DCTC Student Writing Competition 2023

Effie Mairura takes first place with “Moonlight Tears”

The results are in for the DCTC Student Writing Competition 2023! Sponsored by Jim Kosmo, award-winning author, the DCTC Bookstore, and the Creative Arts and Writing Club, the competition was open to all current students at Dakota County Technical College.

Challenged to write a 500–3,000-word fiction or nonfiction work showing self-growth, DCTC students submitted nearly 30 stories and essays.

  1. Effie Mairura, Individualized Studies major, took first place with her work, “Moonlight Tears.”
  2. James Longhenry, MnTC student, took second place with his work, “A New Respect for Nature.”
  3. Joseph Robertson, Vet Tech major, took third place with his work, “The beginning.”

Effie will receive a $600 award for her first-place finish plus a $50 voucher from the DCTC Bookstore. James will receive a $250 award plus a $40 voucher. Joseph will receive a $100 award plus a $30 voucher.

The competition was judged by Wes Jorde, philosophy faculty, Joe Campbell, English faculty, and Chris Hayes, senior writer and photographer, DCTC and Inver Hills Strategic Marketing and Communications.

More about Jim Kosmo…

Jim Kosmo

Jim Kosmo, author of Monsters in the Hallway and Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel, is a retired riverboat captain. Jim has won 16 national literary awards and was recognized twice as a national editor of the year.

During his writing career, Jim served as a USAF military journalist, Las Vegas crime reporter, and managing editor of Minneapolis-St. Paul suburban newspapers.

He also worked as a PR executive with Campbell Mithun, Twin Cities Metro Transit, and the American Medical Association (AMA). Jim joined the family business, Padelford Riverboats, as president in 1980.

Learn more about Jim by visiting his website: Jim Kosmo.

Writing Competition Honorable Mention

“Am I Where” by Henry Swaray
“Who I Am, and Who I Ought to Be” by Amanda Speldrick
“Thoughts of a Struggling Writer” by Hayden Vanzuilen
“Hidden Celebrity” by Kathy Bertram
“Summer to Remember” by Nicole Olsen
“Madame” by Alexis Egan

Writer Spotlight: Effie Mairura

Effie Mairura

Age: 19
Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya
Current residence: Farmington, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Apple Valley, Class of 2021
Major and degree earning at DCTC: Individualized Studies
Extracurricular activities and clubs at DCTC: Multicultural Student Leadership Association (MSLA), Student Senate
Education plans after DCTC: Transferring to four-year university, then attending law school
Career plans: Becoming a lawyer
Job while going to college: Works occasionally as a student ambassador
Pastimes and hobbies: Loves to read, cook, and spend time with her family and close friends; also loves taking walks right before the sun sets
Family (including pets): Parents, Richard and Agnes; sisters Gloria, June, Daisy, and Becky (Effie is the youngest); two nieces, Debbie Moraa and Imani

Three words that describe you as a writer:

Effie Mairura Q & A

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

The first few sentences; for me, the first few sentences or paragraphs set the tone and the setting, and laying that out is the most exciting part.

How do you define your success as a writer?

I define my success by my satisfaction with whatever I’m writing and the impact it may have on people. If I am happy with my work and I can move somebody through it, then I consider it successful.

That doesn’t include academic writing assignments, though. With that, the grade I get is my determinant for the piece’s success.

What advice would you give students who would like to improve their writing skills?

The advice I would give to people trying to improve their writing skills is read a lot and write a lot.

Where do you hope to find yourself as a writer in 20 years?

In 20 years, I hope to be utilizing my writing skills daily in my career. It has also always been a lifelong dream of mine to publish a memoir; starting to write it is something I can see myself doing 20 years from now.

Excerpt from “Moonlight Tears”

“Moonlight Tears” by Effie Mairura

His mother seemed to hate emotion. “It’s unbecoming of an artist. Nobody comes to the symphony to see a pianist cry. You must maintain control. You never lose composure. The instrument is made of wood, ivory, and wire. It is cold and dry. To master it, you must be the same.”

And so he had become. Laughter became rare. The beatings elicited only clenched teeth. He learned to play with shuttered eyes; fused to the bench, fingers one with the ivory. And he never cried.

His eyes had been dry for 17 years. Neither sorrow nor joy could bring tears tumbling down his cheeks. When he’d been given his MacArthur grant, he simply smiled politely and whispered “thank-you” to the crowd of congratulatory colleagues thronging about.

When he’d finally been invited to join the Chicago Philharmonic, he had simply responded with a quiet “very good.”

When he  found his mother, cold and pale, in a tub of tepid, ruby-stained water, he had felt only a pang of morbid curiosity.

How was it that even in death his mother looked neutral? She left no note. No words of longing or anger for his estranged father. No depressed musings on the tragedy of her futile existence. No cries of forgiveness for the merciless beatings.

Nobody comes to the symphony to read a suicide note, he supposed.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Writer Spotlight: James Longhenry

James Longhenry

Age: 32
Hometown:  Luck, Wisconsin
Current residence: Farmington, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Luck, Class of 2009
Major and degree earning at DCTC:  Using the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum (MnTC) to transfer credits to Metropolitan State University to earn a business degree
Career plans: Become an executive in the behavioral health field
Job while going to college: Works 40–60 hours a week as a marketing and business development rep with Meridian Behavioral Health
Pastimes and hobbies: Loves football, hiking, traveling with his wife, fishing, and yard work; “I know, sounds lame,” James said, “but there’s nothing more gratifying than having a clean and tidy yard.”
Family (including pets): Wife, Mariah, and their dog, Luna; “We bought a home in Farmington about a year and a half ago,” James said. “We are one mile from my brother, Dylan, and sister-in-law, Brittany, and their two beautiful kids, Evie and Parker. “My mother-in-law lives in Hastings, Minnesota, and we have family dinners with all of us every Sunday. My stepmother lives in the Wisconsin Dells and takes care of her father. She is a high school special needs teacher in Mauston, Wisconsin, and has been my rock throughout my life.”

Three words that describe you as a writer:

James Longhenry Q & A

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I like putting a draft together. Writing down every thought that comes to mind without thinking about anything else other than the subject. It’s a good way to escape all the noise for a little while.

How do you define your success as a writer?

My success comes completely from my stepmother. She was an English major in college and has always been a great influence. She taught me two great lessons, always proofread beyond what you think is necessary, and always have a third party review your work before submitting a final draft.

What advice would you give students who would like to improve their writing skills?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. When feeling stuck, I just start writing what is in my head. Even if a lot of it is simply nonsense, getting the ideas out on paper is half the battle.

Where do you hope to find yourself as a writer in 20 years?

I actually haven’t thought that far ahead. My wife and I usually take things a few months at a time—sometimes a week or a day at a time when things are tough. Our next plan is to have children. The way I see it, God has blessed me in this life so I will continue to take the good and the bad as it comes, keep my loved ones close to my heart, and try to always do the next right thing.

Excerpt from “A New Respect for Nature”

“A New Respect for Nature” by James Longhenry

I was beginning down the second set of stairs as they continued to creek, one after another, sometimes matching tone and pitch with the music provided by the birds amongst the branches above. I reached the final step before the second platform when a different sensation joined in on the hyperactivity that was filling my senses.

With one foot on the second platform and the other still lingering on the last step, I felt a subtle shake coming from the lumber under my feet. My trailing foot joined its companion on the platform and there I stood, frozen. The shake continued to grow stronger under my feet. Along with the vibrations came the sound of what resembled a steady drum beat on the ground; boom, boom, boom, boom…

At this point, I was catatonic by both fear and curiosity. “What could be causing this?” I thought to myself. “Is it a small earthquake?” As a young teen, I recalled the many hours of National Geographic and Animal Planet I absorbed into my brain on weekends and remember hearing about small earthquakes being common in Alaska but had no firsthand experience with one. Fight or flight kicked in. I was about to turn around to sprint back to the safety of the house when another new sound joined in on nature’s chorus.

I heard branches breaking and brush rubbing up against something as it drew nearer. It brought me back to hunting and experiencing the sound of a deer as it nonchalantly wandered through the thickness of woods until reaching a clearing, only this was much larger, and sounded as though it was heading directly at me.

I started to see patches of a dark brown color showing themselves briefly through openings in the branches between my eyes and the riverbed. The brown patches grew larger and became closer and closer traveling along the river side that was only twenty yards from me. The glimpses of brown patches came together at a clearing and formed into the largest animal I have ever seen in the wild. It was a full-grown female moose.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


¹ “I am relieved I was able to take four classes and succeed in them after not having any formal courses for 14 years.”

