Virginia Tech Magazine
Alumni Shorts
Summer 2009

An Emmy-winning story

Telling the tale of one woman's tragedy has netted an Emmy for a Virginia Tech alumnus, no matter that it wasn't an easy story to report.

Frankie Gunnell Jr. (communication '05), a photojournalist with WCNC in Charlotte, N.C., won a Mid-South regional spot news Emmy for his part in producing "Ripped Apart," the story of a woman whose trailer was destroyed by a tornado in Lincoln County, N.C. Gunnell shot all the video for the piece and also conducted several of the interviews. After reporter Richard DeVayne wrote the story, Gunnell edited the piece.

Gunnell and DeVayne had gone out to cover the tornado damage when they found a trailer owned by Sarah Tarry that had been destroyed. Tarry had stayed safely with a sister, but Gunnell and DeVayne were there when Tarry arrived back home.

"When she got out of the car, she was already crying. Then the Tarrys were nice enough to let us hang around during this horrible time for their family," says Gunnell, recalling that, as he walked, he had to step around their pictures and clothes. "I really felt bad for her."

Gunnell graduated from Dan River High School in Ringgold, Va. "I've always loved sports, and I wanted to do something around sports," says Gunnell, who idolized Roanoke, Va., former sports director Mike Stevens and eventually worked with him as an intern.

At Tech, he was elected general manager of the university television station in addition to his sports director duties. "I just got eaten up with it," Gunnell says. "I had to sacrifice a lot of things that a lot of college kids did."

Frankie Gunnell Jr. '05
Frankie Gunnell Jr. '05

When Gunnell went to Nashville, Tenn., for the Emmy awards ceremony, the enormity of the moment hit him. He says he thought, "What is going on? If they call my name, I actually have to get up there and say something."

At age 26, Gunnell now has an Emmy, and he simply wants to keep improving. "Hopefully, my photography will grow better as I grow older," he says. "Also, I don't want this Emmy to get lonely."

Blending botany and brushstroke

Lara Call Gastinger M.S. '02
Lara Call Gastinger M.S. '02

For botanical illustrator Lara Call Gastinger (M.S. plant ecology '02), stopping to study the exquisite beauty of Virginia's native plants and of those that grow in her vegetable garden is not a pastime but part of her job. In fact, her exhibit "Ten Walks in June" earned her the Gold Medal at the Royal Horticultural Show in London in February 2007. The collection, like many of her works, emphasized seasonal changes in plant life.

From carrot to kale, seedling to seedpod, berry to thorn, Gastinger fills each of her works with studied detail, carefully sketching a plant from root to leaf to bloom, before painting it in watercolor, using small brushes and a minimal amount of water to highlight each feature.

Central to each piece she creates, whether ink sketch or painting, is an educational component: to portray the life cycles of flora and to call attention to the beauty of native plants. "It really has to have some resonance with me. I just look for inspiration in whatever's around me," she reflects.

Gastinger's journey to a career as a professional artist has been one of the melding of science and art. She studied biology at the University of Virginia with a minor in architecture, intent on pursuing a career as a landscape architect. "But I missed plants," says Gastinger, who then came to Virginia Tech to study plant ecology, only to find that while immersed in the study of flora, she longed for art.

She finally found the intersection of the two during her time at Tech, where she first learned about the Flora of Virginia project, a venture aimed at illustrating each of the commonwealth's more than 3,800 species of native and naturalized plants. The illustrations will be compiled into a reference manual that will serve as a resource for botany students, gardeners, teachers, and lovers of flora interested in learning more about Virginia plant life. Now head illustrator for the project, which is set for completion in 2012, Gastinger is responsible for the illustration of more than 1,500 plants. "We have a lot of plants that are only found here in Virginia that will get to be covered in this book."

Gastinger has been involved with the project for five years, enjoying both the challenge of the project's scope and the flexibility that provides her time to work on other projects. She also teaches botanical painting classes to adults. "I want my students to come away with a new way of seeing plants and to appreciate the wonderful flora we have around us," she says.

To learn more about Gastinger and her work, visit her website at

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