As summer turns to fall, most UCF students are rushing to get their textbooks, parking permits and class schedules in order. But this semester, English literature major Emily Aycrigg is packing her bags with 17th-century attire for a conference in Victoria, Canada, where she will meet hundreds of Jane Austen fans from around the continent.

Aycrigg has won first place in the undergraduate division of the 2022 Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Annual Essay Contest for her paper, “The Old Well-Established Grievance: Generational Conflict in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility” out of more than 200 papers submitted. She has been awarded a check for $1,000, a Norton Critical Edition of every Jane Austen novel and a free invitation to JASNA’s annual general body meeting. There, she will discuss Austen’s work with fellow “Janeites” while attending presentations, banquets and even a regency-era ball.

UCF English literature student Emily Aycrigg

While now an accomplished student, Aycrigg recalls struggling through her first bachelor’s degree in political science, philosophy and economics. But after graduating and teaching middle school English for several years, she found a renewed love for learning, which spurred her to enroll at UCF for a second degree to pursue her true passion: literature.

“Once I got back on my feet and found a career I enjoyed, I thought: I’d really like to go back to school and study the subject I love at a university I’m proud of,” Aycrigg says. “At UCF, I realized how much fun school actually is, getting to read interesting things and have cool discussions with cool people.”

A lifelong reader, Aycrigg grew up reading Jane Austen. Now as a student in the English department, she has discovered the value of analyzing classic works from a variety of perspectives.

“You can simultaneously read for enjoyment, and for the broader cultural context, which I find fascinating,” Aycrigg says. “One of the things I’ve learned from my literature degree at UCF is that just because you’re asked to critically analyze a text you used to have an uncomplicated love for, doesn’t mean that you can’t still love that text. It’s just that you’re being taught to look at it through multiple lenses.”

The paper Aycrigg submitted to JASNA’s essay contest was the final assignment for the course British Authors: Jane Austen, taught by senior lecturer Kathleen Hohenleitner, who encouraged her students to apply. According to Hohenleitner, Aycrigg was extremely proactive in the class, always collaborating with her peers in discussions.

“Emily is an excellent writer, thinker and researcher,” Hohenleitner says, “but what I most admire about her is how actively she engages with her peers and their ideas in every class she takes, whether in person or online. Every class she takes is better because she is in it. I think she richly deserves this award.”

What’s next in store for Aycrigg? Graduate school, she says. Ever the learner, Aycrigg hopes to continue her education with a doctoral degree, and keep doing what she loves: reading, writing and talking about books.

Aycrigg’s paper can be read on the winning entries page of the JASNA website.

UCF’s English literature bachelor’s program helps students develop the ability to read discerningly, think critically and write clearly. This track encompasses the study of literature in its historical, cultural and theoretical contexts. Students learn about the ways of people and society, as well as develop a lifelong pleasure to be found in this art form. The degree track is offered fully online and also on campus, providing an opportunity to learn where and how individuals want.