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Congratulations to our 2022 Collegiate Essay Winners!

The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association, VOWA, is pleased to present the winners of our 2022 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 photo winner headshot kate MacArthur head shot.jpeg


Kate McArthur
Viewfinder Vision” 
University of Virginia 

Kate MacArther is a young writer from Seattle, Washington, who is attending the University of Virginia. She is the top winner of a $300 cash prize for her writing. It is no wonder that Kate is a double first-place winner, having taken top honors in our collegiate photography contest, because her winning essay is written through the “eyes” of a camera lens. The text reads like a photograph; it’s meditative and thought-provoking.

Kate is in her second year at the University of Virginia, where she is pursuing a major in global studies, likely with a focus on global sustainability, as well as minors in French and religion. She has considered photography as her greatest passion since she first picked up a camera in fourth grade and photographed flowers in her backyard, so writing about that passion in her essay was a natural extension of that love. One of her goals in life is to travel far and wide in order to encounter and photograph as many diverse and intriguing people and landscapes as possible. We hope she will write about those experiences as well. Congratulations Kate. 

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Kathy Wei 
“The Earth, Anew” 

University of Virginia

It was no surprise to the VOWA judges when we learned what Kathy Wei had studied at the University of Virginia—environmental thought and practice—as that theme came through loud and clear in her second-place essay (for which she won $200). Wei graduated from that U.Va. program in 2022. “I could tell the writer's hands-on experiences in the real world/in the field proved extremely enlightening for her. I liked her ideas about the world as a classroom,” noted one judge. 

Originally from the Philadelphia area, Wei began working at the Environmental Law Institute after finishing school. In the future, she hopes to enroll in law school and continue her efforts to protect people, places, and planet through law and policy. In her free time, she enjoys rock hounding, painting, and writing. 

3rd place essay headshot Renée Flory_headshot.jpg


Renée Flory
Johns Hopkins University

Renée Flory, a writer in training at Johns Hopkins, earns $100 for her third-place essay. All of the judges enjoyed her writing, including one who noted that her essay was “A fluent portrait of how exploring different biomes creates appreciation for fresh vistas while simultaneously making one realize the finite localism inherent in the natural landscapes one calls home.”


Renée studies writing seminars and English at Johns Hopkins, works as a reader for The Hopkins Review and writes Southern Gothic fiction with a preference for magical realism. Her work appeared in the 2022 Bath Flash Fiction Anthology and in an issue of The Pinch. Beyond writing, Renée enjoys learning new instruments, driving, and anything where the mountains are involved. 

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Marciana Castillo

“Grandpa and the” 
Virginia Tech

Marciana Castillo is no stranger to the VOWA writing contests as she was our first-place winner last year. Her nicely-written essay this year earned her the judges’ nod for honorable mention. This was a fun, descriptive piece about a family vacation on a Philippine beach and a rowdy, intergenerational lunch afterward. 

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, something that shines through loud and clear in her essay this year!

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.

The 2022 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.

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