STEM Academy val, sal going for scientific careers

STEM Academy valedictorian Allison Barnes and salutatorian Isaac Arellano pose for a photo in front of their college pathways at the school. Barnes will study aerospace engineering at Texas A&M and Arellano will be studying computer science at Colorado School of Mines. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

STEM Academy’s top two graduates Allison Barnes and Isaac Arellano are heading into careers that could take them far.

Barnes, the valedictorian, will attend Texas A&M University to study aerospace engineering while Arellano will attend Colorado School of Mines to study computer science.

On the honor roll for all four years of high school, Barnes would have been surprised if she wasn’t valedictorian.

“So I wasn’t super shocked. I was excited. But I did calculate my own GPA beforehand and I also kind of knew what his was,” Barnes said.

Arellano has been going to school with Barnes since kindergarten. Barnes also is best friends with Permian High School valedictorian Hannah Douglas.

“I’ve known her for years. We hang out all the time. We’re good friends. We go to church together, so that was kind of exciting. We always say the best thing that ever happened for our friendship was going to different schools because we would not be friends anymore if we had to compete,” Barnes said.

They were both very careful with how they picked their classes to get the maximum GPA.

The idea of graduating is kind of surprising to Arellano, who has been attending STEM since fifth grade.

“You always kind of feel like high school just keeps going, but now it’s finally ending,” he said.

Barnes, who has been going to STEM since sixth grade, said commencement is a little surreal because she likes high school.

“I actually enjoy coming to school and so graduating, it’s like, oh, man, this is my last student council meeting. This is my last robotics meet. It’s very bittersweet because I’m glad that all of these things are like, continuing to keep going and that there’s always new people coming in who are going to do awesome, but it’s like leaving behind my legacy, which has been interesting these last couple of weeks,” Barnes said.

Arellano said getting into the top 10 is dependent on what classes you take as a lot of them are weighted differently.

“I guess it depends on whether your school takes the weighted or unweighted GPA,” he added.

Barnes said getting to the top of your class takes determination.

“You’re not just going to waltz into being valedictorian. You have to make that your goal and then do things to pursue that, so it takes hard work and you’re going to have to skip fun stuff to study and that sort of thing,” she added.

Both students said they feel STEM Academy prepared them to go on to college.

“I talked to my cousin. She’s in the engineering program at UT Tyler and I showed her some of our engineering projects and she was like, Oh, this is like what I’m doing in college …,” Barnes said.

STEM Middle/High School Principal Cody Griffin said Arellano took engineering classes in high school, but his second pathway class was computer programming and engineering.

Barnes said she is going to minor in computer science.

“The two years of my computer science, foreign language are super helpful because I already have some foundations,” she added.

Both also have college credits to get them started in college. Barnes has 68 and Arellano has 63.

They are also looking forward to setting off on their own.

“I’m pretty excited. Colorado’s pretty. There’s a lot of stuff to do there,” Arellano said.

“There’s some cool research opportunities at A&M that I’m really excited about … for student researchers,” Barnes added.

Griffin said he couldn’t be more excited for Barnes and Arellano.

“They are both extremely hard workers. Their performance on their SATs scores and PSAT were phenomenal. They worked really really hard,” Griffin said.

Barnes said she is Student Council President, captain of the Inspire Award-winning robotics team and she placed second in the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair in her junior year.

Arellano is doing an internship with the City of Odessa this year in the engineering department and is a member of the National Honor Society.

Barnes lauded her teachers.

”Nobody makes it to valedictorian and salutatorian without some awesome teachers and mentors along the way,” Barnes said.