The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association (VOWA) is very proud of our 2018-2019 Collegiate Essay 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 our future communicators and stewards for our precious outdoors. We are proud of them all!
We are delighted to present this year’s winners with their essays linked to their essay title. Read and ENJOY!

VOWA-Dominion Energy
Best Overall Essay

Rachel Garnett
University of Lynchburg 

“Maine Free”

Rachel Garnett attends the University of Lynchburg, formerly Lynchburg College, as a first-year student. Rachel is currently pursuing a major in environmental science. At this point she reports that she enjoys, is interested in, and is exploring the many subdivisions of this field ranging from forestry and animal conservation to sustainable engineering. Her future goals include “campaigning for the conservation of natural resources and endangered animal populations. I want to share with the world the importance of the natural landscape and the great losses we will all suffer if our planet continues to be treated in an unfair manner.”

A hope Rachel has for herself is “to share my message through art in some capacity, whether through photography or acrylic and watercolor mediums.” Interwoven with her love for the natural environment is “my love for my beautiful dog Missy, who loves going on ‘nature walks’ just as much as I do!” After college, Rachel is considering “attending graduate school, hopefully having narrowed my interests by then. I am excited to increase my knowledge of our natural world through my education, and positively influence this same environment I have admired for so long.”

In her “Maine Free” essay Rachel chooses powerful, evocative language to bring alive the sounds, sights, and smell of a glorious visit to Maine.  To experience all this, is to be “Maine Free” and  “a glorious gift.” It is indeed! Rachel your artistic talent beautifully comes through in your words. Congratulations on being our Best Outdoor Essay Winner!

VOWA/Cooperative Living Magazine
Best Virginia Specific Essay
& VOWA/Dominion Energy Best Overall Essay 2nd Place

Matt Mehfoud
University of Virginia
“A Kingdom of Our Own”

Matthew “Matt” Mehfoud, is a second year student at the University of Virginia, majoring in computer science. he says that “when I’m not buried in a book or typing code, I can be found frequenting UVA sporting events (basketball games especially), or in the Language Commons, where I work for the University.”  Matt grew up in the small Virginia city of Colonial Heights,  just twenty miles south of Richmond, “that is where my essay arguably takes place, although some might claim otherwise.”

Matt tells us that his time at UVA has fostered his love for the world around him. “Saying that I am a computer science major can be deceiving, because I have also taken many environmental science and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) courses, and even a course about the global ethics of climate change. My goals after UVA involve using both GIS and computer science to work for an environmental engineering firm. I want to stay close to home because of my relationships with my parents and brothers, but I will forever view the world as a kingdom of my own, always there for whenever I am ready to shape it.”

“Those long days spent in The Woods were some of the happiest of my life. The Woods was where our friendship grew and flourished—Two Swords, Two Thrones, Two Kings. And as the two of us strove to survive and carve out paths in the real world, it became apparent that maybe the [real] world was just another kingdom ripe for our taking.” Outstanding writing Matt, keep writing!

VOWA/Dominion Energy Best Overall Essay 3rd Place

Chase Vaillancourt
Virginia Tech
“Just Another Day”

Chase Vaillancourt, a senior studying Clinical Neuroscience,  will be enlisting in the Air Force upon graduation. “My goals for the future are simple…to help others and to never stop exploring – especially with friends.”

A returning student to our contests as both a writer and photographer, Chase tells us that not only did eye surgery this year improve his literal vision, but that his personal views were also changed by the trips to magnificent outdoor destinations he was able to make with friends. This year he reports that he has added ice climbing to his already long list of hobbies that include rock climbing, surfing, backpacking, playing guitar and playing rugby.

In “Just Another Day” Chase recounts one  of his adventures to a magnificent outdoor destination with friends climbing Mt. Washington. The climb an amazing accomplishment, and the essay beautifully written! Chase is a multi-talented young man. He is also a fine photographer, winning first place in our 2017-18 VOWA Collegiate Photography contest, and second place in this year’s 2018-19 competition.  His stunning black & white image, “Breakfast With A View” can be seen in our Collegiate Photo Showcase. We wish you a successful time in the Air Force…and maintain your love of our magnificent natural world, writing about and photographing your adventures! 

Awards Ceremony & Acknowledgements

Prizes were presented to the winners and their guests during the VOWA 2019 Annual Meeting held March 16, 2019 at the DoubleTree Hotel, Charlottesville, VA. We thank Dominion Energy for a grant that not only supported our running of the VOWA Collegiate Contests, 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.
A special thanks to all the folks at Cooperative Living magazine for providing the special award for the Best Virginia Specific essay.
We thank Bill Sherrod and Richard Johnstone of Cooperative Living magazine, and VOWA’s Amanda Creasey for their time, patience, and expertise in judging our contest.
This year’s Collegiate competitions were chaired by Amanda Creasey with the help of VOWA’s Executive Director Matt Schwartz. We thank them both sincerely for all their efforts in putting together a wonderful competition.