FFRF awards $23,650! Winners of FFRF’s college essay contest

Essay contests

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is proud to announce the 13 winners and 16 honorable mentions of the 2020 Michael Hakeem Memorial Essay Contest for Ongoing College Students (out of more than 200 entrants). FFRF has paid out a total of $23,650 in award money to this year’s college contest winners.

Ongoing college students up to the age of 24 were asked to write a personal persuasive essay on the topic of “The Necessity of Freethought — Why I am Not Religious.”

This contest is named for the late Michael Hakeem, a sociology professor who was an FFRF board chair and active atheist known by generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison students for fine-tuning their reasoning skills. His bequest has been used to fund college essays since his death in 2006.

Winners, their ages, the colleges or universities they are attending and the award amounts are listed below. 

First place

Asja Misner, 20, Indian River State College (Florida), $3,500.

Second place (tie)

Katherine Lance, 20, Tarleton State University (Texas), $3,000.

Reese Borlin, 19, Southern Illinois University, $3,000.

Third place

Marquez Collins, 19, Savannah State University (Georgia), $2,500.

Fourth Place

Anna Miller, 19, Bryn Mawr College (Pennsylvania), $2,000.

Fifth place

Aaron Hill, 19, University of California-Berkeley, $1,500.

Sixth place (tie)

Eli Faymonville, 19, Northern Michigan University, $1,000.

Hannah Hawkins, 20, Shawnee State University (Ohio), $1,000.

Seventh place

Anne Marie Nester, 19, Georgia Institute of Technology, $750.

Eighth place

Brenna Bigenwald, 20, University of Pittsburgh, $500.

Ninth place (tie)

Kirsten Cohns, 19, Brookhaven College (Texas), $400.

Parker Randall, 20, University of

Texas-San Antonio, $400.

Tenth place

Karsten Barr-Rollins, 23, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Florida), $300.


Honorable mentions ($200 each)

Hosanna Barrett, 20, West Virginia University

Sonja Bimberg, 18, University of Minnesota-Duluth

Indigo Bistrup-Peterson, 19, Carleton College (Minnesota)

Danika Brousseau, 20, University of New Mexico

Allison Burks, 24, University of Central Florida

Sam Christenson, 18, University of Maryland-Baltimore County

Maya Givens, 20, University of South Florida

Jenna Kornicki, 21, Columbia

University (New York)

Gabriel Lebon, 20, Arizona State University

Winston McCurley, 20, University of Alabama-Huntsville

Justin Mitchell, 21, Ursinus College (Pennsylvania)

Fatima Montero, 18, Moore College of Art and Design (Pennsylvania)

Rachel Panettiere, 19, University of Georgia

Skylar Pinto, 18, Fairleigh Dickinson University (New Jersey)

Danielle Puccio, 19, University of North Carolina

Sharay Ropozo, 21, University of Washington

FFRF thanks Dean and Dorea Schramm of Florida for providing a $100 bonus to students who are members of a secular group, student club or the Secular Student Alliance. The total of $23,650 reflects those bonuses.

FFRF also thanks “Director of First Impressions” Lisa Treu for managing the details of this and FFRF’s other student essays competitions. And we couldn’t judge these contests without our “faithful faithless” volunteer and staff readers and judges, including: Dan Barker, Darrell Barker, Kristina Daleiden, Bill Dunn, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Judi Jacobs, Linda Josheff, Dan Kettner, Katya Maes, Gloria Marquardt, Bailey Nachreiner-Mackesey, Sue Schuetz, Lauryn Seering, PJ Slinger and Karen Lee Weidig.

FFRF has offered essay competitions to college students since 1979, high school students since 1994, grad students since 2010, one geared explicitly for students of color since 2016 and a fifth contest for law students since 2019. All contests are open to any students attending a school in North America meeting the age/grade level eligibility, except the students of color contest, which is reserved for students of color to offer special support for a minority within a minority.