Middlesex College won 12 New Jersey Press Association (NJPA) awards representing content from Quo Vadis newspaper issues the staff published from March 2020 to March 3, 2021.
Quo Vadis competed against all 18 community colleges in the state during the contest.
Professor Melissa Edwards, Quo Vadis faculty advisor, said, “I am so proud of how we placed this year; we won more awards than we have ever won before. I am always glad when we place in General Excellence. That shows that we are on track for the big picture; that is extremely important.”
Edwards said, “I have to go through papers from last March to this March and find pieces in the paper that fit the categories for the contests. There were 13 categories; I could enter three students in each category. Also, I could give two samples of their work for each category they were entered in. It costs $8 per entry, which brings the total to a little over $200 when we enter the maximum number of students, which we always do.”
“Each year, we submit to this contest. I consider it to be one of the benchmarks for the program. I try to remind our students that it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes students become too insulated in thoughts that the paper is just for their fun and satisfaction, to fulfill a grade requirement for a class, or that the paper is only for the people reading it on our campus. In reality, a college paper is a training ground for all students of any major to practice effective mass communication for a potential career in nearly any field, but especially in media,” she said.
“Less obvious, but just as important, a school newspaper allows students to practice working as a team, which is also excellent preparation for any career path. Quo Vadis enables students to learn how to write for media, maintain websites and other multimedia tools. Over the years, we have even made videos and won. We hope to expand to a podcast for this upcoming year. NJPA helps us reinforce the purpose of a student newspaper and honors students who strive for excellence in their submissions each week,” said Edwards.
Shakera Blakney, a managing editor of Quo Vadis, wrote “MCC Forms DEI Advisory Board” and won second place in the “News Writing” category.
Blakney said, “I wrote the story about the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board. The creation of the Advisory Board came at a critical time, after the murder of George Floyd last summer. It was more important than ever for students to hear President McCormick's goals for the board, how other students felt about the board's creation, and what they hoped the board would accomplish.”
“I’m ecstatic about winning. I think it's exciting that the NJPA chose my article. It wasn't my goal to win any awards, and I can't say that I will continue to strive for that,” said Blakney. “My goal was to get the information out. As someone whose goal is to become a copy editor, it's pretty awesome to be recognized for writing.”
The comments her article received from the judges were, “Voices make the story. Hearing student responses to the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board helped make this story go beyond the news, and provide insight into how well the board and the college's initiative will be received.”
Caprice Benifield-Sanchez, a managing editor for Quo Vadis, placed second in the “Biography/Personality Profile” category. She wrote a story about an author who said he turned his passion into a career.
Benifield-Sanchez said, “When I first wrote this piece, I had a hard time trying to find the focus. I ended up having to rewrite the entire feature with feedback and guidance from my professor on which part of Mr. O'Sullivan's life was most relatable to college students. In this case, I used myself as an example because when I interviewed him, he used instances where he expressed a state of uncertainty in his college life. Instead of writing a typical biography, I wanted more for his words to be noticed by the reader as if he was speaking to them. It was a powerful interview.”
Benifield-Sanchez said, “I am ecstatic and grateful for having such a supportive professor because, without her teachings, I would not be here right now.”
According to the judges, Benifield-Sanchez’s article was an inspirational and informative read for anyone chasing the dream of being a successful writer. It's not a how-to, but a slice of life and how one man's quest worked out.
Julia Block, Middlesex College alumna, placed second in the “Arts & Entertainment/Critical Writing” category.
Block, who attended and took part in Quo Vadis in Spring 2020, said, “I wrote two reviews. One was about Disney Food Blog, since I always enjoyed watching videos from them on their YouTube channel. The other was about Color Me Mine in Menlo Park Mall; I always enjoyed going there for a rainy-day activity as a kid and even now. For both of the awarded reviews, I just spoke from my own personal experiences and gave the best insight I could, knowing that people reading my story may actually end up visiting the channel or ceramic-painting shop based on what I say. I love making my stories as personal as possible, not just bluntly going through basic things or shooting out facts that can be easily searched online.”
“It was a pleasant surprise to see that I won second place in the competition considering it’s across colleges in the state. It was also nice to see that my work put into Quo Vadis from almost a year ago was given such positive criticism and feedback,” said Block. “Those were two of my favorite reviews I wrote during my time writing for the newspaper, so I’m glad that the NJPA enjoyed them and valued them too."
According to the judges, Block’s reviews were a good use of first-person experiences and valuable info.
Harsh Godhani, Jada Davis and Block placed second in the “Editorial Writing” category.
Godhani, Quo Vadis staff writer, said, “My article highlights the difficulties college students face that can sometimes be overlooked without any compassion, and to give inspiration to any students who may be suffering with those challenges but are doing their best to continue forward with their education.”
He said, “As far as how I feel about winning, I’m happy to receive the award, and I just want to continue to improve my writing.”
