The War Memorial Pylons are reminders of Virginia Tech’s values — brotherhood, duty, honor, leadership, loyalty, sacrifice, service, and Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). To showcase the university’s core tenets and to recognize students who reflect these ideals, the Department of Communication held its first Preston Essay Contest.

The Common Book Essay contest — held in previous years by the Virginia Tech Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning — was the model for the new competition, which commemorates the legacy of Marlene Preston at Virginia Tech. In December 2017, the university awarded the associate professor of communication emerita status for her contributions to the university.

Among other notable achievements, Preston developed a yearlong communication course that served as a cornerstone for students in the department.

“Since Dr. Preston had such a huge influence on college student writing, especially in the first year, we tried to take the concept of the Common Book Essay and change it into something that honored her,” said Claire Hall Boor, an instructor in the Department of Communication who helped start the contest.

All Virginia Tech students were eligible to enter the competition, and the contest culminated in a ceremony this fall to honor the winners.

The judges selected 10 winners, with the top three awards going to students in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Colleen McGinn, a human development major, won first place. She wrote her essay about how she learned discipline and respect when she joined the Virginia State Police Academy.

“I now make it a habit to thank my professors as I leave each lecture,” she said.

While McGinn had noticed the efforts of Virginia Tech professors and staff before joining the academy, her time there taught her that she should convey her gratitude.

“I appreciate how my professors are willing to listen to our questions,” she said. “They really want to see their students succeed.”

Second place went to Loren Skinker, a double major in multimedia journalism and professional and technical writing. In an essay on perseverance, Skinker drew a parallel between a race he ran and his spiritual faith.

Drew Douglas, also majoring in multimedia journalism, received third place. His essay described a time in which he had to make a tough choice in the face of peer pressure. He related that experience to hard work and honesty.

The winners received cash prizes along with plaques to commemorate the occasion.

The other honorees were Samantha Etheridge, a public relations major in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and, in the Pamplin College of Business, Daya Jessee, a marketing management major; Haley Lane, an accounting information systems major; Andrew Richardson, a business major; Emma Sedlack, a finance major; Jess Su, a business information technology major; and Joseph Torter, a finance major.

Written by Taylor Dickerson, a senior majoring in professional and technical writing in the Department of English, and photographed by Grace Baggett, a senior majoring in literature and language, also in the Department of English.