Communications student earns state writing award

Penn State New Kensington adult learner Joshua Pilat earned the first-place award Oct. 18 for his research on rhetoric at the annual conference of the Pennsylvania Communication Association at Gannon University in Erie, Pa.

Pilat’s paper, “One Nation Under God: The Rhetoric of American Exceptionalism in the Inaugural Address of Barack Obama,” took top honors in the association’s Undergraduate Writing Competition. The organization recognizes undergraduate scholarship in the communications field and provides an opportunity for students to present their work in a public forum.

Twenty-five papers were submitted by undergraduates from across the state. A blind review of the submissions was conducted by communications faculty from a selection of Pennsylvania colleges and universities. Jennifer Wood, associate professor of communication arts and sciences at the campus, accompanied Pilat to the conference.

“Joshua presented his paper on a panel with graduate students, and he more than held his own,” said Wood, who holds a doctorate degree in communication and rhetoric from the University of Pittsburgh. “He’s not only an excellent scholar, he is also a great speaker.”

The genesis of Pilat’s project was Sept. 11. The 29-year-old Butler, Pa., native was an exchange student in Switzerland at the time of the terrorist attack. After coming home, Pilat detected a shifting of the country’s political conscience.

“When I returned from Switzerland the next summer, I had noticed the way politicians and the news media talked about the country,” said Pilate, a graduate of Knoch High School. “It was different than I had remembered prior to the attacks. I needed to find a way to examine how this idea of ‘American Exceptionalism’ still pervaded the political speech today.”

Pilate worked on the paper under the direction of campus faculty Allen Larson, associate professor communication, and Wood, who served as the second reader. What started out as a senior class project morphed into an award-winning research paper.

“Dr. Wood suggested that I submit the paper to the PCA competition,” said Pilate, a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society. “So with a few tweaks and shedding a few bits to get the paper under the competition page limit, I sent it off.”

Pilot’s circuitous journey to Penn State New Kensington started at Butler County Community College. After taking courses for a few semesters, he landed a job in the retail business, only to lose it due to the recession. He returned to college looking for a second career. Plilat calls his decision to attend New Kensington “one of the best choices I ever made.”

“I love the faculty, especially my communications faculty, said Pilat, who pays tuition with a combination of loans, grants and an Honors scholarship. “The top-level education I have received here is even better because I have had the chance to work closely with some really smart people who have constantly challenged me to deepen my understanding of the course material. The small classes have allowed me to really get to know and learn from professors in a way that wouldn't have been possible at a large campus.”

A member of the Honors program, Pilat has earned numerous academic awards, including the President Sparks Award, which is presented annually to undergraduates who have earned a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average. In addition to his classroom prowess, Pilat is active outside of the classroom. On campus, he is a peer tutor and student orientation leader and works at the help desk in the Computer Center. Off-campus, he works as a disabilities caregiver for Family Services of Western Pennsylvania.

Pilat will earn his bachelor’s degree in corporate communications in December. He plans a career with the U.S. Foreign Service, whose professionals serve diplomatic missions around the world or with the United Nations Young Professionals Program, which provides college graduates younger than 30 with the opportunity to start a career in an international organization.

For more on the Communications program at the campus, visit

Media Contacts: 

Bill Woodard

Work Phone: 
Home Phone: 
Cell Phone: 

Alumni and Public Relations Specialist

Last Updated November 06, 2013