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This year's best college essays

Dec. 21, 2012 - 12:43PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 21, 2012 - 12:43PM  |  
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For the third year, we asked readers to send us the essays they wrote for admission to college. On the line: a Dell "Switch" laptop from Purchasing Power. Here's the winning essay by Army veteran Anthony Timanus along with that of Navy daughter Jaclyn Blickley, who came in a close second.

FIRST PLACE: CAPT. ANTHONY TIMANUS, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD

Letter of intent to the University of Minnesota

Eleven years ago, I sat in an auditorium in San Antonio, Texas, surrounded by hundreds of young men and women. A tall and imposing older gentleman was standing on a stage at the front of the room welcoming us all into the United States Army Medical Department. I remember thinking to myself, "How did I get to this point in my life? I've never had an interest in medicine and I hate going into hospitals." When I decided to seek a commission in the Army, I knew I wanted to fly helicopters. My recruiter told me to request aviation, but to also ask for the medical corps because they had evacuation helicopters. I was devastated when I found out that I had been selected to serve in the medical department. What I did not realize at the time was that joining the medical corps would open up a new passion and world of possibilities for me.

Over the next decade, I fell in love with medicine and the planning of treatment. I worked with multiple combat support hospitals in Iraq over three deployments and was responsible for ensuring that they could move all classes of medical supplies and people around the battlefield. The use of roads was extremely dangerous at the time, so our medical helicopters, which were designed for patient movement, were also to be utilized to move medical supplies and providers hundreds of miles. It allowed me to see every aspect of patient care from the point of injury to rehabilitation. I began to spend less and less time in the cockpit of a UH-60 Blackhawk and more and more time in the operations center of the hospital.

In 2009, I was selected to be an instructor at the Army Medical Department Center and School. This allowed me to take my practical knowledge of how I had seen medical services delivered and share it with more than a thousand students a year. I taught students from all aspects of medicine: doctors, nurses, physical therapists, veterinarians, lab officers, pharmacists, logisticians and other aviators. I showed them what their place was in the overall medical footprint and how to develop that footprint in the future. This experience allowed me not only to share what I had learned, but also an opportunity to learn from others. It also gave me the time to study the doctrine and learn some of the research involved in why we were doing things a certain way.

After 10 wonderful years in the Army, my wife said no more deployments, and I sought a civilian position in her hometown of Gregory, S.D. I have now been working as the administrator of the hospital and nursing home for more than a year, and it has been a great experience. I have tried to apply the principles and values to this organization that I learned in federal service, but I know in my heart that a key piece of my management potential is missing.

I feel that the development of a truly effective administrator is built on three key components: character, experience and education. The first, and maybe the most important, is character. A person's values and beliefs shape who they are as a manager. If the administrator is weak in this area, no amount of experience or education will allow them to be effective long-term. Eventually, people will realize what kind of person they are, and their ability to lead and manage will be severely compromised. I feel that I have nurtured a sense of self and character that will allow me to succeed in this position.

The second component of the trinity is experience. I know that I have quite a ways to go in this area, but I also feel that I have developed a strong foundation on which to draw in my decision-making. The aspect of my leadership will continue to grow as I work day to day in my current position.

The last component that a truly effective manager must have is the education to draw from. This is the reason I am applying to your Executive MHA program. When I was an instructor, I had many students who had incredible amounts of experience in medicine, but their formal academic training was almost nonexistent. They knew what to do in almost any situation, but they had no idea why that was the right thing to do. It was almost computerlike in that they responded to any decision with what had worked before and did not have the ability to develop new solutions based on other people's experience.

I know how to run a hospital, and I think I do a good job of it. I also know that I could be a much more effective manager if I had the higher academic knowledge on which to base my decisions. Please consider my application for your program so that I can work to make this small-town rural hospital the best it can be. The folks who work for me deserve the best leader that they can get, and your program will help me to achieve that goal. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

According to the judges

"Articulating how the education you seek will make a difference in the world around you is a key factor in selecting students for particular programs. Mr. Timanus concluded his essay with a clear request: ‘The folks that work for me deserve the best leader that they can get, and your program will help me to achieve that goal.' While his essay was very "military" with lots of structure and references to his military experience, this final sentence provided a great summary as to why he is seeking admission to the program. Making clear why you are seeking admission to a particular program and how you intend to give back to your community is an essential element in any essay."

— Brett Morris, director of admissions, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Ky.

"His dedication to his field and desire to obtain more education to be more effective came through in his essay."

— D'Youville College, Buffalo, N.Y., director of international admissions and retired Navy officer Ronald H. Dannecker; D. John Bray, director of public relations; and Cher Ravenell, director of publications

"Anthony Timanus' essay stood out because it brought the reader on a journey starting with a young, newly commissioned soldier and ending with a mature adult who has had significant life experience, but would still like to sharpen his skills and grow as a manager and leader. This essay is well written and organized and offered interesting perspective on medical administration. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions and insight on the medical footprint."

— Amanda R. Dale, assistant director of undergraduate admissions, University of South Florida, Tampa, Fla.

SECOND PLACE: JACLYN BLICKLEY, NAVY DAUGHTER

Admissions essay submitted to New York University

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

When my dad took his oath, so did my entire family. As the daughter of a Navy pilot, there is no way around the emotional rollercoaster of having to say goodbye to my dad again and again. As a military child, special moments are not quite as special when you replace your dad with a video camera. Regardless of how often you tell yourself that the world is a better and safer place because of the work he is doing while he is deployed, the separation never gets easier. My personality, my drive and my ideas on importance of community have been shaped by my experiences as a military child.

Since I was little, I have known that my dad wasn't around because he was at work on the ship. Home videos we have are of me as young as two saying, "Hi, daddy" repeatedly into a video camera. He missed my first steps, my first loose tooth, and my first day of kindergarten. These moments could not be relived for him when he got home. Although my experience as a military child is not unique, it has shaped me into a stronger person. I feel more mature and able to handle difficult life situations than my peers. I have grown to be independent and don't feel the need to rely on others to help through tough times. While we endured long deployments, I helped my mom care for my younger sister and brother, watching her not only be a mom, but also fill in for my dad. This helped to teach me how to prioritize and set goals. My mom and dad taught me the importance of being well rounded. Being a military child means that nothing is guaranteed, so setting goals and always having a plan is mandatory.

The desire to succeed comes naturally to me, but I was always taught that you had to work in order to reach your goals and succeed. My dad entered the military as an E-1, the lowest rank, but worked tirelessly to become an officer. He also worked to receive his bachelor's and master's degrees while in the military. The example my dad has set for me inspires me always to work hard and push to succeed.

I have also seen firsthand the importance of being a well-rounded person and devoting myself not only to my work, but also to my community. To be a military child means to learn to appreciate the community you have and the time you are given. We are all going through life together, and it is important to me to help and support others.

Although my childhood has been difficult at times, I wouldn't trade it for the world. Without these childhood experiences, I would not be nearly as hardworking, not nearly as brave and not nearly as strong as I am today. µ

According to the judges

"Ms. Blickley's essay brings forward nicely the reality of the life of a military child. She further explores what the impact of being a military child has had on her as a person and what it means. [She] reminds us that being a military child does help build self-reliance and a sense of community that will ensure she will succeed in whatever she attempts to do with her life."

— Morris

"Her life experience and character were well-expressed and her desire to use her dad's experience in higher education as a model for her is strong."

— D'Youville judges

"I appreciated her thoughtful examination and reflection on growing up in the military and on her father. ... Through a melancholy tone, the reader can see the pride in her experience and how it has prepared her to work hard and succeed."

— Dale

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