Dr. Cynthia Jones, director of PACE and associate professor of history and philosophy, said the idea of the essay contest was initiated by the donor who approached her office with an interest in getting kids to read the Constitution and learn more about it. After much discussion, PACE developed the requirements and rules for the Constitutional Essay Contest. She said this competition is unique because it provides a four-year renewable scholarship opportunity to students.
"We're interested in getting kids to read the Constitution and learn more about it. Basically, we want to raise their awareness," said Jones. "We want them to learn that the constitution is more than just a legal document; it also makes moral claims about rights."
Student essays must be original, submitted no later than January 31, and address the topic and target the central question of, "Is the U.S Constitution manipulable, subject to reinterpretation based on modern concepts, or is it meant to be essentially immutable, defining a permanent relationship between government and citizen?" Essays must also be a minimum of 1,000 to a maximum of 1,250 words.
A panel of three UTPA professors and two local professionals will judge the essays and select the top 15-20 finalists. Those students who are notified must be prepared to defend their essays to the panel of judges and answer questions on the U.S. Constitution in February or March 2011. Based on the students' essays and answers, the top 10 finalists will be invited to an awards banquet in April, where they will be recognized in the presence of University officials, the scholarship sponsor and their families; and the top three winners will be announced.
All 10 finalists will receive laptop computers. The first place winner will receive a full scholarship to UTPA, valued at $22,500; second place will receive a $10,000 scholarship and third place will get a $5,000 scholarship to UTPA.
"In addition to encouraging students to think carefully about what values the Constitution embodies, we want to encourage students to attend UTPA to broaden their knowledge and understanding of contemporary debates, like those surrounding the reading of the Constitution," said Jones.
Students can find a copy of the Constitution and submit their essays at the PACE office's website.
For more information, contact Jones at (956) 665-8081.