Sonlight students exemplify academic excellence, creativity & servanthood
Congratulations to our 2014 Sonlight scholarship winners! Like so many Sonlight students, they have a heart for learning, exhibit exceptional character, are active in their communities, demonstrate leadership skills, are creative, cultivate spiritual depth and are well-prepared for the academic rigors of college.
What part does a Sonlight homeschool education play in the past successes and future goals of these students? All have completed at least five Sonlight History / Bible / Literature programs (including high school-level programs). Their exceptional talent, along with an eagerness to follow God's leading, make it a joy for Sonlight to invest in their continuing education.
Sonlight has awarded $1,056,500 since we began the scholarship program, including $88,000 to these 12 winners over the next four years. We look forward to seeing all God does in and through them as they take what they've learned - through Sonlight and their homeschool experience - into college and the world beyond.
$20,000 Scholarship Winner
($5,000 each year)
Top Sonlight scholar Kelly McGee of Colorado Springs, CO, envisions a career in bioengineering that provides medical technology to developing nations. He earned an SAT score of 2350, is an Eagle Scout, Lead Shepherd in a local children's ministry, college math tutor and contributing author of a manuscript on improving crystallographic structures of proteins, submitted to the Journal of Molecular Modeling.
Kelly's academic strength is complemented by an obvious zest for life. Living in Southeast Asia for a time, he writes, "I explored jungles, caught exotic fish and ate unforgettably delicious meals!" The experience he calls "life-changing" paved the way for a multitude of service opportunities there (e.g., working with children at a community center in an impoverished neighborhood) and ignited an interest in cross-cultural relations.
His subsequent research on the effects of globalization is an extension of his desire to impact the world. "I have learned to look beyond differences, and to live and work with people of different cultures and backgrounds. I intend to use the blessings God has given me to bless others."
Kelly was recently selected to participate in a hospital-sponsored program for students interested in medicine and health-related professions.
$10,000 Scholarship Winners
($2,500 per year)
Growing up as a missionary kid in Belgium, Evangeline Bonin of Baton Rouge, LA, never imagined she would one day dance for Jesus, though her parents observed her creativity at an early age. Hers was the room splashed with color, embellished with artwork, and the origin of ideas for family skits.
Fast forward to her discovery of classical dance, which now propels her dreams. Through what she describes as God's providence, she joined the Salt & Light Christian dance troupe, performing in churches and public festivals in Belgium's major cities. Also a student of music theory and piano, Evangeline is now inspired to communicate Christ's message by way of ballet. "As I dance for His glory," she says, "I feel freedom, joy and a desire to be used by God. I sense in my spirit, God saying, 'Yes! Yes!'"
She is currently auditioning for college dance programs, with plans to one day join a Christian ballet company and spread the joy of dance by teaching.
A Sonlight student since kindergarten, Hannah Carroll of Uganda recalls she understood from an early age that, "My life isn't really mine - I belong to Jesus. It's not my story, but His." From outreach to orphaned children and the disabled in Uganda where she grew up as a missionary kid, to sharing her faith with recovering addicts at Teen Challenge, she knows what it means to be the hands and feet of God.
The National Merit Finalist also loves to create, and has been writing for as long as she can remember. A blogger, artist, photographer and published poet, she collaborated on and edited her father's recently published book. She also enjoys teaching her younger siblings and created a Sonlight-style World History of Architecture course for her brother.
Hannah plans to major in Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University. "I can imagine translating the Bible for isolated tribal people ... working with students in a closed country ... training women in persecuted places ... I can't wait to see what He will do in and through me as He brings the nations to know Him."
"God's itinerary, my adventure" is the perspective with which Jenna Khazoyan of Highlands Ranch, CO, views her life. As she looks to her future, she wants to find that place where, in the words of writer-theologian Frederick Buechner, "my deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
Described as passionate and purposeful, Jenna loves languages and has studied Mandarin, French and Farsi. An accomplished musician and budding entrepreneur, she established her own studio, Dolce Danza ("sweet dance"), where she teaches piano to children. A longtime student of speech and debate, she has competed at three national tournaments, and continues to use her voice to inform and advocate, particularly on issues that affect "the least of these" (e.g., the poor and victims of human trafficking).
