University of South Florida

Celebrating the spirit of children: Stories behind the winning photos

With more than 450 entries from faculty, staff and students, the first USF Health photo contest celebrating the energy, spirit and fun of children was a big hit.

Celebrating what’s right with the world: a tribute to USF children and our future generations was sponsored by the Office of Children’s Health, the Medical Humanities Scholarly Concentration, and the Morsani College of Medicine at USF Health.  

The contest was the brainchild of Dr. Robert M. Nelson, Jr., associate vice president for children’s health, who said he wanted to raise awareness about children’s health and was inspired by former National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones, who each week posts a positive image captured by his camera on his Celebrate What’s Right With the World! website.

Dr. Nelson and his staff pulled in Dr. Lois LaCivita Nixon and her students studying humanities to help with the judging.

“We had so many amazing selections, it was difficult to narrow it down to three winners,” Dr. Nelson said. “We definitely plan on doing this again next year.”

Below is a snapshot of the stories behind each of the three winning photos, shared by the photographers:

Girl enjoying sunshine, winning photos, Office of Children's Health, Celebrate What's Right With the World

1st place (prize: iPad 3) —  “Girl enjoying the sunshine” by Lauren Brown

Brown is a student enrolled in the USF College of Nursing’s second degree program; her first degree is a bachelor’s in communications from Howard University.  She decided she needed some new photos of her daughter Kamille, 4.   So one Saturday morning, Brown and classmate Rebekah Woods took Kamille – who put on a sundress and favorite orange flower headband — to a community park near her St. Petersburg home.  

Kamille was playing and rolling around in the grass when she struck the impromptu pose with her face tilted toward the sunshine.  The winning photo, one of three or four frames snapped, was taken with Woods’ 35 mm camera

“She’s a diva. She loves the camera,” Brown said of her daughter.  “I knew this was the shot … It looks so happy, like she doesn’t have a care in the world.”

Kamille is pleased to let everyone know that she was part of a photo contest “at my momma’s school.”  She’ll probably be even happier playing games with Mom’s prize – a new iPad.

Fun at the Beach, winning photos, Office of Children's Research, Celebrating What's Right with the World

2nd  place (Xbox Kinect) – “Fun at the Beach” by Karen Burdash

Burdash is associate executive director for operational finance for the USF Physicians Group and assistant dean for clinical finance at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

Photography is a hobby of hers – and she says she especially loves experimenting with black and white.  She even did portrait photography to help pay her way through graduate school while earning an M.B.A.

Burdash culled through 12 years’ worth of photographs in her collection to look for some that might stand out in the contest.  The winning entry — shot with a Cannon EOS 35 mm camera on the autofocus, action setting — was taken several years ago during a family outing to the beach in South Carolina.   Burdash and her adult daughter were taking pictures of her daughter’s children.   Burdash was focusing on the antics of grandson Grey, then age 5. 

Near one end of a log washed up on the beach, Grey had built a little sand fort for his toy airplane and vehicles. When he tired of that he started running around the beach and jumping back and forth over the driftwood.  “He was pretending to be a super hero or a ninja,” Burdash said. “The photo captures the childhood experience of joy and excitement of being on the beach without boundaries… It was a very special time with my grandson.”

Burdash plans to bring the Xbox Kinect she won when she visits her grandchildren, including Grey, now 11, at their Virginia home next week.

Winning photos, Celebrating What's Right With the World, Office of Children's Research

3rd place ($50 iTunes gift card) – “Ring Around the Rosie” by Camille McWhirter

McWhirter is interim director of the USF Health Office of Clinical Research.   She was on vacation in Ohio in May when her husband’s high school friends invited her family to a picnic dinner of grilled chicken and fresh fruits and vegetables, outside their sustainable living farmhouse on three acres of rural property.   The gathering included six children, including McWhirter’s daughter Anna Lauren, 6, and son Connor, 9.

“It was a pretty idyllic evening, with the kids playing on a trampoline, swing set and acres of soft Ohio grass. They all put on their bathing suits and jumped in the creek before dinner.  They didn’t have any dry clothes to change into, so they borrowed big T-shirts from one of the older boys,” McWhirter said.

Using her Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, McWhirter tried to capture as much of the memorable evening as possible for friends, especially in that “magic hour” of last daylight when the natural light was warmer and softer.  The winning shot (35mm, ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/125) was snapped after McWhirter had taught some of the younger children how to play Ring Around the Rosie.  (Daughter Anna Lauren is the one in the red T-shirt.)

“I love capturing the innocence of children in the moment and this was one frame in a series from that wonderful day,” McWhirter said. “They were all having so much fun, and everything was right with the world.”

McWhirter knows her way around a camera.  She started a side business that offers event photography, specializing in performance art like dance recitals and ballet studios, as well as portraits on canvas.   Check out her website at


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