Congratulations to our 2020-2021 Collegiate Photography Winners!

The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association, VOWA, is pleased to present the winners of our 2020-2021 Collegiate Photography 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.


1st Place Best Outdoor Photo

Sarah Straczek
“Deserted Double Rainbows”  
Sweet Briar College

Sarah Straczek

Sarah Straczek, a senior at Sweet Briar College, takes the top award in the VOWA 2020-2021 Photography Competition and a prize of $500 with her image of double rainbows photographed on what has become an annual summer road trip with her sister Emily. “Our road trip was looking a bit bleak; the first 30 hours of our drive had been nothing but rain… until this happened: Rainbow explosion across the sky, and our surroundings could not have been better to experience it.” Photo was taken in Glendive, Montana.

Sarah tells us that she is from both Sarasota, Florida, where her mother lives, and Alexandria, Virginia, where her father lives. Sarah is in the middle of academic years, being somewhere between her junior and senior years, hoping to graduate with a master’s degree in teaching in 2022. Double majoring in philosophy and education, Sarah hopes to work somewhere in the nonprofit world post-graduation. “Winning this competition” she says, is an amazing way to network within the community and assist with student debt.”
Gorgeous photography Sarah, congratulations!

2nd Place Best Outdoor Photo

Colleen Mulligan
“Blossoms at the Basin”

James Madison University

Colleen Mulligan

This year’s Second Place photography honors, with a $200 cash prize, goes to Colleen Mulligan an upcoming senior

at James Madison University majoring in geology. Colleen is a Virginia native but loves traveling and just being outside. “Traveling has allowed me to have a much better appreciation for nature and I tend to notice the beauty in it that most overlook. I am looking forward to continuing to travel and doing fieldwork outdoors with a career in geology.”

Colleen captured her winning photo on “my family’s annual trip to D.C. to see the beautiful cherry blossoms. This year we came a few days before the blossoms were in peak bloom so there weren’t many trees that had the blossoms fully opened. As we walked down to the tidal basin there was one tree that appeared to be almost fully bloomed. Its branches stretched over the railing overlooking the Jefferson Memorial which is where I snapped this picture.”

Outstanding work!


3rd Place Best Outdoor Photo

Emily Straczek
“Mirror Pool”
Christopher Newport University

Emily Straczek, a junior at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, receives third place honors, and $100, for her classic image of a mountain near Aspen, Colorado, reflected in the lake below. Just beautiful Emily!

Emily Straczek

A communications major with a minor in psychology, Emily tells us that she hails from both Sarasota, Florida, where her mother lives, and Alexandria, Virginia, where her father lives. Since she and her sister Sarah have been doing summer trips “my life has changed forever and I am more aware of the beauty in life itself, as well as waterfalls, mountains, etc. Being so filled with the magic of this world, we have made a pact to continue our adventurous tradition for years to come. With my communications major underway, I am hoping to enter a career of environmental activism and fundraising.”



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 at VOWA feel our youth 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.
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.