

In this piece of writing, Priscila did a particularly fine job of integrating sources into her own narrative in a way that elevates the conversation about an issue of social importance and made that importance clearly visible to the reader. In analyzing how members of an underrepresented group leveraged their own research into Yosemite’s history to help improve how the National Park Service tells its own story, she showed a keen understanding of the relationship between research and the public good.

Priscila is a first-year student majoring in Bioengineering with a Pre-Med emphasis. She has demonstrated great potential in conveying knowledge gained through research in ways that inspire positive change. We encourage Priscila to continue to revise and develop this essay for possible publication in an undergraduate research journal, and we look forward to reading more of her writing in the years to come.

The Merritt Writing Fellowship Selection Committee is further pleased to recognize Joslyn Conchas with an honorable mention for her strong analytical skills and her research promise. Joslyn is a first-year student majoring in Biological Sciences, with an emphasis in Human Biology. For her research essay in a Writing 10 course specifically designed for pre-health majors, Joslyn delved into recent literature examining the role that school lunches play (or don’t play) promoting good nutrition and healthy eating among students. “I was impressed with the nuanced approach Joslyn took to this assignment,” wrote her instructor, Bay VanWagenen. “In my comments on her final draft, I noted her effective synthesis and use of evidence from scholarly and popular sources, as well as the sense of purpose present throughout the essay.”

The Merritt Writing Fellowship Selection Committee agrees with this assessment of Joslyn’s work. We were especially impressed by her ability to analyze the findings from a variety of studies to not only identify areas of scholarly consensus but also explain the unique contribution of a recent study to the literature on the topic. We are excited to see how Joslyn will continue to develop her strong analytical and research skills to help develop creative solutions for issues of pressing social concern.

In closing, we are very pleased to recognize these examples of exceptional first-year writing. The selection committee thanks all the first-year writers who participated in the application process and all their faculty mentors who offered moving and supportive commendations of their students. With so many incredible first-year writers as part of the Merritt Writing Program and much to celebrate.


The Merritt Writing Fellowship honors an undergraduate who has demonstrated analytical skills, creativity, and research promise in first-year writing. This fellowship recognizes that first-year writers are early scholars -- as analytical thinkers and creative communicators who write to meaningfully connect with readers, bring visibility to important topics, and inspire positive change.

Qualified students will have completed WRI 1 by the end of their first year at UC Merced, with WRI 10 completion as a preferred but not required expectation. First and second year UCM students, with a minimum GPA of 2.8, are all eligible to apply. The application includes an endorsement from a WRI instructor (no more than 250 words), along with a final draft of a major research-based writing project completed at UC Merced that demonstrates a blend of analytical and creative writing approaches.
The award amount for this fellowship is $1000. 

Students who wish to be considered for this award must fill out a self-nomination application. As part of the self-nomination process, students will need to secure the endorsement of one of their current or past UCM writing instructors.

Applications for the 2024 Merritt Writing Fellowship are currently closed.  This fall we will post information and links for students interested in applying for the 2025 Merritt Writing Fellowship Award.