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ACT Names National Semifinalists

2017 ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign

IOWA CITY, Iowa—ACT today named 16 national semifinalists for the 2017 ACT College & Career Readiness Campaign, which celebrates individual and organizational efforts to advance college and career readiness for all.

The semifinalists include four exemplary individuals and organizations from each of the four categories recognized by the campaign: high school seniors (Student Readiness Exemplars), high schools (College & Career Transition Exemplars), postsecondary institutions (Career Preparedness Exemplars), and employers (Workplace Success Exemplars).

“These semifinalists are an encouraging group of innovators and problem-solvers who seek success in college and career readiness for everyone in their communities,” said Scott Montgomery, senior vice president of public affairs at ACT. “We hope their stories serve as enlightening examples of what is being, and what can be done to shape the education and career landscape for years to come.”

This year’s 16 semifinalists are:

High School Seniors
Jayne Hanna (Alaska)
Wyatt Tauber (Minnesota)
Alyssa Bursott (South Dakota)
Jessica Diaz (Texas)

High Schools
Immokalee High School (Florida)
LEAD Academy High School (Tennessee)
Oakland Early College (Michigan)
George Washington High School (West Virginia)

Postsecondary Institutions

The University of Arizona (Arizona)
University of Alaska Anchorage, AHEC Program (Alaska)
Butler Community College (Kansas)
Western Nevada College, Jump Start College Program (Nevada)

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. (Arizona)
Martco, L.L.C. (Louisiana)
Preble County Development Partnership (Ohio)
Goodwill of North Georgia (Georgia)

An ACT selection committee—comprised of ACT team members from different functional areas of the organization—chose the 16 semifinalists out of 130 state exemplars representing all four categories of the campaign. This year, all 50 states and the District of Columbia participated in the annual campaign, up from 41 participating states last year.

The campaign next will select four National Exemplars—one exemplar per category—to be recognized at an ACT event later this fall. National Exemplars are chosen by a National Selection Committee, comprised of education and workforce leaders from across the nation.
Following are profiles of each of the 16 semifinalists:

High School Seniors

Jayne Hanna
Jayne Hanna is a master problem-solver and go-getter, particularly when it comes to keeping connected with her Robotics team, the Sunchasers. Jayne lives in the remote Alaska Native village of Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island—a long 150 miles away from her teammate in Bethel—which makes exchanging ideas, parts and fundraising goods extremely challenging. Jayne worked with community members and school sports teams to hand-deliver goods by bush plane from one community to the other, and used teleconferencing resources to update code and collaborate with her teammate. Despite having limited access to academic opportunities (Jayne is one of 11 high school students in her village) she has actively participated in team sports, speech and poetry competitions, and various student government roles and obtained college credits from dual enrollment since her sophomore year in high school. Jayne hopes to become an educator in rural Alaska to continue her love of learning and act as a role model for other Alaska Natives.


Wyatt Tauber

Wyatt Tauber is a motivated self-starter who developed his own computer repair service to hone his entrepreneurial and technological skills. Wyatt was disheartened by the lack of computer science opportunities in his remote community, so he took it upon himself to learn and develop the technical skills required to offer a local service to community members. He’s no stranger to outreach either. Wyatt helped organize multiple school-wide Hour of Code sessions with his FIRST Robotics team, developing a communication schedule and designing a curriculum that would generate interest and develop understanding of core STEM skills for students in elementary grades through high school. He is passionate about computer science, enrolling himself in online classes and pursuing an Associate in Arts degree. He is also studying for a Microsoft Technology Associate certification in security fundamentals. Wyatt has a five year plan that includes obtaining a B.S. in computer science from Worchester Polytechnic Institute and later an M.S. in computer security.

