Congratulations to our 2019-2020 Collegiate Essay Winners!

The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association, VOWA, is pleased to present the winners of our 2019-2020 Collegiate Essay Competition.  These winners typify both scholarship and love of the outdoors.  Due to the Coronavirus pandemic we did not get to celebrate with these special young people at our Annual Meeting. 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, with their essays linked to their essay title. Read and ENJOY!

1st Place Best Overall Essay and Cooperative Living Special Award

Ben Burchard

Ben Burchard 
College of William and Mary

Ben Burchard, an outstanding young writer, is a freshman at the College of William and Mary. He is a dual winner of the Best Overall Essay, $500 cash prize, and the Cooperative Living Magazine Special Award for best essay featuring the Virginia outdoors which carries a $100 cash prize and publication in the Cooperative Living Magazine.  His touching story, “Blackberries,” describes wonderful memories of picking luscious berries at his grandparents’ home, memories that have shaped a deep love of the natural world and the meaning of family for Ben.  Keep writing Ben, you have a gift. Congratulations!

Ben plans to major in business, He tells us that his career path is not entirely clear, but he hopes to go into either law or ministry after his undergraduate education. He is involved with the William and Mary Baptist Collegiate Ministry, the International Justice Mission, and Men’s Club Volleyball and also plays tennis and ultimate Frisbee, “albeit not competitively.” Ben’s leisure activities include following politics, watching movies, playing board/video games with family and friends, and being out in rural Dinwiddie at his grandparents’ property. Colonial Heights, Virginia, is where he calls home, and he states that “I recognize with a full heart that area’s community which helped raise and guide me.” 


2nd Place Best Overall Essay

Sita Moses

Sita Moses
“Wilderness Education”

Sweet Briar Collage

Sita Moses, winner of the 2nd place $200 prize for best overall essay,  is a first-year student at Sweet Briar College. She has not yet decided her major but is interested in studio art, primarily in oil painting, creative writing, and Sweet Briar’s equine teaching and training certificate program.

Sita is from Dublin, New Hampshire, which she tells us is “a small town, home to the second most hiked mountain in the world, Mt Monadnock, which overlooks the beautiful spring-fed Dublin Lake.” Sita began riding horses in Dublin at a very young age. Her riding eventually brought her to Sweet Briar College where she is now a member of the IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Show Association) team and a working student at the Harriet Rogers Riding Center. Sita hopes to continue learning and adventuring in the years to come.

Sita writes beautifully of the wilderness school that played a big role in her life, Coyote’s Path, and the cherished education that nature and the oral traditions of that school offered to her. Indeed the value of wilderness schools like Coyote’s Path needs to be recognized…and Sita does this beautifully! Outstanding writing Sita! VOWA is proud to have you as one of our winners.  


3rd Place Best Overall Essay

Matt Mehfoud

Matthew Mehfoud
“Worldly Contrasts”
University of Virginia

Matt Mehfoud is a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia studying computer science and hoping to work as a software engineer after graduation. Matthew tells us that he loves every aspect of his life at UVA: “from football tailgates with friends and family to volunteering with prospective students. Immersing myself into UVA’s culture is something I will always cherish.” Outside of academics, Matthew can be found reading or watching movies with roommates.

Matthew shares his personal website with us, which he expertly created, as a great place to learn more about him. Outstanding web design Matthew!  

VOWA is delighted to have Matthew enter our 2019-2020 essay competition and to have him as our 3rd Place winner of $100 in our overall best essay competition . Mathew was also a winner in last year’s contest: the Cooperative Living Special Award (Published in the October 2019 issue of Cooperative Living) and overall Best Essay 2nd Place. We are very impressed this young man’s work and hope to see more from Matthew next year. 


Honorable Mention

Rachel Garnett

University of Lynchburg

Rachel Garnett is a sophomore at the University of Lynchburg.  Double majoring in Biology and Chemistry, Rachel hopes to become a sustainable engineer or work in the realm of science communication. Rachel tells us that “I love nature and I love to write. I am thankful for this opportunity to combine two of my interests.”

 Rachel is a return student to our VOWA Collegiate competition and explains that “I decided this year to focus on my love for trees, which I find fascinating and equally valuable. I hope that my work one day will express how important it is to take care of our planet, both for ourselves, organisms, and future populations.” Rachel, your focus on and knowledge of trees illustrates the fascinating natural history of our woodland giants. You are on a fine path to be an outstanding naturalist and steward of our environment. Congratulations Rachel!


We thank Dominion Energy for a generous grant that supported our running of the VOWA Collegiate and High School competitions for writing about and photographing 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, William Funk, free-lance journalist and environmental attorney, and Loretta Stewart,  teacher, for giving their time, patience, and expertise to judge our Collegiate Essay Contest.
This year’s Collegiate Essay Contest was chaired by Mellisa Butcher, VOWA Executive Assistant, with the help of Amanda Creasey, member of VOWA’s Board of Directors. We thank them both sincerely for all their efforts in putting together a wonderful competition.