skip to main content

Science major wins 2017 Steger Poetry Prize

May 9, 2017

Steger Poetry Prize Winners and Supporters
Steger Poetry Prize winners joined several of their champions following the awards ceremony, from left: Sarah McCliment, third-place winner; Donna Treacy, supporter; Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English; Aidan Kincaid, second-place winner; Janet Steger, supporter and wife of Charles W. Steger, president emeritus of Virginia Tech, who could not attend; Dennis Treacy, supporter; and Leilani Kassandra Padilla, first-place winner.

In a demonstration of the creative confluence of art and science, a microbiology major has won the 2017 Steger Poetry Prize.

Leilani Kassandra Padilla, of Los Angeles, a sophomore in the College of Science, was honored for her poem, “To My City of Lost Angels.”

Now in its 12th year, the annual poetry celebration is held every April during National Poetry Month. Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English, established the poetry competition for Virginia Tech undergraduates and named it for its first benefactor, Charles W. Steger, the university’s president at the time.

Steger helped turn the tables on the world-renowned poet when he and the organizers decided to declare the event the first annual “Nikki Giovanni Celebration of Poetry.”

This year’s competition garnered more than a hundred entries. Ten student finalists read their entries at the event, alternating with poems chosen and read by past and present Department of English faculty members. Reading the penultimate poem was last year’s first-place winner, Michaela Goldammer, of Blacksburg, a junior double majoring in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering and creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

As first-place winner, Padilla received $1,100, the largest monetary award of any university-sponsored poetry competition in the Western Hemisphere. Padilla also received a piece of handcrafted art by local jeweler Faith Capone. Known as “the Steger,” the artwork — a sterling-silver cylinder — has an inset magnifying glass to symbolize the power of poetry in enlarging our understanding of the world.

The $500 second-place prize was awarded to Aidan Kincaid, of Toano, Virginia, for his poem, “Nunya Cera alba, an ode.” Kincaid is a senior double majoring in creative writing and literature and language in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Sarah McCliment, of Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, a junior double majoring in creative writing and literature and language in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, won the third-place, $300 prize for her poem, “Cold Stream Dam.” She received an honorable mention in the 2015 Steger Poetry Prize contest.

In addition to the winners, seven students received honorable mentions:

  • Amelia Dirks, of Bloomington, Illinois, a senior double majoring in creative writing and literature and language in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “Pearson and Michigan”
  • Hannah Esmacher, of Woodbridge, Virginia, a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science, for “The Last Time You Tried to Kill Yourself, A Sestina”
  • Kelsi Faley, of Leesburg, Virginia, a senior double majoring in literature and language and creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “Silence”
  • Kirsten Jersild, of Norfolk, Virginia, a senior double majoring in literature and language and creative writing and dually enrolled as a master’s student in English education, all programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “Learning Religion”
  • Julia Lattimer, of Richmond, Virginia, a senior majoring in creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “The Dolls”
  • Alison Miller, of Arlington, Virginia, a junior triple majoring in creative writing, professional and technical writing, and literature and language (with a pre-law concentration) in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “Red Sea”
  • Haley Swoope, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, a first-year student majoring in multimedia journalism in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “from NASA with love"

The competition is administered by Giovanni; co-directed by Aileen Murphy, a senior instructor, and Joe Scallorns, an advanced instructor, both in the Department of English; and organized by the Steger Steering Committee, which includes, in addition to Murphy and Scallorns, Steven Critchfield, a 1980 graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Gilda Machin-Scarpaci, special events planner for the Virginia Tech Alumni Association; and Bernice Hausman, chair of the Department of English.

A panel of faculty members in the Department of English — including Giovanni, Elizabeth Bloomer, Virginia Fowler, Thomas Gardner, Lucinda Roy, Matthew Vollmer, and Gyorgyi Voros — judged the poetry.

Support for the awards and the first annual Nikki Giovanni Celebration of Poetry was provided by Donna and Dennis Treacy, Charles and Janet Steger, the Department of English, A.M. Squires Trust, and Union Bank.

Photos of Richard Mallory Allnutt

Steger Poetry Prize
Bernice Hausman (left), chair of the Department of English, waits for the ceremony to begin with Donna and Dennis Treacy, Steger Poetry Prize supporters. On the cover of the program they’re holding is artwork by P. Buckley Moss.
Steger Poetry Prize
Steger Poetry Prize winners, finalists, and supporters gathered around the poetry obelisk, which was made to honor Dennis and Donna Treacy and Charles and Janet Steger, principal supporters of the poetry prize and celebration. Pictured, from left, are Alison Miller, Amelia Dirks, Haley Swoope, Hannah Esmacher, Nikki Giovanni, Julia Lattimer, Janet Steger, Aidan Kincaid, Sarah McCliment, Leilani Kassandra Padilla, Dennis and Donna Treacy, Kirsten Jersild, and Kelsi Faley.
Steger Poetry Prize
Sarah McCliment, flanked by Nikki Giovanni and Janet Steger, won third place for her poem, “Cold Stream Dam.”
Steger Poetry Prize
Aidan Kincaid, second-place winner, read his poem, “Nunya Cera alba, an ode,” before the winners were announced.
Steger Poetry Prize
Leilani Kassandra Padilla won first place for her poem, “To My City of Lost Angels.”
Steger Poetry Prize
Leilani Kassandra Padilla, pictured with Nikki Giovanni and Janet Steger, holds “the Steger,” a sterling-silver cylinder with an inset magnifying glass, chosen to symbolize the power of poetry in enlarging our understanding of the world.
Steger Poetry Prize
Artist P. Buckley Moss, jeweler Faith Capone, and poet Nikki Giovanni stand in the Alumni Museum of the Holtzman Alumni Center with the poetry obelisk, which Capone designed.

Contact: