Louis Agassiz Prize for Excellence in Writing


Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz 

(May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873) was a Swiss-born American zoologist, glaciologist, and geologist. Also the husband of educator Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, he was one of the first world-class American scientists. His is a prominent name in Northern Arizona; one of the San Francisco Peaks and one of Flagstaff’s downtown streets are named for Louis Agassiz.

Congratulations to the 2014/2015 essay scholarship winners:

  • First Place scholarship of $2,000 awarded to Ingrid Herrera for essay entitled "The Re-Education of Education"
  • Second Place scholarship of $1,250 awarded to Markie Scheidegger for essay entitled "Education: By and For"


Essay Topic 2014-2015

“Education, Rights and Responsibilities 

From standards-oriented elementary curricula to university-level teaching seeking to respond to changes in technology and economics, the world of education is in rapid flux. How educators should interact with government, employers, and students has never been more in question than today.  In this context, we pose these linked questions about education today:
Who is responsible for educating citizens in a democracy?  Is it the job of government to provide educational opportunities, or is that role better left to communities, businesses, or other organizations?  Who should pay for education?  Once educational opportunities are available, how much of an obligation should citizens feel to take advantage of them?
Essays do not need to answer all these questions specifically; rather, they should explore the terrain of education and how it interacts with government and society in general.  We strongly encourage the use of specific examples and real-world data to clarify and support your position, as well as creative approaches to this fertile issue.


Official rules and regulations

Objectives of the Competition – The Louis Agassiz Scholarship Prize will be awarded annually to the winner of an essay competition, held for the purpose of recognizing outstanding writing skills of undergraduate students. The scholarship prize(s) will be awarded through Louie by a review board whose members represent the sciences and the humanities.  

Awards – Up to three scholarship awards may be given each year. In addition to the Louis Agassiz Award ($2,000), a second prize ($1,250) and third prize ($750) may be offered to encourage broad participation. Should the review board decide that there are not three essays meriting a prize, funds not awarded shall be carried over to the following year.  The scholarship awards will be deposited into the recipient's Louie account.

Eligible Participants – All students currently enrolled in their first NAU Undergraduate degree program are eligible.

Evaluation Criteria – Judging criteria for essays include: originality of ideas, persuasiveness, clarity, and elegance of language. (The audience for the essay is any well-educated, critical thinker.) The review board will select a topic for each year's competition based on current issues crossing disciplinary boundaries and impacting society. Essay format is required (rather than traditional scientific research paper structure.)

The Essay – Formatting requirements

  • Submissions are not to exceed 2,000 words (exclusive of footnotes and citations).
  • Essays must be the student's original work.
  • Entrants may use direct quotes, but footnotes should be kept to a minimum.
  • A bibliography of source material should be included where appropriate, but is not required.
  • Essays must be double-spaced, in 12 point font (Times New Roman or Arial), with 1" margins on all sides.
  • Submissions shall be sent electronically as .pdf, .doc, or .docx attachment.
  • Essay heading should include the essay title and author's name.
  • Authors retain all rights to their entries, but the NAU College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences shall have the non-exclusive right to print winning essays in its publications and on its websites.

Essays not conforming to formatting requirements will be returned without review. 

Submit your .pdf, .doc or .docx essay to Denise.Walters@nau.edu by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, January 30, 2015

Review Board – The review board will include donors of the prize monies and members from the sciences and humanities faculties of NAU. The board will define the rules of the competition and the award dates, and will determine the winning essays. Each board member will have a single vote in all matters. The review board will meet periodically as necessary, in person or by conference call, to discuss the judging of essays or any other business connected with the Louis Agassiz Prize.

Announcement of Award and Publicity – Authors of the winning essays will be contacted via telephone and/or email, on or before the last day of March.  Winners will be invited to attend the CEFNS Pre-Commencement Reception held in May, where they will be publicly recognized and presented with a framed certificate.  Winning submissions will also be posted in their entirety on the College website.  Funds will deposited into their Louie account.

The Louis Agassiz Prize for Excellence in Writing is made possible through the generous contributions of both time and funding, from our esteemed founding donors Diana Gabaldon, Peter McClean, Jim Uhl and Kurt Lefteroff. Not only do they provide the monetary means for the prizes, they also serve on the review board and read every qualifying essay submitted. Here are the Founders of the Louis Agassiz Prize for Excellence in Writing:

Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, NYT-bestselling OUTLANDER novels, described by Salon magazine as "the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting "Scrooge McDuck" comics, and the Lord John Grey novels, which are only slightly more describable." Dr. Gabaldon holds several advanced degrees in science, (plus an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters) and spent a dozen years as a university professor with an expertise in scientific computation before beginning to write fiction. Dr. Gabaldon received her NAU B.S. in Biology 1973 and Ph.D. in Zoology 1978. 
Peter McClean was President and CEO of Measurisk LLC, an independent provider of portfolio risk analytics for institutional investors, hedge funds and mutual funds. Previously, he was Chief Risk Management Officer of the Bank of Bermuda Limited, where he oversaw credit and market risk policy, asset and liability management, internal audit issues, the general counsel’s office and strategic planning. Mr. McClean serves on several boards in the mutual fund, reinsurance and alternative energy industries. Mr. McClean received his first degree from NAU in 1967, a B.A. in History.
Jim Uhl is the Founder, President and CEO of Agate, Inc. – Construction and Agate Steel, Inc., located in Scottsdale Arizona. Mr. Uhl graduated from NAU in 1965, receiving a BA in English. During his time at NAU, he was captain of the Wrestling Team and a Chain Gang Member. After college, Mr. Uhl served as a Captain in the United States Marine Corps, and is a Vietnam Veteran.

Kurt Lefteroff has been the President and CEO of Pacific Ridge, Inc. since 1994. The Pacific Ridge group of companies (including Targeted Alternatives Group, Secured Private Capital and Pacific Ridge Properties) invests in private equity, venture capital and commercial real estate. Mr. Lefteroff is a CPA and RPA and has served on several charity boards including The Cajun Foundation and the NAU Foundation. Mr. Lefteroff has received advanced degrees in business administration and international business.

Previous award winners 

2014/2015 award-winning essays:


2013/2014 awrd-winning essays:

2012/2013 award-winning essays: 

2011/2012 award-winning essays:  

2010/2011 award-winning essays:

2009/2010 award-winning essays:

2008/2009 award-winning essays: