By Keith Whitcomb Jr.

BRANDON — A local man who organized an environmental film contest for local students is now hosting a writing competition, also with cash prizes.

Michael Shank, communications director for the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, adjunct faculty member at New York University Center for Global Affairs, and a volunteer at Neshobe Elementary School, said Thursday the contest is open to students attending Barstow Memorial School, Lothrop Elementary School, Neshobe Elementary School, Otter Creek Academy at Leicester, Sudbury and Whiting, and Otter Valley Union High School, as well as home school students in those areas. The deadline is Oct. 1

Shank said contestants should send 700- to 800-word essays that identify a local, regional, national or international problem, and propose a solution. Topics can include everything from the COVD-19 pandemic, to poverty and inequality. Contestants should email entries to

First place gets $500, second place is $250, and third place is $100. Shank is supplying the prizes from his personal funds, he said. He’s one of the judges but is looking for others to help. Essays are judged on clarity, coherence, problem definition, solution feasibility and scalability.

“I was inspired to do this for a couple of reasons,” Shank said Thursday. “One, I am just interested in doing whatever I can for Brandon, I don’t have any kids of my own, so I always look for opportunities to invest in the kids in the community and this seemed like a good opportunity to do it.”

As a professional writer himself, he knows how important writing and communicating are in the workplace and wanted to encourage local students to develop those skills.

“We’ve got a state that skews towards an older leadership, and we’re going to be looking to these students to lead us and the state going forward, and so to start incentivize problem-solving early could be helpful, and we’ve got plenty of problems around us, this year perhaps more with the pandemic, but also planetary crises and violence, inequality, poverty, plenty of topics in the state and also the country to focus on,” said Shank.

Visit for more details about the contest.

Shank said part of the reason he wanted to do this was to supplement what was done with the Brandon Environmental Film Competition, which launched last fall and this spring saw cash prizes awarded to local students with the winning films. Shank said he was supported in that effort by Hannah Fjeld, librarian at Neshobe Elementary School. He said he hasn’t spoken to the school about the writing contest, but plans to and hopes for its help in spreading the word about the contest.

Shank said students were able to use the library as a resource for their films. He’s planning for a second film competition, but its not clear how the pandemic will affect students’ ability to participate.