HUNTINGTON – Sophia D. Mills, a sophomore from Proctorville, Ohio, took first place in the sixth annual Dan O’Hanlon Essay Competition at Marshall University.
The results of the competition were announced during a brief ceremony Monday evening in the John Marshall Dining Room in the Memorial Student Center on MU’s Huntington campus.
Mills will receive $1,000 for her winning essay, which is titled “A Step Too Far: Protecting Privacy in a Digital Age.”
Olivia Milam of Spanishburg, W.Va., took second place and will receive $500 for her essay, which is titled “The NSA’s Bulk Metadata Program and the Fourth Amendment: Holding True to the Spirit of the Constitution in the Face of Technology.”
Milam, who already has earned bachelor’s degrees in History and Philosophy, is enrolled in the College of Information Technology and Engineering’s Computer Science program.
This year’s question, titled “Edward Snowden, Counter-terrorism and the National Security Agency: Does the Government’s Collection of Telephone Metadata Violate Our Fourth Amendment Rights? The Courts Do Not Agree,” focused on the constitutional implications of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance and data gathering practices.
Contestants were asked to analyze conflicting decisions on the topic by federal judges in the Southern District of New York and the District of Columbia and explain which judge’s rationale they found to be the strongest and why. They also did additional research to support their conclusions.
Mills said she entered the contest because she is “really interested in writing and political science.” She admits the topic was difficult.
“At first when I was reading the decisions, I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t know if I can finish this,’ ” Mills said, “because each one was about 50 pages. But, once I got into it, I was really interested and I learned a lot and I wanted to finish it.”
She said she is “really honored’ to have placed first in the contest. “I thought this was a good chance to put those two things (writing and political science) together and do something that might get some recognition,” Mills said.
Milam said she entered the contest because of her major – computer science.
“We’re learning the skills to do these kinds of things,” she said. “We kind of need to know where they fit in, where the trends are going, so we’ll know in the future what to do.”
She agreed with Mills that the topic wasn’t easy.
“It was difficult,” Milam said. “You had to have a lot of background knowledge and you had to really understand the opinions, and you had to capsulize the opinions. It was pretty difficult.”
The competition was established in 2009, after an anonymous donor requested that Marshall find a way to promote scholarship related to the Constitution and simultaneously honor retired Cabell Circuit Judge Dan O’Hanlon. Prior to his long career on the bench, O’Hanlon served as a professor and chair of the Marshall University Criminal Justice Department.
The contest is now administered by the Simon Perry Center for Constitutional Democracy. The full text of the essay question can be found by visiting www.marshall.edu/spc.