DCTC Writing Challenge 2024 Winners

Mads McPhee takes first place with “Finding Safety”

The results are in for the DCTC Writing Challenge 2024! Sponsored by the DCTC Bookstore and 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 more than a dozen stories and essays.

Mads McPhee, Individualized Studies major, took first place with their work, “Finding Safety.” Maddie Beytien, completing nursing prerequisites, took second place with her work, “Working in a Hospital.” Nadia Poitra, Business Administration major and Blue Knights softball player, took third place with her work, “Nookomis.”

Mads will receive a $600 scholarship award for their first-place finish plus a $50 voucher from the DCTC Bookstore. Maddie will receive a $300 award plus a $40 voucher. Nadia will receive a $100 award plus a $30 voucher.

“The Reincarnation of a Dead Soul” by Gregory Gbee and “Sophia and Noah” by Jahlaya Cockerham received honorable mention recognition.

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.

Writer spotlight: Mads McPhee

Mads McPhee

“Finding Safety”
1st Prize DCTC Writing Challenge 2024
$600 scholarship + $50 DCTC Bookstore voucher

Age: 23
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Como Park Senior High freshman–junior years, Wayzata High School, Class of 2019
Major and degree earning at DCTC: Individualized Studies and eventually Veterinary Technician
Extracurricular activities and clubs at DCTC: TRIO Student Support Services
DCTC graduation date: Unsure!
Transfer plans after DCTC: Also unsure!
Career plans: Ideally, veterinary technician part-time and writer part-time

Three words that describe you as a writer:

Mads McPhee Q&A

What do you like most about writing?
I enjoy creating scenes. I don’t have the ability to visualize pictures in my mind, so it’s always a challenge to paint a picture, so to speak, which makes it even more rewarding when I can convey what someone might be “seeing” in their mind.

Who is your favorite writer and why?
Tolkien. Really only because I take a lot of my inspiration for creating settings from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I grew up with the movies and memorabilia, but as a neurodivergent child with a minuscule attention span, I didn’t learn how to appreciate books until I was an adult.

What is your top goal as a writer?
Publish a novel series. The nonfiction personal narrative style is actually a major departure from what I typically write. I tend to stray more towards fiction with fantastical or sci-fi elements. I submitted “Finding Safety” at the encouragement of Brett Kolles [DCTC English faculty]. It was originally written as an assignment for his Composition class.

“Finding Safety” excerpt

“Well, it sounds like you’ve had a rough week.”

“I guess…It’s not every day that you have to call the police on your drunk mother forty-five minutes away from home because she’s drunk and you’re sick of putting up with it.”

I gave her a sarcastic smile, attempting to hide the vitriol I felt for her nothing comment to what would be the most traumatic event of my sixteenth year.

“No, I guess not.” She returned the smile, oblivious to her skyscraper of a mistake. “Well, I think you already know this, but I can’t recommend you are alone with your mother anymore.”

Not alone with my mother? It was just her and me in our house. She had kicked Dad out a few years earlier. When he got sober and turned into the alcoholic, she sent my younger brother to live with him. It’s a bit easier to uproot and relocate an 8-year-old than a 15-year-old.

“But…where am I supposed to go?”

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Writer spotlight: Maddie Beytien

Maddie Beytein

“Working in a Hospital”
2nd Prize 2024 DCTC Writing Challenge
$300 scholarship + $40 DCTC Bookstore voucher

Age: 22
Hometown: Faribault, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Discovery Public School Faribault, Class of 2020
Major and degree earning at DCTC: Completing nursing prerequisites
Transfer plans after DCTC: Inver Hills Community College Nursing program
Career plans: Nursing
Other degrees, diplomas, and/or certificates: Phlebotomy certification; has worked as a phlebotomist for three years

Three words that describe you as a writer:

Maddie Beytien Q & A

What do you like most about writing?
What I like most about writing is the creative freedom to let my imagination run wild. I’ve been told I have a pretty big imagination, so when I’m writing or reading, reality blends and a cinematic version of what I want to write starts playing.

It allows for a lot of inspiration, allowing me to create more characters and story plots. Writing also gives me a reason to stay in my home, under a blanket with my cat and dog, and not interact with people. I also like dad jokes.

Who is your favorite writer and why?
My favorite writers would have to be either Sarah J. Maas or Marissa Meyer. I like the storylines and characters they built.

What is your top goal as a writer?
I mainly write for enjoyment, so thinking of this next question was a bit challenging. I think someday I’d love to write a book people like, but that means I have to be a little less chaotic in my writing style.

