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February 24, 2014

Jefferson native wins SUNY-wide essay contest

By Jessica Reynolds Staff writer
The Daily Star

---- — Christy Harasimowicz, a junior at the State University College at Oneonta, said the prize money she received for her award-winning essay will most likely be saved for next semester’s course books. 

Harasimowicz, 21, of Jefferson, is the winner of a SUNY-wide essay contest sponsored by educational publishing company Gale Cengage. Her essay was the top choice for the best undergraduate essay using the new Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) database, an online research database that SUNY Oneonta is using on a trial basis. According to contest officials, Harasimowicz’s essay was one of more than 50 entries.

Harasimowicz, an English major, said she was surprised and excited when she heard in January that her eight-page essay, entitled “Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded: Justification of Masculine Activity and the Avenue to Virtue” had won the contest. Her prize, she said, was a cool $250. 

The essay was written for an English Literature class last semester, taught by Jonathan Sadow, and took Harasimowicz more than three weeks to complete, she said. This included time taken to carefully research her topic using the ECCO database, she said, which provides students with access to hundreds of 18th century primary documents at the click of a mouse.

The novel that inspired Harasimowicz’s essay was “Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded” by Samuel Richardson. Harasimowicz said the book, first published in 1740, tells the story of a young, poor servant girl whose master tries to seduce and corrupt her using his power and manipulation. Eventually, both Pamela and her master realize they are earnestly falling in love and get married, allowing Pamela several rewards for the virtue she held onto: a sincere romance and an upper-class lifestyle.

At first, Harasimowicz said, she was struck with how manipulative the character of the master had been. However, after using the ECCO database to take a closer look at several conduct books written in that time period, she learned more about the norms regarding servant and courtship behavior and realized the man was acting in a way that was typical for the time.

“I found the database very helpful,” Harasimowicz said. “It was very easy to use.” 

Harasimowicz said she thinks other students would also find the new database helpful and said she would encourage the college to invest in making it permanently available for future students.

With one minor in Africana and Latino Studies and another in Women and Gender Studies, Harasimowicz said she is intrigued by contrasting cultures, sexes and gender identifications and the inner-workings of each. Last semester, Harasimowicz received the college’s prestigious “Best and Brightest Award” and was also the recipient of the Dorothy Wemple ‘36 Scholarship for English majors her freshman year.

“Christy’s achievement is a testimony to her intelligence and diligence,” said Eileen Morgan-Zayachek, interim dean of SUNY Oneonta’s School of Arts and Humanities. “She has successfully used her training in English classes to conduct sophisticated research and analyze anew the ways 18th-century literature operated vis-a-vis gender assumptions.”

Harasimowicz, who makes the 45-minute commute every day from her home in Jefferson, works at Lowe’s in Oneonta and is a member of SUNY Oneonta’s radio station, WONY. She said she hopes to do an independent study during her senior year regarding Native American masculinity and possibly a student research project on society’s changing understandings of homosexuality.

Will she look into getting her essay published? Not right away, said Harasimowicz. But she plans on attending graduate school after her time at SUNY Oneonta is up. Harasimowicz said she would enjoy being a professor in the future, having been inspired by many of her teachers, both at Jefferson Central School and SUNY Oneonta. Jonathan Sadow, she said, is one such professor. Harasimowicz said Sadow encouraged the students in his class to enter the SUNY-wide contest.

So what grade did Sadow give Harasimowicz for her award-winning essay?

“I got an A!” said Harasimowicz.