Winslow grad rises above to be a top NAU student

When Shayna Richards, 18, was going to Winslow Junior High School, she never thought she would or even could go to college. Now, after a few years of self-determination, she is well on her way to an accomplished life in college and beyond.

Richards, now a sophomore, is majoring in chemistry and biology with a minor in mathematics at Northern Arizona University.

She is proof that NAU is not the third-tier Arizona school that it is sometimes accused of being, because she said that by being at NAU, she is much closer to the research and professionals and does not feel the pressure of a party atmosphere like at Arizona State University.

"It was the trend in my graduating class of '05 to go down to ASU because their parents had the money to send them, but it is a big party school," she said.

"I feel disappointed when I see students go crazy after being away from their parents for the first time in their lives," she said. "That is why there is a high dropout rate for freshmen in college. Their parents pay for them to go to college and they only do it because they have been told all their lives that it is the thing to do."

NAU is not exempt from this phenomenon though. Richards spent the first two semesters in the dorms and then moved out to find housing in Flagstaff because she did not develop any connection with those in the dorms.

"They seemed too young and wild," she said. "I don't feel the need for constant social interaction with my peers for emotional support while going through school."

Richards is much more akin to the older or mature students ‹ those more serious about their education.

Not trying for the scholarships and just getting by on financial loans, can cost $32,000 at the very least for four years at NAU. Richards' academic ability has brought her major financial endowments, which will make things much easier for her in the future, and especially in the present.

The Dorrance Scholarship she earned is valued at $36,000 and includes a one-time $4,000 international study/travel stipend. She also got a $1,000 scholarship from the Winslow Wal-Mart when she graduated high school.

After starting NAU, her exceptional grades put her on the Dean's List ­ in the top 5 percent. As long as she is on that list, NAU rewards students like her with a tuition and book waiver, and then Richards gets to collect in on her Dorrance Scholarship money.

With all this extra money for going to school, Richards will not be resting on her earnings. She so impressed the chemistry department with her exam scores that the school offered her a paid job as a teaching assistant in that department, which she will start this fall.

"I am not nervous about this at all," she said. "I am excited and feel very lucky to not have to worry about money."

Richards recently finished a paper on the ethics surrounding the destruction of human embryos, for her honors critical reading and composition course that was recognized by the university. She was one of about 15 students at NAU invited to present his or her topic to an honors symposium for the semester.

The synopsis of her topic was where the media focuses its attention when it comes to the scientific use of human embryos. On the public's attention, is the religious debate about life beginning at the point of conception then to where the egg is fertilized and develops stem cells, which have been banned for scientific use from religious persuasion of the Bush Administration.

Invitro fertilization ‹ where a woman's eggs are artificially fertilized in a lab ‹ produces about 10-12 embryos, and then one is chosen and the rest are commonly thrown out.

"This is a hypocrisy," Richards said. "Stem cells use less embryos that invitro fertilization, but nobody is looking at that aspect."

According to Richards, she has seen evidence of paralyzed mice being injected with the regenerative stem cells and then walking again as a result.

Another uncommonly known method of embryo destruction comes from pre-implantation genetic diagnosis where parents with a history of genetic disorders or diseases, may create multiple embryos then choose the desired one and discard the rest. Richards said this technique is for the wealthy and can they currently choose their child's gender, but that it also has future implication for choosing features and traits from embryos to be born.

"This is just a new thing for people to get mad about to try and get Bush to stop," she said. "My personal feeling is that when a fetus is a separate entity from its mother, then it can have all the human rights sometimes associated with it before then. How can anyone really say they know when life truly begins? Because even a single cell can be considered living."

She said stem cells research was a promising potential for science and that it is really sad other growth peoples' lives are being affected by this knowledge being held back.

In the meantime, Richards continues to rise the ranks of research at NAU. She said she plans on possibly working to research the connection between the abundant uranium in northern Arizona and its affects on water sources in this area.

Rising above high school politics

By the time Richards entered high school, she said she still never thought of herself as an exceptional student, but after her mother Brenda Richards was diagnosed with a brain tumor ­ Richards' perspective changed.

Both her parents, now disabled, urged Richards to get out of Winslow when the time came.

"You have to earn these grades for yourself and not me," her mother would tell her.

Richards said most parents use fear and punishment to motivate their kids to get good grades and that it does not work because the student needs to have the motivation within them otherwise it is pointless.

From there on, she received straight A's at Winslow High School; quietly sitting in classes and hiding her aptitude. Not many people at WHS knew Richards was in the top 5 percent of her class until her later years in high school.

"I suppressed most of my desire to participate aloud in class, that is until my junior year under the guidance of WHS English teacher Bill Hays," Richards said.

She attributed her early academic suppression to a lack of confidence brought on by a educational environment at the high school that values sports more that intellect and the arts.

"One particular example of this was when I was having trouble with a pre-calculus course and would go in the mornings for help," she said. "When I would get there, he would push me away and tell me to 'go read a book,' but when two of the football players would come in, he would always have time for them."

Upset, Shayna dropped that course.

She was disappointed in her high school biology class discussions that she felt reflected the local religious intolerance towards science.

"Evolution is a vital subject that needs to be taught because so many people are actually ignorant on the subject. It isn't about apes becoming humans. It is about the natural need for beneficial adaptation," she said. "It is important for our understanding of nature for the benefit of all life on the planet."

Aside these differences between some teachers and the student, Richards continued to join extra-circular activities like band, cheerleading for one year, the Amnesty International Club, Honors Society, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and with tutoring other students.

These activities kept Richards busy since she felt she had few friends to be found in Winslow. She did not feel safe in many of the teen environments ‹ like out at Clear Creek where she said many kids went to get drunk.

She said she does not really know what can be done to inspire or encourage teens in Winslow.

"After school programs will not work," she said.

For her, Flagstaff has been a breath of fresh air. Richards enjoys the variety of businesses and restaurants with the surrounding forests. Most of all, she enjoys the progressively minded attitude of the people in Flagstaff.

"They are actually environmentally conscious here," she said. "I really like the policy of no smoking in restaurants."

Shayna's advice for students:

• "The thing that helped me was to set a series of small goals and to achieve them step by step."

• "Even if you do not have support from your family and you want to go to college ‹ you can."

• "You should only go to college if you are enthusiastic about continuing your education; not because your parents told you to."

• "Choose wisely when deciding your major. I encounter so many that do poorly in college because they are not doing what they are interested in."

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