Jamestown High School senior McKayla Kurtz talks about how her $25,000 Horatio Alger National Scholarship will help her study psychology in college and graduate school during lunch on Monday.

A Jamestown High School student is one of 106 recipients of the 2018 Horatio Alger National Scholarship.

McKayla Kurtz, a senior, is the only student from North Dakota this year to receive the $25,000 scholarship. It will help pay Kurtz’s out-of-state tuition to attend Minnesota State University in Mankato, where she will study psychology and then go on to graduate school for either occupational therapy or another degree in the psychology field.

“The brain and how it works really interests me,” Kurtz said. JHS Principal Adam Gehlhar said the scholarship reflects well on Kurtz’s character and her work ethic. “I think it also is a reflection of our school and our community,” Gehlhar said. “We’re proud of her.”

Kurtz has a 3.9 grade point average and participates in National Honor Society, SkillsUSA and Science Olympiad and is a member of the JHS volleyball team. To qualify for the scholarship, Kurtz also had to show financial need and write an essay. Kurtz wrote about her experience working as a direct support professional at the Anne Carlsen Center.

After becoming a certified nursing assistant through the James Valley Career and Technology Center, Kurtz said she job shadowed various health positions in the community before getting a part-time job at the Anne Carlsen Center.

“I’ve always had a love for kids,” Kurtz said. “I’ve baby-sat since I was 12.”

The experience taught her the importance of helping children take small steps toward achieving goals they never thought possible, she said. “These are things we might take for granted like writing our names,” Kurtz said. “That comes hard for them, and I just like being able to help them in a small way.”

The essay detailed some of the experiences that Kurtz had working with children. She said the challenges and the children taught her a lot about herself. “It taught me a lot about life and what to expect,” Kurtz said. “I love that job and it has led me to decide on a career where I work with kids, and I work with kids with disabilities and to make a difference with that.”

Getting this scholarship seemed unlikely with 40,000 applicants, she said. When a call came from an unknown phone number, Kurtz said she wasn’t sure why she answered. “I usually don’t answer those,” Kurtz said. “The person congratulated me and I had tears in my eyes. I was in shock. I had no idea.”

Kurtz and the other scholarship recipients will attend an April seminar on preparing for college in Washington, D.C. The Horatio Alger Association and scholarship are named for Horatio Alger Jr., a 19th century American author who wrote almost exclusively to inspire readers to work hard and persevere through adversity. He based his characters on the Civil War orphans he met on the streets of New York.

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