A love of science, an SAT score of 2310, and a desire to emulate Jesus' compassion and healing point to a vocation in nursing, which will serve well alongside her commitment to overseas missions.
Says Jenna, "I know that God is coordinating a meaningful plan. It's going to be quite an adventure!"
Ovwoioise "Oise" Omoijuanfo of Shaker Heights, OH, knows firsthand that addressing a hurting person's physical needs often profoundly impacts his or her spiritual healing. His vision is to change West African healthcare with a marriage of medicine and technology.
The eldest child of missionary parents, Oise has lived in remote geographic locations where pain is prevalent and resources nonexistent. Working alongside his dad, whether to start a chicken farm, dig a well, build a bridge or transform a bus into a mobile medical clinic, the character traits of compassion, persistence and innovation emerged to confirm his destiny.
"I believe becoming a doctor is the best way for me to serve and bring Jesus to the lost. I can use engineering and medicine to transform lives," says Oise.
Toward that goal, he was chosen from 1,000 applicants (the only homeschooled student selected - he's been a Sonlighter since second grade) to intern at The Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic, where he worked with an international team to research ex-vivo normothermic liver perfusion.
Oise plans to pursue an undergraduate degree in engineering at Case Western Reserve University or Vanderbilt.
$4,000 Scholarship Winners
($1,000 each year)
Sonlight will additionally award these seven outstanding students a $1,000 scholarship for each year of college, up to four years:
Mississippi is the most obese state in the nation. Mary Kate Gaines of Coldwater, MS, is doing her part to change that stat and sees a future right in her "backyard." She's been interested in health and well-being from an early age, when career plans included doctor, nurse, veterinarian, teacher and mother — all in the same lifetime!
Mary Kate began a 4-H food and nutrition project at age 5. In her decade-long involvement, she earned a host of high-level honors and awards, and served in many leadership positions, including Mississippi State 4-H President. For her final community service project, she spearheaded the Tate County "Mississippi in Motion" program, which educates people about lifestyle issues such as nutrition and exercise.
Her vision extends beyond her home state. She wants to "go into all the world," and has traveled to Michigan, Mexico and Panama, ministering to physical and spiritual needs. She plans to continue her healing quest by first earning a biology degree, and then pursuing a physical therapy doctorate at the University of Mississippi in Jackson.
"Mississippi seems to be calling my name," she says. "Wherever life leads, I plan on serving my Lord with the gifts He has given me."
Grace Gilman of Moreno Valley, CA, has always loved the sciences. In fact, it's one of her three greatest passions. From performing dissections to competing in the State Science Fair to helping her mom teach chemistry to other homeschooled students, she is "fascinated by the intricate workings and amazing processes in God's creation."
Passion #2? "I find joy in serving," says Grace. "Service is one of my spiritual gifts, and my life goal is to serve the Lord," whether leading AWANA club, coaching girls' soccer, teaching Sunday school, managing a theater production, volunteering at the hospital or counseling children on a Navajo reservation.
An individual who pursues excellence in all endeavors, Grace is also passionate about learning. She wants to be a medical doctor overseas and has been accepted to an internship in the Philippines this summer, where she'll get a tangible taste for the life of a medical missionary.
Reflecting on the faith and longevity of her grandpa, who was ill for many years, and on the influence of a Christian physician who encouraged the family at that time, Grace asserts, "Becoming a doctor will use all of my passions and skills to glorify God's Kingdom."
Andrew Heldenbrand of Spain loves to meet people from other cultures and learn about their world. He has lived in or traveled to France, Switzerland, Germany, England, Italy, the U.S., Mexico, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Namibia. Along the way, he dug a well for African villagers, participated in prison ministries, taught conversational English, ate fried grasshoppers and roasted mice - and enjoyed all of the above.
Andrew's interests and abilities are many. He's an award-winning photographer, with experience in television film production (and the occasional actor role). He has formally studied Spanish and Chiyao (African tribal language), and also informally learned some Portuguese, Arabic and French. His creative written accounts of international adventures are infused with a characteristic dry wit.
Through it all, he has become certain of at least two things: 1) God has called him to servanthood, and 2) God doesn't make mistakes. Andrew likens his future to that of "a soldier, pushing the boundaries of His country to include neglected and forgotten people." As he prepares for college, he eagerly anticipates the training, growth and inevitable maturity that will equip him for service.
