Winners of the 2020 Meyer-Beers Essay Contest

Congratulations to the three winners of the 2020 Meyer-Beers Essay Contest!

The Disability Health Research Center partnered with the JHSPH Mental Health Grad Network to host this year’s Meyer-Beers essay contest, which aimed to raise awareness about the high prevalence of mental health conditions and neurodiversity in academia and to crowdsource innovative solutions for supporting people with mental health conditions at Johns Hopkins. The contest is named in honor of Dr. Adolf Meyer and Clifford Beers, who were seminal figures in the Mental Hygiene movement nationally and played critical roles in establishing the Mental Hygiene program at Johns Hopkins.

We asked students to propose innovative and practical ideas for recruiting or retaining individuals with mental health conditions, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, or other forms of neurodiversity to a rigorous academic environment such as Johns Hopkins.

From among many excellent entries, we selected three winning essays. The winners will each receive a cash prize and have the opportunity to work with key stakeholders across the university to implement their ideas. Congratulations to Grace Steward, Sya Hugh, and an anonymous medical student for submitting winning entries!

Grace Steward, first place essay

headshot of a young woman with short reddish hair and an orange blouse

Grace Steward is a 3rd year Biomedical Engineering (BME) PhD Student in the School of Medicine. She researches the decision-making system of the human brain to understand how we value and allocate cognitive and physical effort and how this decision-making network is affected by Major Depressive Disorder.

Her research focus, like her essay, is inspired by her experience as a neurodivergent person in higher education and by her passion to improve life and treatment for those with disabilities and mental illnesses. She currently serves on the UHS Wellness Committee for the School of Medicine and as Vice President of the BME PhD Student Council. After completing her PhD, she plans to pursue a career in policy advising to continue shaping research and outcomes for neurodivergent persons.

 Essay: Integrating advisors into the support network 

Sya Hugh, runner-up

Headshot of a young woman with long, dark hair and a burgundy sweater

Sya Hugh is a senior undergraduate student majoring in Behavioral Biology and minoring in Psychology. Her passion for neurodiversity advocacy arose when she began working alongside a physical therapist who uses hippotherapy to improve gross motor skills, sensory processing, and other cognitive functions in autistic individuals. During her time at John Hopkins, she enrolled in a class about how the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis has evolved over time. She wrote, “Although the class delved into many topics, the issue that stuck with me was the lack of resources and accommodations in higher education. Even though higher education has progressed substantially over the years, the class read and discussed texts that suggest that academic ableism is still a prevalent issue … I hope that higher education, especially at Johns Hopkins, will someday reform in a way that the people who are deemed as ‘different’ can still prevail in academia. I strive to be one of the advocates that informs others about neurodiversity so that those with disabilities will no longer be the underrepresented minority that remains silent and forgotten.”

Essay: Course and community building centered around neurodiversity

Anonymous entry, runner-up

The winner of this essay is a third-year medical student who is passionate about student well-being and mental health. In this essay, he writes about an experience that is more common than one would expect in medical school: failure. After failing an exam during his first year of medical school, this student struggled to identify existing on-campus resources, which can include mental health supports, tutoring, or in some cases, financial support. He hopes that this essay will help others to realize that failing an exam can happen to anyone, even those who are in medical school. A key lesson to take away from this essay is to know when and how to obtain help, especially if your experience causes you to fall into a negative cycle, makes you think differently about yourself, or continues to affect your academic performance.

Essay: Establishing a safety net for medical students based on academic performance 

The Meyer-Beers essay contest is supported by the 2019 Ten by Twenty Challenge proposal titled, “Establishing the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Coalition” and by collaborators in the JHSPH Mental Health Grad Network, JHSPH Department of Mental Health, JHU Department of Psychiatry, JH SPARC, University Health Services (UHS) Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, and Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program (JHSAP).