2015-16 Frederick Douglass Essay Contest Winners Announced

2015-16 Frederick Douglass Essay Contest Winners Announced

Pioneer Institute congratulates the winners of the third annual Frederick Douglass U.S. History Essay Contest for Massachusetts high school students. The contest encouraged students to choose from dozens of Massachusetts entrepreneurs and inventions and develop a clearly organized, well-researched essay drawing on primary and secondary sources that explained the historical impact and significance of the chosen subject matter.

Pioneer Institute received nearly 70 submissions from public, vocational-technical, charter, parochial, and private school students, as well as students schooled at home. Winners were selected by an independent panel of judges, including current and former high school history teachers. The first place prize is $5,000; second place is $2,000; third place is $1,000; and Honorable Mentions are $500 each. In addition, the first-place winner’s school will receive $1,000. Judges selected three top prize winners and four honorable mentions.

Top prize winners were presented with certificates of accomplishment and payments at a Pioneer history forum, “The Age of Jacksonian Democracy: Teaching Antebellum America in Schools,” held at the 46th Northeast Regional Conference on the Social Studies in Sturbridge, MA, on Wednesday, April 6th.

3rd Place Winner Ryan Hutchins, 2nd Place Winner Sibgha Javaid, and 1st Place Winner Avery Sherffius

3rd Place Winner Ryan Hutchins, 2nd Place Winner Sibgha Javaid, and 1st Place Winner Avery Sherffius

The first place winner is Avery B. Sherffius of Hopkinton High School for his essay on a gene editing tool known as CRISPR, developed in a Cambridge-based lab, which will significantly impact medicine and agriculture.

Hopkinton High AP US History teacher Steven Spiegal with Avery Sherffius

Hopkinton High AP US History teacher Steven Spiegal with Avery Sherffius

Avery Sherffius and Pioneer Education Director Jamie Gass

Avery Sherffius and Pioneer Education Director Jamie Gass.


Sibgha Javaid with her parents

Sibgha Javaid with her parents

The second-place prize was awarded to  Sigbha Javaid of the University Park Campus School in Worcester for her essay on the invention of the oral contraceptive pill.

And the third place winner is Ryan Hutchins from Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro for his essay on MIT Professor Charles Draper’s invention of the inertial guidance system, a navigation tool essential to aviation, national security, and space exploration.

Ryan Hutchins and his dad

Ryan Hutchins and his dad

The four honorable mentions are: Morgan DiPilla from Wachusett Regional High School, and Katherine O’Malley, Christine Schremp, and Kira Hellard from Bishop Feehan High School.

Read their essays in our compendium of winning entries. Watch video clips of the event and the awards presentation here.



The awards were presented by Pioneer Institute’s Distinguished Senior Fellow in Education and former Massachusetts Senate President Tom Birmingham, who co-authored the commonwealth’s landmark 1993 Education Reform Act. He is a Rhodes Scholar.

Daniel Walker Howe and David & Jeanne Heidler delivered keynote addresses at the event. The Heidlers are co-authors or editors of 12 books, including Old Hickory’s War: Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire and Henry Clay: The Essential American. They are currently working on a book about the political rise of Andrew Jackson.

Daniel Walker Howe won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for History for What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. He is Rhodes Professor of American HistoryEmeritus at Oxford University in England and Professor of History Emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The keynotes were followed by a panel discussion to be moderated by Alan Taylor, who has authored seven books, including The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia: 1772-1832, which was a National Book Award for Nonfiction finalist in 2013 and won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in History.  His book William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic won the 1996 Bancroft, Beveridge, and Pulitzer prizes. Taylor is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation professor of history at the University of Virginia and an expert on slavery.

The panel included R. Kent Newmyer and Theda Perdue.  Newmyer is a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he specializes in the political, constitutional, and legal history of the early national period, including the Marshall and Taney Courts. He has authored a number of books and received several awards for teaching, including a Distinguished Alumni Professor, the university’s highest faculty honor.

Theda Perdue has published 16 books and is the Atlanta Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  She is an expert on the Cherokee Nation and Indian removal and has served as president of the Southern Association for Women Historians, the American Society for Ethnohistory and the Southern Historical Association.

The panel also featured two public high school teachers. Laura Honeywood is a History and Political Philosophy teacher at the Academy of the Pacific Rim Public Charter School, who has been active in the Center for Civic Education’s program, We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution. In 2015, her students were runner up state champions and attended the We the People national finals. Carolyn Barrows is a History teacher at the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, which is part of the Boston Public Schools, and is a coach for her school’s Boston Debate League.

Closing remarks were delivered by Fred Kaplan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. A biographer, literary scholar and historian, he is the author, among other books, of biographies of Thomas Carlyle (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), Charles Dickens, Henry James, and Mark Twain. His Lincoln, the Biography of a Writer, a Lincoln Prize finalist, was published in 2008 andJohn Quincy Adams, American Visionary in 2014.

The event was co-sponsored by The Concord Review, We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution, the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies, the Massachusetts Historical Society and The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The event is hosted by the Northeast Regional Conference on the Social Studies.

Pioneer supports the full preservation of the Bay State’s nationally recognized current U.S. history curriculum frameworks and passage of the U.S. history MCAS test as a high school graduation requirement for public school students in Massachusetts. This forum is the latest in a series about how critical events in American history are taught in public schools. Earlier forums on topics such as the Founding Era and slavery, Women’s History, the Civil War, World War II, the Cold War, the history of American business & labor, and the Civil Rights Movement, featured a number of Pulitzer Prize winners.

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