Irhabi, Smith win inaugural ‘Compy’ Awards

Two first-year writers at Lamar University, Mohamed Irhabi of The Woodlands, Texas, and Rayshaun Smith of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, took top prizes at the first-ever First-Year Writing Across Curriculum (WAC) Composition Awards, sponsored by the LU Writing Center.   Mohamed Irhabi
Irhabi’s essay, "From Saris to Soul Food: A Rhetorical Comparative Essay," won best rhetorical analysis, and Smith’s researched piece, "The Importance of Core Curricula in Higher Education," won best humanities essay. 

Irhabi, a biology major with a chemistry minor and pre-med concentration, is an aspiring doctor. As a writer who is Arabic-English bilingual, he says one of his favorite books to read for fun is an American English dictionary.  
“Persuasive writing and speaking hold immense power across all fields, and such abilities reflect an individual’s intellect and clarity of thought,” Irhabi said.  

Specifically, in the medical profession, Irhabi understands that clear and effective communication is crucial not only for interacting with colleagues, but also for ensuring the best possible care for patients from diverse backgrounds.  

 “My commitment to language mastery is linked with my goal of becoming a compassionate, knowledgeable, and amusing healthcare professional,” Irhabi said.  

His winning essay compared the rhetoric in two short texts by Priya Chandrasekaran and Carla Hall to show how each one embraced their cultural heritage through both tradition and reinterpretation.  

Rayshaun Smith Smith, a computer science major and first-generation college student, is a community-focused technological entrepreneur.  
“The ability to articulate thoughts and ideas effectively is a powerful tool in any field, particularly in computer science, where complex ideas often need to be conveyed clearly and compellingly,” Smith said.    

Smith, an emerging intellectual humanist, enjoys reading work by bell hooks and Malcolm Gladwell. His winning essay offered a researched argument that educational stakeholders in every space must continue to champion the liberal education by developing comprehensive core curricula. 

WAC decenters writing pedagogy away from lecture toward active learning, and it cannot be taught in only one department on campus. 

It gives students frequent, significant opportunities to write in many kinds of classes from their first year through graduation. The best possible outcome of WAC is that graduates enter the professional space as better critical thinkers and communicators. 

At Lamar University, students are afforded ample opportunities to write across the curriculum, and the Writing Center is an academic support service they can count on as a resource.  

Casey Ford, Writing Center director, initiated these awards, nicknamed “The Compies,” as a first-year retention strategy and a way to celebrate and model dynamic first-year writing. 

The first year of college is highly writing intensive, perhaps more than any other year, because of the nature of core and fundamental courses. First-year writers are writing across the curriculum because they write high-stakes assignments in almost every class, and this shifts a bit as they advance into upper-level courses more focused on their area of study.   

Ford hopes these awards showcase not only students’ work, but also the effective teaching of first-year writing faculty. 

Irhabi was nominated by Melissa Becker, M.A., and Smith was nominated by Cheryl Johnson, M.A. Both nominating faculty members are instructors of English; however, in the future, Ford hopes more faculty members from many disciplines will nominate their students for a “Compy.”  

The award categories are interdisciplinary: best rhetorical analysis, best literary analysis, best humanities essay, best STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, math) essay, best speechwriting, and most improved first-year writer. A future category may include first-year journalism. 

Irhabi and Smith each take a cash prize and ceremonial recognition of their winning essays, and their work will inspire future first-year writers as “The Compy Awards” continues to grow.