An Upper Arlington High School junior who entered a New York Times editorial cartoon contest as part of a class assignment emerged last month as one of seven winners for students ages 13 to 19.

For as long as she can remember, 16-year-old Joanna Nielsen has enjoyed drawing and painting.

"It's just kind of my thing," she said Dec. 14 while painting a portrait of her cat, Ferret, for an art class at UAHS.

So when her politics, economics and government teacher, Michael Rice, required his students to enter either a New York Times The Learning Network Editorial Cartoon contest, a C-SPAN StudentCam competition or a Bill of Rights Institute essay contest, it didn't take long for Nielsen to choose to employ her hobby for the assignment.

She said her entry was a response to President Donald Trump's comments following an Aug. 12 clash between white nationalists and crowds of counter-protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which culminated with a driver plowing into a crowd of protesters, resulting in dozens of injuries and the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Maumee has been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

Following the incident, Trump blamed both sides for the conflict, saying there were "very fine people" on each side of the protest.

Nielsen's editorial cartoon shows Trump sitting at a table flanked by Ku Klux Klan members. The caption beneath the drawing is "Very fine people."

Nielsen's entry and the other contest winners can be seen at tinyurl.com/ydbrsnbm.

"Ever since I heard (Trump) said that about the Charlottesville rally, I wanted to draw that, but I didn't have a reason," Nielsen said. "I was trying to show how hypocritical Trump is and how, basically, he's a white supremacist."

While she acknowledges some might not agree with her assessment of the president or his reaction to the incident, Nielsen said she saw the contest as a chance to shine light on a national tragedy and to express her shock and opposition to President Trump's response.

"I'm just not sure if everyone pays attention that much to the news," she said. "I thought it was a chance to get a message out and have people more open to it than if it was just in the news.

"I didn't really think much about what people might take away from it. I just thought I had to say something."

Rice said he gave the assignment in order to have students create "tangible products to apply their learning from our unit on the Constitution and to apply their knowledge of current events."

"I told my students that I think Upper Arlington schools have some of the best students in the country and I thought they had a real shot to earn some kind of honor by participating," Rice said.

He said he was excited to see one of his students' talents validated on a national scale and he is proud of her efforts.

"When Joanna handed in the assignment, I told her and multiple colleagues, 'Wow, I think you will win this,' " he said. "Her artistry was that impressive and her idea was fairly simple, yet very powerful."

Nielsen didn't receive any monetary award for winning the contest, but she said the project boosted her spirits. She was particularly heartened by comments posted to the New York Times webpage that announced winners.

Nielsen said she's not sure if she'll pursue art as a career because of the "stereotype of being an artist and having no money."

Rather, she might seek a degree in environmental science.

"The environment is very important to me," she said. "We only have one Earth, and I feel like we need to do a better job of taking care of it."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate