Congratulations to our 2020-2021 Collegiate Essay Winners!

The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association, VOWA, is pleased to present the winners of our 2020-2021 Collegiate Essay Competition. These winners typify both scholarship and love of the outdoors. VOWA offers sincere congratulations to the winners and celebrates their outstanding work in this showcase.
We are delighted to present this year’s winners, our future communicators and stewards for our precious outdoors. Click on their essay title to read and enjoy each winning essay!

1st Place Best Overall Essay 

Marciana Castillo 
“Trailing Ahead”
Virginia Tech

Marciana Castillo, an outstanding young writer and a junior from Norfolk, is the top winner of the Best Overall Essay and a $500 cash prize. We loved her story about exploring the outdoors for the first time through hikes with her fellow students at Virginia Tech.

Marciana Castillo

Marciana is studying human nutrition, foods, and exercise with a minor in integrative health and wellness at Virginia Tech. Her aspirations are to become a dentist and dental school educator. At Tech, she is involved in the Filipino American Student Association and works as an Advising Ambassador, assisting students in creating their academic plans. She is also a peer educator within Virginia Tech’s wellness center and served as an undergraduate research assistant at the Physical Activity Research & Community Implementation Laboratory. When she is not studying, she enjoys reading, listening to music, spending time with her family and friends, and playing with the newest member of the Castillo family, a Shiba Inu named Meeko. Wonderful job Marciana on both the writing and exploring the great outdoors!

2nd Place Best Overall Essay

Brooke Landers
“Guest at the Duck Pond”

Virginia Tech

Brooke Landers

Brooke Landers, winner of the second place $200 prize for best overall essay, is a junior at Virginia Tech who hails from Marshall. Her essay tells of a different sort of campus party that she attended one night at the campus Duck Pond.

Brooke is studying multimedia journalism with a minor in biodiversity conservation. She hopes to one day write or produce documentaries of some kind; with the broader goal in life being to simply tell stories especially if those stories bring awareness to voices less heard, whether those are the stories of endangered species or tales of the spirit of humanity.

She likes exploring different cultures and environments, especially in the outdoors, which is what led her to write her winning essay. Great job Brooke! Thanks for including us in your journalistic journey. 

3rd Place Best Overall Essay and Cooperative Living Special Award

Rachel Garnett
“Dirt Path”
University of Lynchburg

Rachel Garnett

Rachel Garnett, a senior at the University of Lynchburg, is a double winner in the VOWA Collegiate Essay Contest. In the best overall essay portion of the contest, she took third place, earning her $100. She added another $100 as the winner of the Cooperative Living Magazine Special Award for the best essay featuring the Virginia outdoors, which, in addition to the second $100, means that her essay will be published in the Cooperative Living Magazine. Her sweet essay described how she and her twin sister have used the outdoors over the years as their imagination playhouse.

While at Lynchburg, Rachel is pursuing majors in biology and chemistry with a minor in public relations/journalism. At the university, she works as a tutor for the student body. Rachel is a Lynchburg native and loves to read, go on walks, and tend to her herbs and vegetables in her garden. One day she hopes to work in the field of conservation and plans on fine-tuning those goals in graduate school. Rachel, good luck on your future and keep up the good work!


We thank Dominion Energy for a generous grant that supported our running of the VOWA Collegiate and High School competitions for youth engaged in photographing and writing about our beautiful outdoors. We at VOWA feel these competitions are so very important because they encourage the future communicators and stewards of our natural world.
We are deeply  grateful to all the fine folks at Cooperative Living magazine for providing the special award for the Best Virginia Specific Essay that includes a $100 cash prize and publication of the winning essay…a fabulous prize!
We thank Richard Johnstone, Executive Editor Cooperative Living magazine, and William Funk and Nancy Sorrells, VOWA board members and journalists, for giving of their time, patience, and expertise in running the Collegiate Essay Contest.
We at VOWA feel our youth contests are so very important because they encourage the future communicators and stewards of our natural world.
The 2021 Collegiate Contests were coordinated by Bill Funk, Nancy Sorrells, and Marie Majarov. We thank them all sincerely for their efforts in putting together this competition.