Student wins national New York Times essay contest

By Wendy S. Loughlin 

January 3, 2012

Caitlin Dewey's essay, chosen from among 1,400 entries, was published in the paper May 1

Caitlin Dewey, a senior magazine major in the Newhouse School, is the winner of this year’s Modern Love: College Essay Contest, sponsored by The New York Times. The paper asked college students to describe what love is like for them.

Dewey’s winning essay, “Even in Real Life, There Were Screens Between Us,” was published in The New York Times on May 1. It beat out more than 1,400 entries from 370 colleges and universities across the United States, including Harvard, Columbia, Yale and top journalism schools such as Northwestern University and the University of Missouri.

When she first learned she had won, “I felt shocked,” Dewey says. “Profoundly, entirely shocked. I actually started screaming. I entered the contest with no real expectation of even placing, so when I won I felt overwhelmed and grateful and totally surprised. The whole thing was very surreal.”

Dewey gives a nod to the magazine department and, in particular, Professor Melissa Chessher for helping hone her skills. “We learned essay writing in [Chessher’s] MAG 406 class last semester, and I had very little idea what a personal essay looked like before I took that class,” says Dewey.

Chessher is not surprised by Dewey’s win. “From the first assignment in magazine article writing, I knew Caitlin possessed the talent and the work ethic to be a great writer,” she says. “Not only did she bring challenging ideas to the table, but she was determined to land the hard interviews and return to the subject until she found the perfect, telling moment for her piece. She arrived with an eye for detail and willingness to revise and revise again. All I did was cheer and get out of the way.”

Dewey, also an international relations and Spanish major in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, will graduate this month. As a News21 fellow, she will work on a digital reporting project with a team of other Newhouse students in the Lehigh Valley until late July, after which she will move to Washington, D.C., where she will work as the web content producer for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.