Congratulations to our 2019-2020 Collegiate Photography Winners!

The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association, VOWA, is pleased to present the winners of our 2019-2020 Collegiate Photography 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.

1st Place Best Outdoor Photo

Emily Straczek
“Walking Among the Clouds”  
Christopher Newport University

Emily Straczek, a sophomore at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, takes the top award in the VOWA 2019-2020 Photography Competition and a prize of $500.  Gorgeous image Emily, congratulations!

Emily (R) & Sarah (L)

A communications major, Emily tells us that she hails from both Sarasota, Florida, where her mother lives, and Alexandria, Virginia, where her father lives. Emily took an eye-opening summer 2019 road trip across the country, with her sister Sarah (also a winner in this competition). The opportunity to see and explore a variety of landscapes and environments, she feels, has made her more keenly aware of nature’s beauty.   Emily is hoping to enter into a career of environmental activism.

Emily lyrically describes her image: “Soaring trees and mountain air – my feet soaked under six inches of snowfall. I would pay any price of comfort to explore the unknown. This foggy realm, within the mountains of Central California, simultaneously impairs one’s literal vision and opens a personalized door to spiritual clarity. The only option: look up.”

2nd Place Best Outdoor Photo

Colleen Mulligan
Lord Fairfax Community College

This year’s Second Place photography honors, with a $200 cash prize, goes to Colleen Mulligan, a second year, fourth semester student at Lord Fairfax Community College. Colleen, studying to become a geologist, grew up in Fairfax and moved to Front Royal when she was 14-years old. She was home-schooled all of high school and tells us she “loved it as it allowed me the freedom to work at my own pace as well as the flexibility I needed for my busy life. I am an absolute travel junkie and have been to several countries around the world including Peru, Thailand, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and all the Scandinavian countries. I love any type of outdoor adventure, and I am also a huge animal lover!”

Colleen Mulligan

Colleen captured her winning photo in the summer of 2018 in Iceland on the famous “Diamond Beach.” Her description of the image: “This piece of ice is part of an iceberg that landed on the shore after floating around in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The sand there is black which really contrasts the crystal-like ice on the beach which creates a truly unique setting.” Stunning image  with the waves at the top of the image rolling onto the black sand beach.   Outstanding work!

3rd Place Best Outdoor Photo

Ricki Marie Bennett
Lakeview Park Tulips 
Lord Fairfax Community College 

Ricki Marie Bennett is originally from Northern Ohio, but considers herself a naturalized Virginian having lived here for the better part of the last 18 years and has fallen in love with the Shenandoah Valley.

Ricki Bennett

A Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) student since 2007, taking mostly biology courses with Professor Rob Simpson, she is now working toward her AA&S in Science with a goal of working in conservation biology. In addition, Ricki has earned two Career Certificates while at LFCC, one in Nature and Outdoor Photography with Professor Simpson and one with Professor Stacey Ellis, in Outdoor Recreation and Leadership.

Ricki has been an intern at Virginia’s newest state park, Seven Bends. She tells us that “I am truly blessed for such an opportunity! All my interests and passions rolled into one; creating interpretive programs, wildlife monitoring, citizen science, nature photography, nature journaling, birding, hiking, kayaking, Native American, agricultural, and local history, exploring, and just being able to share my love for nature with young and old alike.”   

Ricki’s “Lakeview Park Tulips” have won her third place and $100 in this year’s competition. Congratulations on this colorful, well focused image.  These tulips are special to Ricki as they remind her of Easter walks when she was a child. A landmark each spring in her hometown, they are enjoyed by many families at Easter.

Honorable Mention Best Outdoor Photo

Sarah Straczek
“Snow-capped Colorado Kisses a Rare Utah Rain”
Sweet Briar College

 Sarah Straczek is a Sophomore/Junior at Sweet Briar College with a goal to graduate with a Masters in Teaching in 2022. Sarah calls home both Sarasota, Florida, and Alexandria, Virginia, where her parents are located. Double majoring in both Philosophy and Education, she hopes to work in the nonprofit world post graduation. 

Sarah (L) & Emily (R)

Sarah describes an eye-opening summer 2019 trip with her sister, during which she made her wining image, quite eloquently: “The amount of beauty which surrounds me daily can be a bit overwhelming – in the best ways possible. Until this past summer, when my sister and I decided to take a ‘spur of the moment,’ cross-country road trip, that sort of ‘natural beauty’ was often taken for granted and sadly overlooked by my ‘millennial mindset.’ Fortunately enough, said road trip woke us both up when it came to the importance of the natural world, its exploration, and the truth behind human beings’ abuse toward it. This moment of ‘awakening’ is something that my sister and I hold dear to our hearts concerning the way we treat our variety of surrounding environments, as well as what we bring to the table when teaching and influencing our peers at school.”

Her powerful image, “Snow-capped Colorado Kisses a Rare Utah Rain” taken from “the back seat of a squished, 2010 Toyota Prius, captures a magical moment from her summer cross-country road trip.”  Stunning image Sarah, beautiful photography!

Honorable Mention Best Outdoor Photo

Yinchung Cho
Vietnam Veterans Wall 

Lord Fairfax Community College

Yinchung Cho, originally from China, is a freshman at Lord Fairfax Community College.  Currently pursuing an Outdoor and Nature Photography Career Studies Certificate, Yinchung Cho has a passion for photography and nature. His dream is to become an accomplished  photographer so he can record many beautiful moments using his camera. 

Yinchung Cho

His well composed image with a lovely reflection was spurred by a whispered prayer from a Vietnam Veteran that attracted his family during their visit to  the memorial wall in Washington D.C. He describes the moment of capturing this image thus, “we stopped and listened to the Veteran’s prayer. Although I could hardly hear what he was saying, his reverence to God deserved our respect. When he ended his prayer, I used my camera to catch this unforgettable moment. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is not only a memory in my heart, but it is also a symbol of people’s hope for world peace!” Very touching and outstanding photography. Congratulations! 


We thank Dominion Energy for a generous grant that supported our running of the 2019-2020 VOWA Collegiate and High School competitions for writing about and photographing our beautiful outdoors. We at VOWA feel these contests are so very important because they encourage the future communicators and stewards of our natural world.
We thank Lynda Richardson, Art Director Virginia Wildlife magazine, Robert Thomas of Robert Thomas Photography and Marie & Milan Majarov of Majarov Photography for giving their time, patience, and expertise to judge our Collegiate Photography Contest.
This year’s Collegiate Photography Contest was chaired by Mellisa Butcher, VOWA Executive Assistant, with the help of Marie Majarov of Majarov Photography. We thank them both sincerely for all their efforts in putting together a wonderful competition.