Four writers from Florida colleges and universities have been awarded $1,000 each as the 2020 recipients of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association scholarship for outdoor communicators.

The winners are Anna Bunyak, an undergraduate at the State College of FloridaSavannah Gardner, an undergraduate at the University of Florida studying agricultural education and communicationSergio Gonzalez, a master’s candidate in agronomy at the University of Florida, and Elizabeth Walsh, a master’s candidate in fisheries and aquatic sciences at the University of Florida.

Thirty-nine applications representing 11 Florida academic institutions were reviewed by FOWA member judges. “These four individuals demonstrate the scholastic merit, career achievements, and vocation that most closely align with FOWA ideals of outdoor communication,” said Betty Staugler, Florida Sea Grant UF/IFAS extension agent in Charlotte County and chair of the FOWA scholarship committee. “They impressed the scholarship committee with their ability as story tellers and passion for the outdoors.”

Anna Bunyak has participated in showing beef cattle at prospect shows across the state of Florida. Heavily involved in 4-H and the Junior Florida Cattlemen’s Association, she points to her time in the showring, cow pens, and pastures as experiences that developed her interest in communicating about the agriculture industry with the public. She plans to pursue a degree in agriculture education and communication.

Savannah Gardner recently completed a year-long study with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida State University to determine the effects of humans on artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Currently a communications intern for UF Innovate, a startup incubator within the university, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in agricultural education and communication from the University of Florida.

Sergio Gonzalez works on habitat and invasive species management in the Everglades. He is also an aviator with experience piloting aircraft in support of research and management agency objectives in south Florida. He recently started an aerial ecotour operation to tell people the story of the Everglades and takes and shares photos using the tagline “Raw nature; unedited photography.”

In previous years, FOWA has awarded two or three scholarships. This year, two of the scholarships were sponsored by Gumbo Wars, a nonprofit organization that supports youth fishing organizations and conservation in Florida. In addition, a new scholarship was offered. Given to the highest scoring application, the Richard (RC) Barker Memorial Scholarship commemorates RC Barker, a longtime FOWA member and owner, along with his wife Kathy, of ProBass Networks Inc. and ProBass.com, a venue for writing about fishing.

“Both my husband and I were avid supporters of the outdoor industry,” said Kathy Barker. “It is my hope that recipients of the Richard (RC) Barker Memorial Scholarship can encourage people to engage in the outdoors, maintain an awareness of environmental issues, and search for continued methods of conservation.” 

Elizabeth Walsh was selected for the inaugural Richard (RC) Barker Memorial Scholarship. Currently a sixth-grade science teacher in the Tampa Bay area, she is also a graduate student researching invasive mosquitofish. Elizabeth is a regular volunteer at the Florida Aquarium where she combines her interests in marine biology with public communication, assisting guests and discussing the biology and ecology of stingrays.

FOWA awards scholarships each year to deserving college students whose career goals are to communicate to the public a love and appreciation for the outdoor experience. In addition to the monetary award, winners also receive an associate FOWA membership and waiving of that year’s conference registration fee. Florida Sea Grant coordinates the competition. The 2021 competition will open in March. Learn more at archive.flseagrant.org/students.