2016-2017 Collegiate Essay Winners Showcase

2016-2017 Collegiate Essay Winners Showcase

The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association (VOWA) is very proud of our 2016-2017 Collegiate winners who typify both scholarship and love of the outdoors. These outstanding young people, along with all the fine students who entered our contest, are the future communicators about and stewards of our precious outdoors. We present this year’s winners with their winning essays linked to each title.  Enjoy!

VOWA-Dominion Resources
Best Overall Essay

Levi Helm
University of Virginia

A third year student at the University of Virginia, Levi double majors in environmental science and anthropology.

Levi grew up on a small farm in Craig County Virginia.  He tells us: “Craig is a small county, devoid of stoplights and replete with natural wonders. These wonders have fundamentally shaped who I am today. I spent countless hours catching frogs in the creek, calling out birds from the woods, or just sitting up on a tree limb. I spent most of my childhood searching, no exploring, for something out there. Nature has a primordial grasp on some fragment of my soul. Perhaps it is about being in a place where everything is just trying to live.”

Levi is interested in all facets of the natural world, and has been involved with research in the field of ecology. He looks to pursue a career in ecology, education and/or research. We hope your career will also include writing because you touched everyone with your strong writing and reading of “Visitors”! Thank you!


VOWA-Cooperative Living Magazine
Best Virginia Specific Essay

Margaret Bunch
Lord Fairfax Community College
“The Sentinel’s Autumn Day”

Margaret, shown here with her husband who is an integral part of her winning essay, is in her fourth semester as a part-time student at Lord Fairfax Community College. She is pursuing an associate’s degree in health information management and plans to continue on to receive a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management.

Margaret was born and raised in northern Virginia and currently resides in Frederick County. She is a busy lady, in addition to college she also works full time in the healthcare industry. Her free time is spent with her husband and their dogs as well as extended family. She enjoys cooking, wine tasting, and spending time in the mountains of Virginia.

Keep writing about our wonderful Virginia outdoors in your plans Margaret, you are talened! In addition to a cash prize, Margaret’s work will be featured in a coming issue of Cooperative Living Magazine. Congratulations Margaret!

VOWA-Dominion Resources
Honorable Mention Winners

Kyle Bekelja
Shenandoah University
“Green Glasses”

Kyle is a senior environmental studies major at Shenandoah University, also pursuing a double minor in english and biology. He plans to continue his studies studying entomology at Virginia Tech next year.  He tells us that he enjoys reading and writing in his free time because “it helps to balance out all the science that takes up most of my daily schedule.

Kyle was fortunate to be given a 2016 USDA summer  internship where he fell in love with performing agricultural research aimed at reducing the amount of pesticides used on crops, and is returning this summer for new research on the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. “I’m not sure what I want to do for my career, I’m just going to continue to pursue my interests and see where it takes me. This strategy has not failed me yet!” We wish you much success Kyle, keep those “Green Glasses” on!

Forrest Brown
Ferrum College
“Finding Religion”

Forrest Brown hails from Franklin County, Virginia. He is an avid outdoorsman enjoying fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, and kayaking. He tells us that “I grew up on a three hundred acre farm, thus being the reason I likely have grown so fond of the outdoors. Living in an area such as this I learned to keep myself entertained by playing in the creek, fishing in the pond, or just walking the property lines.”

Forrest  attends Ferrum College where he is studying environmental science. A junior, his overall goal is to continue on to graduate school. Ideally “I would like to go into field research of plants or vertebrate animals, so that I could work and earn my masters and possibly my PhD and then return to this area and be a college professor. This has been my life’s ambition, but I could also find happiness in being an employee of the Army Corps of engineers or an environmental consultant.” Forrest gives us a touching essay about finding meaning in nature, outstanding work!

Josh Poole
Dabney S. Lancaster Community College
“I Saw White Tails Through Water”

Josh was born in Lexington Virginia, and has lived “in a nook outside of Brownsburg for all of my 21 years.”  Josh is currently finishing up an associate’s degree at Dabney S. Lancaster.

He tells us that “I’ve been published as a newspaper cartoonist, doing a few years’work for The Rockbridge Advocate, and being published on occasion in a few others.  In my spare time I’m either devouring books from the campus library (I work at Washington And Lee University, food services) or working on art projects.  The projects consist mostly of sculptures made out of trash, metal scraps, broken branches from trees, anything that has no value until put properly together.” Your work all around is impressive! Josh writes a beautifully descriptive essay about driving the road home and all that he sees. Keep up your artistic endeavors!

Awards Ceremony

Prizes were presented to the winners and their guests during the 2017 Annual Meeting held March 25, 2017 at the DoubleTree Hotel, Charlottesville VA. We thank Dominion Resources for a grant that not only supported our running of the VOWA Collegiate Contest, but also played a big part in enabling VOWA to offer a wonderful, celebratory and informative Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon to our members and award winners from our Collegiate, High School, and Excellence-in-Craft Contests.

We also thank our Special Award sponsor Cooperative Living Magazine for their generosity which enables us to honor additional outstanding young people in a very special way.

We thank our Judges: Cooperative Living Magazine Editors Bill Sherrod and Richard Johnstone, and Marie & Milan Majarov Contest Chairs for their time, patience, and expertise in judging our contest.

All conference images courtesy of Robert Thomas, Robert Thomas Photography. Thank you Robert!