Spencer Kolssak of Winnetka, IL, has been using Sonlight since third grade, which by his parents' account has provided a tremendous knowledge base, equipping him to be a thinker and a communicator. "We cherish the deep conversations we've had and are encouraged to see a faithful man of God emerging from the heart of our son," they write.
Proficient at speech and debate, he's active in Gavel Club (junior Toastmasters) and the National Christian Forensics & Communication Association. A Boy Scout since sixth grade and chaplain for his troop, he recently attained Eagle Scout rank. As a captain of his rowing team, self-sacrifice, determination and perseverance have been hallmarks. Deeply patriotic, he's a senior airman in the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary branch of the U.S. Air Force. A lover of filmmaking, he launched Vine Street Productions and has produced numerous shorts and videos.
"I am a writer, a thinker, a speaker, an artist, a filmmaker, an organizer and a leader," says Spencer. "I have many areas of interest, but my primary focus is public administration and leadership. My life's mission is to help restore America to a standard of godliness." Toward that aspiration, Spencer plans to study political science.
"I would happily study philosophy, English literature, theology, physics, music, history, education, mythology, legends, ancient lore and more," says Eleanor Raquet of Beavercreek, OH. "Sonlight has clearly done its job!"
"God has given me the desire to minister to hurting people," continues Eleanor, who enjoys working with children and teaching. In keeping with her gifts, she initiated and leads a Lights of the World girls' discipleship group, and has also received training in biblical counseling.
She has a passion for music, particularly, the violin, and plays with the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as the professional Springfield Symphony as part of Project Protege. She also teaches violin, viola and piano. Her musical credits additionally include participation in Ohio Music Federation Clubs and Live Wire honors string quartet, a top placement and subsequent performance in the Senior Concerto Competition, and Cadenza (orchestra newsletter) editor.
"The purpose of music is to enjoy and extol God and His beauty," she reflects. "I often marvel at how sound waves, wood, reeds and metal move my soul." Eleanor plans to pursue a violin performance degree at a private Christian university.
A voracious reader, E. Claire Simpson of Russellville, AL, has read every book in the family's 14 years of Sonlight study. She lives to interact and connect with others, learn new things and understand the world. Explaining her rationale for foreign language study, Claire once informed her parents that knowing English, Spanish and Chinese would allow her to communicate with 2/3 of the world's population. True to her vision, she later traveled alone from East Asia to a New York City internship, utilizing all three languages in community service.
Academically excellent, Claire earned a near-perfect score of 35 on the ACT, and is a National Merit Commended Scholar and AP* (Advanced Placement) Scholar. As a member of her homeschool co-op debate team, she won every debate in which she participated. She notes that the process of research helps her to better understand opinions that differ from her own.
"With children's songs from my long-ago days in Sunday school, I covertly etch fundamental syntax rules and eternal truths in my students' minds," Claire shares of her current experience as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher of second graders. She plans to follow God's leading to Vanderbilt University, where she will pursue her passion for teaching.
The son of an Air Force officer who has been deployed overseas numerous times, Connor Tibbetts of Centennial, CO, acknowledges a heightened awareness of the freedoms and liberties Americans enjoy. He desires to be a lawyer who upholds and defends parental rights, particularly for homeschool families.
Like so many Sonlighters, Connor loves to learn, and is notorious for extending science experiments and computer science activities beyond an assignment to explore additional "what-if?" scenarios. An AP (Advanced Placement) Scholar and National Merit Commended Scholar, he earned a score of 33 on the ACT and has also been inducted into the Eta Sigma Alpha National Home School Honor Society.
Attesting to Connor's leadership skills, he was selected for the elite Air Force Reserve Teen Council as Southwest Mountain Region Representative, serving nine Air Force bases, and has earned the organization's highest honor, Youth of the Year. Other extracurricular endeavors include piano, guitar, varsity tennis, youth soccer referee and extensive community service.
"There is no question that Sonlight was the catalyst for his love of learning, extraordinary academic success, and search to know and understand God," notes his father. Connor plans to attend the University of Denver and participate in the tennis program.
*Advanced Placement, Advanced Placement Program and AP are registered trademarks of the College Board.