High School Essay Contest

Background of the Essay Contest


The Community Outreach Committee (COC) worked to connect with as many schools in the greater San Diego Area as possible. The essay contest provided a great opportunity for UCSD’s Department of Biological Sciences to interact directly with the community outside of the school, specifically with high school students. We conducted our own searches for schools interested in participating in the contest and also partnered with CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence), another on-campus organization. CREATE has been actively involved with primary and secondary schools in the San Diego area for many years. With CREATE’s help, we were able to widen the scope of our search and get in more direct contact with high school teachers and administrators. The focus was to reach out to biology, science, and writing teachers at each school and build a school-wide interest in participating in the essay contest. We made it a priority to personally visit interested schools and met with teachers and administrators to explain the details of the contest and how it could be implemented successfully at each school. Teachers then promoted the contest inside and outside of their classrooms. The winner of the contest will have their essay published in the winter edition of the Saltman Quarterly Insider. The runner-up will have their essay published online at www.sqonline.ucsd.edu. Both students will receive feedback on their submissions from faculty in the biology department who also judged their essays in the decision-making process. The winner will also receive two tickets to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, located in Balboa Park.

For inquiries or ways to participate, please contact:

Todd Chou

Community Outreach Chair


Current: 2016-2017


This year, we decided to tackle an issue at the forefront of bioethics discussions: biotechnology. Scientists in this interdisciplinary field have made some amazing advances that benefit society, like creating Golden Rice, modified rice that has more vitamin A than normal rice to combat blindness in poorer countries. However, with new advances comes with new possibilities for ethical debate, like whether research into certain organisms should be allowed, or whether there are negative unforeseen side effects of positive advancements. In this way, we help students become better scientists by asking them to think beyond the immediate or intended effects of research.

Prompt: Biotechnology is a rapidly growing and important field of biology. Advances in biotechnology have resulted in cures for diseases, more efficient processes for biofuel production, and more nutritious crops, and much more. Biotechnology has the potential to help society approach new and pressing challenges, but what are ethical and societal issues these advances may create, and how can these issues be resolved?



In our second year of the Essay Contest, we noticed environmental issues were being heavily discussed in the news, and thus decided to use that for our topic. We asked students to write about environmental biology and integrate that knowledge with another area of interest to demonstrate that biology can be heavily involved with other topics like medicine, engineering, or art. This approach also reframes students’ conceptions of biology to think intersectionally and across disciplines in a time when cross-department research and partnerships are growing. We were excited to receive multiple submissions from students at Serra High School, Gompers Preparatory Academy, The Preuss School, and San Diego High.

Prompt: For thousands of years, humans have been dependent on our planet’s resources to survive and continuously improve our quality of life. This highly one-sided relationship has significantly disturbed the natural world. Among other issues, changes in landscapes and ecosystems, shifts in weather patterns, and depletion of natural resources have elicited a call-to-action to reduce our ecological footprint. The integration of environmental biology into subjects like engineering, education, and policy offers non- traditional solutions to this modern day challenge. Write a response about what you believe to be a pressing environmental issue and how you think a solution can be reached through the intersection of biology and other disciplines. Topics include, but are not limited to, conservation, sustainability, medicine, engineering, research, public health, policy and law, writing, education and art.



Last quarter, we, the Community Outreach Team, successfully completed our first project: a high school essay contest. Interested high school students wrote and submitted a 500-750 word essay about how they wish to incorporate biology into their future, and each essay was evaluated based on creativity, content, and presentation. We narrowed down the essays to the top three, which were then distributed to the SQ core staff for further evaluation. The staff members picked the best two out of three essays; these essays were presented to Hermila Torres and Dr. Gabriele Wienhausen of the Biological Sciences Department, who would provide feedback and ultimately decide the winner and the runner-up by the end of Week 8 of Winter Quarter.

E3 Civic High School was one of the several schools that participated in the contest. We visited the school and met with teachers Jeffery Newman, Noel Leon, Mason Shaner and Dean Sheila Krotz. During the visit, we gave a presentation on the process of the essay contest. The focus of the meeting was to work with the faculty to decide what the best way to promote and implement this contest at E3 would be. The teachers all agreed that this was something that could be promoted in the science and writing departments and could possibly be made into an assignment for students to work on over the winter break. All of the faculty at E3 were extremely receptive to the importance of having students work on a project that integrated both science and writing. Also, giving their students the opportunity to become published was extremely exciting. E3 was eager to participate and even invited us back in the future to cover the biology/science related projects that they would be working on later during the year.

Prompt: Biology is a subject which is intimately tied to other fields of study. There is enormous room for growth, exploration, and discovery in this field that can change the way we sustain life, cure disease, and protect our natural resources. Write a statement of what you dream of doing in the future and how you can apply the broad field of biology to your career. Topics include but are not limited to: conservation, medicine, research, public health management, law school, writing, and art.