Evelyn Nutt

Ketchikan High School junior Evelyn Nutt debates with Sitka High School sophomore Mina Brooks-Schmidt during the Public Forum Debate in the Drama and Forensics Regional Tournament on January 24 at Kayhi. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Ketchikan High School junior Evelyn Nutt is finding ways to pursue her growing academic interests — she was recently accepted for participation in two prestigious summer programs.

Recently, Nutt was selected to participate in the Leadership Enterprise for Diverse America summer program. She’ll also be involved with the upcoming Al Neuharth Free Spirit journalism conference.

Each year, the LEDA program sends 100 high school juniors to Princeton University for a seven-week experience.

The LEDA website states that the program “includes leadership training, academic writing instruction, standardized test preparation, college guidance, and community building.”

The program specializes in helping students from diverse and underprivileged backgrounds gain academic support and opportunities. Students who attend the program will continue to receive mentoring about applying for colleges throughout their senior year.

During a Friday afternoon phone interview, Nutt said that the program would now be conducted virtually due to COVID-19.

“It was going to be a wonderful experience for me to go see Princeton University in New Jersey and to meet so many other people with diverse backgrounds all over the country,” Nutt said. “So now that we have to do it virtually, the program’s trying to figure out how to do it online and everything.”

Nutt said that she learned about the program about a year and a half ago, from former Kayhi student and LEDA scholar Franklyn Correa, who attended the program during the summer of 2018.

Nutt, who said that she is interested in both STEM and humanities-focused careers, said that since learning about the program from Correa, she has thought that it might be an answer to her “crazy ambitions.”

“I saw him succeeding and him doing what he wanted through this program and so I thought, you know, I might have some crazy career passions, but I think through this program it would help me to get myself out there, even though my family’s not as fortunate … that way, it would just kind of give me an opportunity, give me a chance, and I’m all about that,” Nutt explained.

To be accepted into the program, students have to complete a long application — Nutt started the process in August, and finished in November.

In addition to filling out forms regarding biographical and financial information, students have to write two essays.

The first essay asks the student to identify a hardship or challenge they have faced, and how it helped them grow.

“It was such a broad question,” Nutt recalled. “I was stuck on the essay for about three months.”

“So I did a lot of journaling for a couple weeks just trying to figure out what, who am I, you know?” Nutt said. “It was a whole process.”

The second essay that Nutt wrote had to identify a problem that she wanted to fix and felt passionate about.

Nutt said that she wrote about her experience starting a club that enlists Kayhi students to tutor Schoenbar Middle School students during their after-school homework club.

In her second essay, she honed in on the difficult transition that going from middle to high school can present to students — a topic Nutt is familiar with, as she attended two middle schools and two high schools because her family moved often due to her father’s military career.

“I completely understand how difficult school transitions were and I just wanted to reach out to our community, of course,” she said.

After finishing the application, Nutt had to play a waiting game.

“I had to wait and I made myself get busy and not think about it because the more I thought about it the more nervous I got,” she said.

Nutt received a notice that she had been advanced to the second step of the application process. She was tasked with filling out more paperwork regarding her financial situation.

Over a month later, the third stage of the application began.

Calling the experience “nerve-wracking,” Nutt said she was interviewed by LEDA staff.

“I got to talk with one of their staff members… and you know they were just trying to get to know me, my ambitions, kind of going over some of my application,” Nutt said.

On April 20, Nutt was notified that she was accepted into the program.

“After all that time, it finally happened,” Nutt said.

Nutt also was recently given a seat at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit journalism conference, which was originally slated to be held in June in Washington, D.C.

The conference is linked to the Freedom Forum Institute. According to information from the institute, the conference will instead be held online, and will only be open to those students who had been previously accepted to the program.

Nutt heard about the opportunity from Robert McClory, Kayhi’s junior and senior counselor.

With Leah Call attending last year and Liam Kiffer making the trip in 2018, Kayhi has sent more than 10 students to the conference since 2009, according to Freedom Forum information.

Nutt said that although she enjoyed writing, she had not had much experience with journalism before applying for the conference.

“It was a new challenge, and that was the biggest part of it for me, was that it was new, it was unexpected for me,” she said.

Nutt said that depending on her experience at the event, she might be inspired to take a journalism class next year at Kayhi.

Next year, Nutt also will be an officer in the Rotary Interact Club at Kayhi. She also will be a captain for the school’s academic decathlon team.