“Working in a Hospital” excerpt

My brother had epilepsy and was recently out of rehab for a drug addiction he had been fighting for many years. He had just graduated from the program a week prior. We never had the greatest relationship when I was young. We were stereotypical siblings that couldn’t stand each other. This went on into our late teen years. My mother would always be yelling at us to stop the constant bickering by saying how we would someday need each other when my mother would pass one day.

The nurses quickly pulled me into another room, one of the nurses being a mom of a kid my brother would play hockey with. She sat with me through everything. She helped me call my mom and tell her to meet me at Abbot up in Minneapolis, where my brother would instantly be transferred to.

Once my brother was transferred to Abbot Northwestern, I stayed in the visitors’ lounge with my mother who had just been told to call my sister, our father, any family we had left to come and say goodbye. Late evening turned into early morning, turned into late 50 afternoon. I never left my mom’s side as she would sob into my shoulder, talking with my sister and the hospital advocacy staff on organ donation.

When first approached with the option of organ donation, my mother and sister were against it, due to the high emotion of the situation. After the donation representative came in and talked to my mother and sister, she presented it as giving the gift of life to others in need. My mom agreed to organ donation, knowing it was something my brother would want.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Writer spotlight: Nadia Poitra

Nadia Poitra

3rd Prize DCTC Writing Challenge 2024
$100 scholarship + $30 DCTC Bookstore voucher

Age: 19
Hometown: Cottage Grove, Minnesota
High school and year graduated: Woodbury High School, Class of 2023
Major and degree earning at DCTC: Business Administration A.S
Extracurricular activities and clubs at DCTC: Blue Knights NJCAA Softball, 1B
DCTC graduation date: May 2025
Transfer plans after DCTC: Transferring, but not sure where; plans on majoring in Spanish and minoring in Native American Studies
Career plans: Unsure, but hopes to work in the indigenous community

Four words that describe you as a writer:

Nadia Poitra  Q & A

What do you like most about writing?
My favorite thing about writing is how honest I can be. When I write, I can be completely honest with myself and others. It allows me to say the things that I might not be ready to say out loud. It’s able to give me a point of view that I maybe haven’t thought of before, and it gives me a feeling of freedom; it takes a weight off my shoulders.

Who is your favorite writer and why?
My favorite writer would have to be Emily Dickinson—a lot of her writing really resonates with me, and my favorite form of writing would have to be poetry as well. Her poetry is something I will always be able to connect with. She was someone I really connected with in my early teens, when I struggled with my mental health; I felt really seen with the way she talked about death, friendships, and love.

When I reread certain poems, it reminds me of how far I have come with my mental health. My two favorite poems of Dickinson would have to be “It was not Death, for I stood up” and “Because I could not stop for Death.”

What is your top goal as a writer?
I don’t have any goals as a writer—it’s more of something I do in my free time because I love it. I have been told in the past that writing is something I should consider pursuing, but it’s never seemed like something realistic to follow because I really struggle with what I should write about.

I would love to write a book about mental health, and I have thought about the plot and how it would play out, but I really struggle with writing longer stories.

¹ Nookomis is Ojibwe and translates as “grandmother.” Nadia’s story is in honor of her grandmother and everything she has accomplished.

“Nookomis” excerpt

My grandmother, Betty Rae Poitra, was sent to a residential school at the age of nine. The first boarding school was established in the 1620s by the Récollets, a French order in New France, and later the Jesuits and the female order the Ursulines.

This form of schooling lasts until the 1680s. Residential schools were religious schools that were funded by the federal government and run by churches to assimilate Indigenous children into western culture. They operated from the 1880s to the 1990s, but their origins can be traced back to the 1830s.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and American Indian children were taken from their families and communities and often relocated far from their homes. They were forbidden to acknowledge their Indigenous heritage and culture or to speak their own languages, and they faced severe physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. They received inappropriate education that focused on prayer and manual labor.

Residential schools systematically undermined Indigenous cultures and disrupted families for generations, causing a loss of language and culture, a lack of nurturing family life, and a form of genocide.

One word that best describes your experience at DCTC:


Judge perspectives

“This year’s stories reflect the diversity of the DCTC student body, and I think this is incredibly important. It was a pleasure to read and discuss the submissions because they express insight and meaning.”
Wes Jorde
Philosophy Faculty
Dakota County Technical College

“I enjoyed reading the submissions this year. The stories were unique and engaging.”
Joe Campbell
English Faculty
Dakota County Technical College

“We had a solid collection of essays and stories this year. Each submission had its own distinguishing style and voice. As usual, choosing the winners was no easy task.”
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:

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