Colby-Sawyer junior Mardia Cooper of Chicago, Ill., won first place in the inaugural New Hampshire Writer's Project (NHWP) student essay contest. Cooper attended Writer's Day in Manchester, N.H., on Saturday, April 23, where she was notified of her win and awarded a $1,000 prize.

The essay competition prompted students to talk about race on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Out of the many essays received, five finalists were chosen and invited to attend Writer's Day. NHWP hopes that the essay contest thrives as a way to push students to question "things that matter."

Cooper wrote about her experiences with racial insensitivity, such as being called a "colored person" and being presumed uneducated. She ends her essay saying, "I believe there is a want for people to understand; but in that want, there has to be open-mindedness to step out of their reality of privilege as a white person."

A media studies major, Cooper is completing a semester-long internship with the NAACP in Washington, D.C. Cooper is also a Progressive Scholar at Colby-Sawyer, a program that provides education opportunities for first-generation college students while increasing geographic, racial and ethnic diversity at the college. The vice president of her class during her sophomore year, Cooper is the current president of the college's African Student Association.

The NHWP supports the development of individual writers and encourages an audience for literature in New Hampshire. They are a nonprofit literary arts organization funded by its members as well as organizations and businesses who believe in supporting the region's writers and literary heritage. The organization is run by a Board of Trustees and committees of highly skilled individuals charged with keeping NHWP relevant in this swiftly changing industry.