South Dakota

Alyssa Bursott

Alyssa Bursott has a knack for helping others, remaining dedicated to success, no matter the hardships she’s facing. When her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer the summer before her freshmen year, she took over running the family hobby farm—tending to cattle, harvesting hay and nursing calves—while her mother took care of her father. Throughout this difficult time, Alyssa maintained a perfect GPA, played varsity sports, and was actively involved in band. She pushed herself physically, intellectually, and emotionally, despite her difficult family circumstances. Alyssa has taken her drive and knack for helping others to the next level, earning dual enrollment and AP credits, participating in internship and research programs with local hospitals, and learning all that she can from the scientific community to one day become a neurosurgeon. She hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and someday work for the Peace Corps.


Jessica Diaz

Jessica Diaz has a passion for learning that surpasses cultural bounds or expectations. Growing up in a community where Hispanic women are not expected or encouraged to pursue postsecondary opportunities, Jessica was filled with doubt about her own abilities and will to reach her goals, often wondering if she could stack up against individuals of a more privileged background. However, she refused to let society dictate her future, and instead enrolled herself in all AP classes and challenged herself to learn all that she could in school. She is involved in an FFA program where she raises livestock, pursuant to her love of wildlife. She hopes to obtain a degree in fisheries and wildlife, with a concentration in wildlife conservation to better protect Earth’s ecosystems. She also hopes to pursue a master’s degree in the field of wildlife conservation.

High Schools


Immokalee High School

Immokalee High School offers a multitude of college and career readiness paths for students, including Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) diploma, and career exploration opportunities through three National Academy Foundation (NAF) academies. Immokalee High School partners with community organizations like The Immokalee Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club to offer mentorship and academic support to students. Immokalee is the only high school in the state of Florida with a Migrant Center dedicated to supporting migrant students’ needs so they can be successful in school. Of the 1,723 students enrolled at Immokalee, 758 students are classified as migrant and 96 percent of enrolled students qualify for free and reduced lunch.


Oakland Early College

Oakland Early College (OEC) advances a strong culture of academia and individuality, offering a high school and college world on the Oakland Community College campus. OEC requires all of their high school students to participant in dual-enrollment programs and earn at least 30 college credits prior to graduation, with many students earning Associate degrees or technical certificates from Oakland Community College. OEC’s FOCUS program teaches students a multitude of real-world skills to better prepare them for college and career. Students learn everything from time management and study skills to financial planning and resume-writing techniques. OEC connects students with internship opportunities that fit their career interests, organizes participation in mock interviews with community business members, and covers all college costs so that students can access any college degree or certificate pathway they desire.


LEAD Academy High School

LEAD Academy High School (first opened as a public charter school to serve students from low-income families) provides students with an academic program defined by rigorous curriculum and student-centered learning. In the 2014-2015 school year, LEAD Academy was named a Tennessee Reward School for producing student growth rates in the top 5 percent of all schools in the state. LEAD Academy’s student body is 93 percent minority and more than 90 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch. Students at LEAD Academy are expected to pursue some form of higher education post-graduation. Throughout all four years of their high school career, students attend Seminar classes which prepare them for postsecondary success by instilling good study habits, time management skills, and a focus on literacy and college-level writing. Students visit 16-20 colleges by graduation to experience life on a college campus.

West Virginia

George Washington High School

George Washington High School provides students with a wide variety of curriculum choices, including honors classes in all core and many elective classes, 18 AP classes, virtual classes at the high school and college level, internships, and pathway and CTE programs. George Washington developed a staff-led mentoring program for students to ensure every student has the academic and social-emotional support to develop a plan for success after high school. Students in ninth grade can participate in a STEM class which culminates in a group project and a visit to local businesses. George Washington promotes a fair and equitable environment, encouraging students to lead clubs and participate in activities—like International Day— where diverse cultures and customs are explored and celebrated.

Postsecondary Institutions


The University of Arizona

The University of Arizona is committed to providing all undergraduate students with opportunities to apply their learning to real world challenges and solutions through experiential learning activities, industry-sponsored projects, field-work, and personalized research experiences. The University of Arizona’s 100% engagement pledge makes certain that all undergraduate students will have a hands-on learning experience during their time at UA, ensuring they graduate ready to launch meaningful careers. UA’s holistic approach to education garnered an 82 percent retention rate for the 2015-2016 school year, with higher rates of retention for low-income students participating in financially-supported, cohort-based programs.