Block said, “Our editorial was about how students struggling makes them stronger because of the struggles they had to face. Challenges are part of life, and for college students to know they aren’t alone in some of the struggles they face and having them recognize how the struggles they face now can affect how they face others in the future is a relatable topic for many.”
“Like my other awards won in this year’s contest, it was a surprise for me hearing that we won after not thinking anything of these articles almost a year later,” Block said. “It was nice to look back at the work done at Quo Vadis and to hear the NJPA judges respond so positively to the work we have done.”
According to the judges, the team’s editorial on struggling builds character is always a timely topic that isn't easy to write. The pull quote made this the top choice for second place, would have liked to see more of that type of writing in the overall entry.
Managing editors Jazmine Brown, Delaila Aguilar, Caprice Benifield-Sanchez, and Shakera Blakney placed second in “Layout/Design” for issue one, published on Jan. 27, and issue three, published on Feb. 10.
Brown said, “The consistent flow of each page’s layout is what stands out to me. We are all learning new layout styles to keep the paper looking nice and elegant.”
“I feel proud that my hard work and the endless, restless hours that (were) put into the layout have finally paid off in some way,” said Brown.
Aguilar said, “Details which stood out were how the layout had a sense of consistency, which I think helped the page flow into the next nicely, along with how the front page captured a reader’s attention with the photo that was placed in the center of the page. I believe the style of having text revolve more around an image will be evolved, considering how it’s more visually appealing to see text wrap a photo or illustration than stand alone in columns.”
“It’s encouraging to have won an award for layout, especially since I intend to pursue a career in graphic design and developing pages like in the newspaper; I feel it is something I’ll do often. It makes me look forward to how else I can layout pages to intrigue readers,” said Aguilar.
According to the judges, what works best about this design is the consistency of all the elements and an eye-catching front page.
Managing editors Gabrielle Ignotis and Tatwa Vaidya along with Benifield-Sanchez and Blakney won second place in the “General Excellence” category for issues 4 and 5, published on Feb. 17 and Feb. 24, respectively.
Ignotis said, “I think our content is very relatable. Our news is geared toward MC students and faculty, covering both events on campus and community events that may appeal to our demographic. Our lifestyle content in this issue covered reasonable travel destinations that are theoretically within driving distance and our reviews, like one of our managing editor’s MacBook review, are very relatable to student life.”
“I feel like this is a great accomplishment for the Quo Vadis. We’ve never placed so many times in one year, and I think it’s a huge testament to the past two semesters,” Ignotis said. We really upended the entire process, so seeing these changes receive recognition is very important to the program.”
Comments the layout received from the judges were, “Good, relatable content. Strong headlines. Gave you the news without overwhelming you with a copy. Good visuals.”
Sanjana Butala, Quo Vadis staff writer, placed third in the Column/Opinion Writing category.
Butala said, “I wrote an essay about whether science could ever become God. I spoke in-depth about the rationalities of science and how the innate understandings of God by religion or common sense go far beyond the realms of science. I gave examples to elaborate on my viewpoints. My main argument was the fact that the definition of God itself is so vague that it is impossible for science to achieve this goal. Unless we have a destination, we cannot embark on a path of complete fulfillment.”
“I am extremely delighted to have received this award. This year Middlesex has achieved the highest number of NJPA awards in its history, and I feel honored to have been a part of this historic accomplishment,” Butala said. I have a deep interest in creative writing, and I am grateful to the organization for considering my work worthy of this appraisal and recognition.”
According to the judges, Butala’s article had interesting philosophical dialogue and was an informative, positive discussion in this pandemic time.
Quo Vadis managing editors Richa Nayak, Blakney, Vaidya and Benifield-Sanchez placed first in the “Overall Website” category.
Vaidya said, “Consistency might be the key to winning. Keeping the readers updated about what’s happening around the campuses and county really helped. For that, the website gets updated several times a week with new news and features. Last but not least, the content, we have filtrations in the stories and news before they (are) put out. Our team and professor make sure that the audience/readers get the most relevant content.”
“It is a great feeling because a lot of us, who are managing editors, gave our time to try to make it perfect. A lot of us have jobs, with some of us working full-time, including me, and we are also full-time students; we try to manage everything,” Vaidya said. “Winning this is a clear result of our hard work, dedication and most importantly, believing in each other. Each of the Quo Vadis members has helped equally to win this; it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Blakney said, “I think what helped with the website is that it is a new website. We launched the new website this semester and worked extremely hard to get all the contents on the proper landing pages. A lot of time and energy and dedication went into making sure the website functions well. It is easier to navigate and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.”
“It is exciting to be a part of something of this magnitude. There was much second-guessing for me in displaying information and photos, so to get recognized for all the hard work and dedication is gratifying,” Blakney said.
Comments the website received from the judges were, “Very strong website. Clean design. Easy to navigate. Loads exceptionally fast. Good content in most sections, though two landing pages didn't have anything on them. Good entry points for user engagement. This is a really nice website.”