By: Lacey McMurry 25.JUL.06, Uintah Basin Standard
Leisa Hendricks knows a lot about aiming high. The 17-year-old Vernal girl has been awarded over $100,000 in scholarship and grant money to use when she begins Westminster College in Salt Lake City this fall. In addition, she was also named the top Native American scholar by her graduating class at Uintah High School in May.
HARD WORK AND DEDICATION— Leisa Hendricks of Vernal hit the books in high school and it’s paying off despite stereotypes and a draining schedule. She’s been awarded over $100,000 in grants and scholarships to help her further her education and reach her dreams. She plans to pursue a nursing degree at Westminster College and one day attend medical
But despite all of her success, friends and relatives will tell you that the most amazing part of Leisa’s story is not the dozens of academic rewards and accolades that are quickly piling up in her name. Rather, it’s the fact that Leisa has managed to make education a priority in spite of personal difficulty.
“She’s really worked hard to get where she’s at today,” said Leisa’s grandma Alene Hendricks. “She’s so deserving of all of these awards because she’s smart and she has such a desire to succeed. Not many other kids today are willing to do what she has done to find success.”
Due to debilitating back and nervous system injuries, Leisa’s parents have been physically unable to maintain steady employment for much of her life. Instead, they have been forced to rely heavily on minimal income from disability, social security and Medicaid checks.
“I know how difficult it is to come from a low-income family and live without a lot of the things that we need,” Leisa said. “That’s really why I decided that I needed to make education more important in my life. I wanted something good for myself.”
Because of her family’s financial situation, Leisa became a certified nurse’s assistant in high school and began working at a care center in Vernal during the day. She attended school in the afternoon and at night. Her days were almost always long, and the temptation to drop out of school was sometimes strong, Leisa said.
But a small part of her always knew that education was the key to a better life. During her freshman and sophomore years, Leisa’s grades were poor because she didn’t care about academics. However, with the help of school counselors at Uintah High, Leisa quickly saw the importance of bringing up her GPA so she could qualify for college.
“Once I started to try and bring my grades up, it was difficult because most of my Native American peers didn’t really understand why education was important to me and why I wanted to go to college,” Leisa said. “I didn’t really have any peer support to succeed.”
Leisa has thought a lot about the problem of high-drop out rates and low academic success among Native American students across the country. From her perspective, a big part of the problem is a shortage of Native American teachers, mentors, and counselors in the public school system.
“I always wished that there was at least one class at school that focused on Native American culture,” Leisa said. “I think that’s something a lot of students would get excited about. More Native American teachers would help pave the way for more success because Native American students would feel like they had someone they could relate to.”
Although Leisa is now preparing to enter college with over $100,000 in scholarship money, she said she knows there will still be challenges in her future. For starters, there will be the difficulties of getting along with new roommates, overcoming homesickness and learning to drive in the big city.
But more than that, Leisa also faces the rigors of adjusting to a tough academic schedule. She wants to earn a nursing degree from Westminster, and eventually hopes to be able to attend medical school. Her reason for pursuing this path is simple: She wants to be able to use the skills she has gained to help her family.
“From the experiences I have had watching my parents struggle with pain, I decided that I wanted to do everything I could to some day be in a position to come up with a program that provides quality health care for low-income families,” Leisa said. “And I also want to be there for my grandparents when they get older and start needing some medical help.”
Although Leisa said her road to academic success has been rocky and long, it’s also helped her find the strength of character that she needed to succeed.
“If you work hard enough, you can find a way to rise above any challenge you face,” she said.
Leisa is the Grand-Daughter of Bret Hendricks, terminated Uinta, roll #171.