STONY BROOK, (NY) – Sergey Moyseyenko, 36, of Port Washington is the winner of Stony Brook’s News Literacy essay competition for the fall semester.
A native of Belarus, Moyseyenko’s “A letter to Uncle Vanya,” was judged the most persuasive and gracefully written recapitulation of News Literacy’s lessons.
Using the metaphor of a journey, he guided his uncle through the steps to take when seeking reliable information and then summed up with an extension of the metaphor, reminding his uncle that he is not a passenger but the driver in control of the journey.
“It takes time to reach your destination. With most news stories it also takes time for all the facts to reveal themselves,” he wrote in one passage about the way the news changes as new facts are revealed. And in a passage about bias, he counseled his uncle to “…avoid seeking out the news and opinion that conforms to your own. Challenge yourself. Check out the scenery on other routes, so to speak, and then decide which road is better.”
“It’s a composite character,” Moyseyenko said of Uncle Vanya. He said one of his uncles in Belarus was the person he kept in mind while writing. “He always gave me directions how to get here and there,’’ Moyseyenko said of his real-life uncle. “So I thought why don’t I give him directions to get where he needs to get?”
“I have to translate his views back home to here. He believes in old ways. How can I tell him in common sense language that the journalist is not the enemy, they’re the good guys?”
Each semester, all News Literacy students are assigned a final essay. Those essays awarded an “A” are submitted to an independent panel of judges who select the best of the lot. Moyseyenko’s essay was judged the best of 1,200 submitted in the fall.
“This essay used a strong metaphor and a powerful structure to convey the major themes of the course persuasively and accessibly,” said selection Committee Chairman Richard Hornik, a former correspondent and editor of TIME Magazine.
Moyseyenko’s professor, Julia Mead, said in another assignment for the News Literacy course, Moyseyenko had used his family’s experiences after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded to illustrate the need for reliable news during a disaster.
The explosion in Ukraine showered radioactive contamination on Belarus, requiring the evacuation and resettlement of more than 300,000 people, including members of Moyseyenko’s family. Some post-Soviet studies of the disaster estimate 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus and Moyseyenko said he emigrated in part because of fears about the health of his family.
Roslyn Savings Bank Foundation has since the fall semester of 2008 paid a full semester of in-state tuition for the winning student. “It’s a big impact,” Moyseyenko said of Roslyn’s gift. “I pay every cent myself” as a student without scholarship funding.
Moyseyenko said he began his bachelor’s degree work at Minsk Art College of Glebov in Belarus, where he studied painting, drawing, sculpture, composition and the history of art. Married and hoping to start a family, he began to think of ways to combine business and art. “I’m a passionate lover of art and I see there is a business component missing and it’s very hard for artists to make a living.” After starting several unsuccessful businesses, he determined he would have to leave Belarus to finish his education and experiment with ways for artists to make a living without giving up so much income to gallery owners.
Immigrating in 1999 under a program that offered U.S. citizenship to Belarus’ minority Jews, Moyseyenko said, he and his family were granted citizenship. He went to work building his career as a painter. His oil paintings (portraits, landscapes and fantasy images) began to sell and Moyseyenko said by spring of 2008 he had saved enough money to enroll at Stony Brook.
Developed at Stony Brook University by Dean of Journalism Howard Schneider, News Literacy is a major initiative of the Journalism school and one of the largest courses at the university, enrolling more than 1,500 students per year. The course teaches students from all disciplines to apply critical thinking skills to their search for reliable news and information in the Digital Age.
The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University is the only such center in the United States. More than $2 million in grants from the Ford, McCormick and John S. and James L. Knight Foundations fund development of the curriculum, a campaign to teach it to 10,000 undergraduates from all academic disciplines and dissemination the course to other campuses. Already, the full course or elements of it have been adopted at 10 other campuses and another half-dozen have won approval to offer it in Fall 2010.