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NTCC Scholars win Cunningham Conceptualization Contest


By: Dr. Andrew Yox, Honors Director

For over ten years in the “BioTex” seminar at NTCC, honors students have experienced a November “email shootout.” This is something like a cross between an ongoing basketball game with scores changing in real time, and a fast-paced, scholarly-poetic thinkathon.  The course challenges students to conceptualize the elements of their Texas history research essays, to utilize crossover “analogs, (terms)” particularly from biology and other scientific fields, and to provide terse definitions of newly minted concepts.

This year, Vanessajane Bayna (pictured) from Mount Pleasant bested all others, winning $50. She coined and defined an interrelated conceptual field for her


research on the encroaching creep of toxicity in Texas. According to Bayna, even liberal leaders of the “soporific state,” such as Lyndon Johnson, and Senator Ralph Yarbrough maintained a “utopian hallucination.” They believed that oil could power the social programs of the Great Society, without having a negative impact. They sued and censured the oil companies but also accepted their cup of wrath—their “chalice of chemicals,” for their own ends. Luke McCraw, the film scholar of the work on the “Traveling Preachers of Early Texas,” won $30 and came in second. His thesis of “imitation idealism” helps to explain how traveling preachers, without money, proper denominational support, or theological perspicacity broke through the “pine-tree curtain” into the emergent “secular state” of Texas before 1836. “Imitation” which began with an admiration for the “maternal blessing” of Christian mothers, passed on to an emulation of major revivalists such as John Wesley.

In the team competition, Bayna’s team came in first, and thus other members, Alison Majors, Morgan Thrapp, and Jose Trejo won $10 each.

other winners
Thrapp, Trejo, Majors, and Bayna

Honors Director and Texas history professor Dr. Andrew Yox notes that “conceptualization is the key to writing an alluring, coherent essay, animated by a creative argument.  It also is the key to writing conference-accepting abstracts. Our students do this well, and there are many more we could mention not only in the honors seminar, but in non-honors sections of history where a state-mandated goal is to form a “creative argument.” At the same time, I am very excited about the conceptualized essays Bayna, McCraw, Majors, Thrapp and Trejo are developing.”

Bayna, a Presidential Scholar, graduated fifth in the 2023 class of Mount Pleasant.  McCraw entered honors last spring, and was homeschooled in Franklin County.  Majors and Trejo also graduated with Bayna at Mount Pleasant, and Thrapp is a 2023 graduate of Chapel Hill.

The Cunningham Conceptualization Awards receive their name from Emmalea (Shaw) Cunningham who as a Presidential Scholar won a Guistwhite Award, and published the essay, “Blind to Brown,” the story of how Northeast Texas came to accept federal mandates to integrate their schools in the 1970s.  It was also a highly conceptualized, award-winning article. Cunningham also became the first NTCC honors alumni to donate a significant amount to Honors Northeast. After receiving her doctorate, Emmalea is now a licensed therapist, married and expecting, living north of Austin.

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