Students take home top awards in national literary competition 

MESA, Ariz. – Oct. 30, 2019 – Mesa Community College students Valerie Neal and Alex Dodt, earn two of the top four awards at a national literary competition sponsored by the League for Innovation in the Community College, an international nonprofit organization with a mission to cultivate innovation in the community college environment. The competition included 51 literary works from students at League colleges.

The students’ work was submitted to the national League competition, along with other first-place Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) Creative Writing Competition winners from all 10 Maricopa Community Colleges and adjudicated by national judges in the categories of essay, fiction, one-act plays and poetry.

League winners receive a Certificate of National Merit, a $500 award from the League for Innovation and will be published in the League's Student Literary Competition publication. Dodt received his honors during the Oct. 23 MCCCD Governing Board Meeting, Neal was unable to attend.

Valerie Neal Valerie Neal
Neal’s essay, “Minding Mother,” captured first place in the personal essay/nonfiction category. She attended MCC in the 1970s and went on to complete her degree in occupational therapy. She moved to India in 1991 to meet the Dalai Lama and study Buddhism and stayed for 20 years. She returned to Mesa to care for her aging mother in 2011 and completed the Creative Writing Certificate Program at MCC last fall.

“I feel excited, grateful and proud that the judges found this story worthy,” Neal said. “It is especially meaningful to me as it is a personal story of caring for my mom through ALS [Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis]. Narrowing down the experiences into 2,500 words was a challenge, but it in the end it helped me to siphon compassion and love out of our many struggles, and lay the dross to rest.”

What will she do with the financial reward?

“I’m currently back in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas and have found a wonderfully irreverent women’s writers group. They will be expecting some rasgulla and milk cake at our next meeting to celebrate this win. The rest of the prize money will go towards submission fees and a book or two of inspiring poetry.”

Alex Dodt Alex Dodt
Dodt received first place in the poetry category. He said the inspiration for his poem started with thinking about how people create meaning out of trauma and loss, and how they try to find goodness in the worst of circumstances, sometimes in ways they’re ashamed to admit.

He was surprised to learn that he had won the League for Innovation contest.

“I couldn’t have done it without the mentorship of MCC creative writing instructor Josh Rathkamp,” Dodt said. “He worked with me on this poem for months, and it’s an honor to have reached this point.

He said the scholarship money will go to help him cover tuition costs as he finishes the creative writing program at MCC next year. He will then look toward a master’s program.

“The recognition is humbling and encouraging, and fuel for continuing to work hard at turning this writing thing into more than a spare-time hobby,” Dodt said.

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Media Contact: Dawn Zimmer,, 480-461-7892

The League for Innovation in the Community College is an international nonprofit organization with a mission to cultivate innovation in the community college environment. Learn more at

Mesa Community College is nationally recognized as an Aspen Prize Top 150 U.S. Community College and is known for service learning, career and technical programs, civic engagement and innovative approaches to education. The college serves as a resource for career readiness, transfer education, workforce development and lifelong learning. Host to more than 30,000 students annually, MCC offers degree and certificate programs online, at its two campuses, the Mesa Downtown Center and additional locations. Through the implementation of Guided Pathways with Integrated Support Services, MCC is transforming ways it champions student success; college completion, university transfer and career attainment for all students. MCC is a Hispanic Serving Institution. The diverse student body includes more than 400 international students representing over 60 countries. Award-winning faculty are dedicated to student success, providing the education and training to empower MCC students to compete locally and globally. Located in the East Valley of Phoenix, Arizona, MCC is one of the 10 colleges in the Maricopa County Community College District. Learn more at

Mesa Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) is an EEO/AA institution and an equal opportunity employer of protected veterans and individuals with disabilities. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or national origin. A lack of English language skills will not be a barrier to admission and participation in the career and technical education programs of the District. MCCCD does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age in its programs or activities. For Title IX/504 concerns, call the following number to reach the appointed coordinator: (480) 731-8499. For additional information, as well as a listing of all coordinators within the Maricopa College system, visit

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Publication Date: 
Wednesday, October 30, 2019