Aeronautics in the Future for 2013 Rural Leonore Annenberg Scholarship Winner

Last Updated: May 30, 2013

This article appeared in the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.

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Richard Otis will have the chance to pursue his ambition to become an aeronautical engineer. The high school junior from West Fairlee, Vermont, was recently named the 2013 rural recipient of a Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship.

Richard Otis
Richard Otis, 2013 rural recipient of a Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship

Gail Levin is Director of the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, Fellowship, and School Funds, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. She explains that the four-year, all-expense scholarship is awarded to “high school juniors of uncommon intelligence, empathy, and drive who overcome challenging circumstances and demonstrate exceptional character and academic achievement. Beginning in 2008, five Leonore Annenberg Scholars have been selected each year from urban and rural America."

The Rural Trust, an educational partner organization with the Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship, Fellowship, and School Funds, nominates outstanding candidates for the Scholarship. “We were very happy to nominate Richard,” said Doris Terry Williams, Ed.D. Executive Director of Rural Trust. “He demonstrates not only the outstanding achievement but also the engagement with his community and the personal drive that signal he will make great contributions.”

A happy relief

Otis was nominated for the competitive scholarship by Keri Gelenian, principal at Rivendell Academy, his local public school. Unlike most scholarships, candidates do not apply to the Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship Fund and do not know they are being considered until well into the nomination process.

This was the case for Otis, who was pulled from calculus class one afternoon earlier this school year to write an essay about how a scholarship might benefit him. The school’s rural internet connection had been down for several days during which time word had come to the school that additional materials, including the essay, were needed for the next round of Scholarship review. Due, it turns out, that day.

“I had a little over two hours to choose and revise a previous essay, pull together my resume, complete an application form, let my teachers know why I wasn’t in class, and write an essay about the scholarship. Basically, I wrote that timed essay in about 35 minutes,” Otis laughs. Meanwhile, adults were behind the scenes racing around and gathering other required materials.

Later in the process, Otis participated in phone interviews with Levin and also with Williams and completed additional steps in the application.

In March Otis learned that he had received the scholarship, although he didn’t register all it entailed. “Dr. Williams called me at my house to tell me. I was so happy, and of course I told my Mom and Dad,” says Otis. He also immediately called Mr. Gelenian. “I called the school and I could hear the principal scream ‘Yes!’ as loud as he could.”

It wasn’t until Otis received the information packet in the mail that the full impact of the scholarship became clear. “That was when I understood how much the scholarship covered: tuition, room and board, living expenses, fee deposits, laptop and printer, orientation, counseling sessions in Philadelphia,” says Otis. “I realized then that I could apply to any college with the programs I wanted and I would have the means to attend. It was a happy relief.”

Math, science, history, outdoor activities

Describing his interests, Otis says, “I love to be outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking. I love to build things. And I love science and engineering even though a lot of people think of me more as a history person.”

Last year, Otis and his social studies teacher applied for and were chosen as one of only 15 teacher-student applicant teams nationally to participate in the Albert H. Small Student Teacher Institute’s, 2nd Annual, Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Program. The Institute, in conjunction with National History Day, convenes participants in intensive study in Washington, D.C. and on the Normandy coast. “That was a lot of work and a great experience,” Otis enthuses, adding that the application process was good preparation for other competitions.

But aeronautics has been a keen interest for Otis who builds rockets and model planes. “My great uncle worked for NASA and Lockheed Martin during the Cold War, and my mom’s cousin also works for Lockheed Martin. I got interested about their lives and aeronautics around seventh grade,” he explains.

Currently Otis is completing a one-semester residential program at the Mountain School, which offers an intensive advanced academics program. The school is situated in an agricultural setting and requires students to work on the school farm and in its sustainable wood lot.

Otis credits his Upward Bound program for helping prepare him for the college application and search process. “In that program we do a lot of college and SAT preparation. They have scholarship workshops and we fill out applications and visit colleges. That helped when I had to write the essay so quickly — I knew I had to make myself memorable.”

That program helped Otis understand the cost factors of college. “The main thing I was worried about was that I couldn’t afford to go to a college that offered the engineering studies that I want. Now I won’t have to change my major or go to a school that’s a bad fit for me.”

Upward Bound also encourages community involvement. For two summers Otis worked at the St. Johnsbury (Athenaeum), where he organized and moved thousands of books, including old and rare books. “I probably touched the most books possible in one summer,” he observes. He also worked as a volunteer shopper for Warm the Children, a cooperative effort between newspapers and local communities. The program helps provide new winter wear to children that need it by partnering families, participating retail stores, and volunteer shoppers — mostly Upward Bound students — for a special shopping trip each fall.

Serious gratitude

With a full range of college options to consider, Otis currently includes Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Syracuse University, and MIT on his list of options.

“Gail Levin came up with the idea for all three programs — the Scholarship, the Fellowship, and the School Fund, and Mrs. Annenberg provided the support for them,” says Otis. “I want to thank them both for making this opportunity possible for me. I’m glad Mrs. Annenberg lived to see the first round of the programs come into fruition. I also want to say thank you to Dr. Williams for supporting my nomination and working with me and to thank my principal and counselor for everything they did to make this happen."

Don’t miss “Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, Fellowship, and School Funds Benefit Rural High School Student and Two Rural Elementary Schoolsfor more overview as well as additional information about the Leonore Annenberg Funds. Also, be sure to read “2013 Rural Recipients of Grants from the Leonore Annenberg School Fund for Children to learn about how the Fund for Children is supporting programs in two rural elementary schools.


Read more from the May 2013 Rural Policy Matters.