Writer Spotlight: Joseph Robertson

Joseph Robertson

Hometown: Saint Paul, Minnesota
Current residence: Saint Paul, Minnesota
High school: Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists (SPCPA)
Major and degree earning at DCTC: Veterinary Technician
DCTC planned graduation date: 2025
Career plans: Vet tech
Job while going to college: Works about 40 hours a week as a kennel assistant at Skadron Animal Hospital
Pastimes and hobbies: Church, pickup basketball, collecting records, and playing video games
Family (including pets): Mom, dad, three sisters, and two cats

Three words that describe you as a writer:

Joseph Robertson Q & A

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

My favorite part of the writing process is the peer review. I like when I finish a rough draft believing that I’ve done everything I could do and being told during the review of the many things I could improve upon to present the best possible product.

How do you define your success as a writer?

I define my success as a writer on the emotional feelings that my passages inspire.

What advice would you give students who would like to improve their writing skills?

Understand the requirements and do each of the requirements, but don’t lose sight of your creative integrity. Write something that you’re happy with even if that means you’re just happy that the requirements were met. Writing shouldn’t be begrudging or stressful it should be a free flowing process of creativity.

Where do you hope to find yourself as a writer in 20 years?

I hope that I can write something that matters. Not what I think matters, but something that actually helps society, something that inspires and informs.

Excerpt from “The beginning”

“The beginning” by Joseph Robertson

I feel a deep sense of sadness and fear. A sinking pit in my chest starts to form as I listen to my peers talk about what they’re going to do for college and what career they’re going to pursue, because I knew that I couldn’t join in those conversations not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t.

Growing up I had one goal and one dream and that was to make the NFL. It’s all I ever wanted, it’s all I thought I could do. Growing up where I came from there were limited examples to try to live by. You were either into sports, rapping, or in the streets. Anything else seemed impossible and out of reach. One too many injuries coupled with my parents fear of concussions and my overall loss of love for the sport led me entering high school feeling lost and confused. My main goal, what I always told people that I wanted to do growing up and what I spent my entire adolescent life preparing for, was gone.

So as I went through high school I never really thought about what I wanted to do outside of high school. I was just so focused on graduating and figuring the future out later. Later in the day as I sit in my counselor’s office, she asks, “What do you want to do?”

I panic, trying to reach through every crevice of my brain for an answer. I finally blurt out what I thought she wanted to hear, “I want to be a sports writer,” which isn’t out of the realm of things I wanted to do, but I know deep down that I don’t have a passion for it.”

After I told her this she was elated to say the least, giving me a list of schools I could attend, courses I could take, and people to talk to within that field.

Leaving her office, I feel a sense of anger, not at my counselor, but at myself. Thinking to myself: “Why am I not passionate about anything?” and “Why can’t I settle down on one thing to do for the rest of my life?” and  “Why did I not start thinking about this earlier?”

As the day went on and school finally let out, I go home, lay on my bed, and stare at the ceiling feeling lost and confused. That’s when a call from my grandma/pastor comes through my phone.

“Odd,” I say out loud, “she never calls unless it’s something important or if she wants to discuss a scripture with me.”

I answer and we talk for a little while the usual “Hey, how are you?” and a few minutes into the conversation once we get past the cordial greeting stuff, she asks me the big question: “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO FOR COLLEGE?”

A wave of chill sweeps over me as I become mute, unable to speak. My palms begin to sweat out of anxiousness

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Judge perspectives

“Reading this year’s entries for the contest was a pleasure. I so enjoy meaningful descriptions of experiences of life. Judging was difficult because each submission had unique strengths.”
Wes Jorde
Philosophy Faculty
Dakota County Technical College

“The writing contest submissions this year were a pleasure to read. There are so many genuinely talented student writers with rich and engaging stories to tell. Submitting your writing can be daunting, so thank you to all of you who put your stories out there to be considered.”
Joe Campbell
English Faculty
Dakota County Technical College

“All the stories and essays were great fun to read. If you love writing, never be discouraged and never stop writing. Remember: not all students are writers, but all writers are students.”
Chris Hayes
Senior Writer and Photographer
Strategic Marketing and Communications
Dakota County Technical College and Inver Hills Community College

Learn more about taking English and Philosophy courses at DCTC by contacting:

Room 2-110