University of Alaska Anchorage, AHEC Program

The Alaska Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program at the University of Alaska Anchorage implemented the Behavioral Health Career Pathways Initiative in July of 2015 to engage and prepare high school students for careers in behavioral healthcare. Students from rural and underserved communities are recruited to participate in week-long intensive exploration camps that provide dual credit, Mental Health First Aid certification, and more, building awareness of mental health issues and transforming participants into mental health advocates. Since the program began, 83 percent of participants reported an increased interest in behavioral health and 95 percent reported an increase in knowledge of behavioral health, with 100 percent of program participants now certified in Mental Health First Aid.


Butler Community College

Butler Community College created Early College Academies, a collection of career-specific cohorts where high school students can earn their Associate’s degrees in specific career and technical fields, earning dual credit and participating in job shadows and internships to prepare them for higher education and the workforce. Since inception of the program three years ago, 100 percent of Academy graduates have continued on to some form of educational placement the following fall. In 2015 and 2016, 82 percent of Academy students completed their Associate’s degrees just prior to high school graduation. That number is expected to increase to 90 percent for this year’s graduating class.


Western Nevada College, Jump Start College Program

The Jump Start College Program at Western Nevada College promotes career success beyond academics, providing dual-enrollment opportunities for high school juniors and seniors from 14 (mostly rural) high schools across the state. The Jump Start College Program serves a large low-income and first generation population of students who are considered “at-risk” academically. In spite of this, 94 percent of students enrolled in the first year of the program passed their classes successfully, and 96 percent of second-year students passed their classes, compared to an overall course completion rate of 73 percent for Western Nevada College.


McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., an employee-owned commercial construction company founded in 1864, believes that investing in their employees’ personal and professional development is a direct investment into McCarthy’s future. McCarthy offers a personalized training program and approach under McCarthy Build U, which focuses on a leadership framework and training solutions. McCarthy partners with local high schools and colleges to provide apprenticeship and internship opportunities and conducts and assists presentations and construction tours with local schools and campuses.

Martco, L.L.C.

Martco, L.L.C. dba RoyOMartin, is a forest-products and wood-manufacturing company known for its philanthropy, sustainable forest practices, and human resource development. RoyOMartin is committed to closing the workforce gap in Central Louisiana and seeks to do so by offering employees a compensation system that promotes self-directed learning and advancement, an internal leadership-development program focused on hard and soft skills, and scholarships for employees and their dependents. RoyOMartin also partners with high schools, technical colleges, and universities to prepare students with the technical and manufacturing skills they need to succeed in the workforce and in life.


Preble County Development Partnership

The Preble County Development Partnership, Inc. (PCDP) is the county’s economic development department, formed to address community growth and development, and assist in job creation, business retention, community outreach, and workforce development. PCDP engaged local businesses and educational partners to work toward the ACT Work Ready Community Certification (Preble County is the only Certified ACT Work Ready Community in the State of Ohio), offering ACT WorkKeys assessments to all high school seniors in Preble County for the past two years, and promoting the value of a National Career Readiness Certificate, as well as ACT Job Profiling and WorkKeys assessment tools to local high schools and businesses.


Goodwill of North Georgia

Goodwill of North Georgia, an independent and locally governed nonprofit established in 1925, operates retail stores, career centers and training programs to serve disadvantaged individuals across 45 counties of Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Through partnerships with local school districts, college systems and employers, Goodwill offers a broad range of employment, training and support options, including job training, industry recognized credentials and dual enrollment opportunities. Last fiscal year, Goodwill connected over 20,000 North Georgians with work, and looks to increase their impact by 3,000 individuals this year.

Learn more about the ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign.

About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a national leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.