Maybe she’ll become a National Geographic correspondent.
Or maybe a museum curator.
Or even a psychologist.
Or the next great novelist.
One of the brightest students to come out of Payson High School has a whole world of choices and for the next four years she’ll explore those options as a Flinn and National Merit scholarship winner at the University of Arizona.
Jacquelyn Oesterblad said her mind races with all the possibilities.
“I am trying to find a way to combine brains and culture,” she said Friday sitting in Windy Jones’ classroom, one of her favorite teachers. “I would love to get my hands on a real brain.”
Unable to land on just one major of study, Oesterblad has so far chosen two — anthropology and psychology — and a dizzying number of minors when she starts college later this year.
Whatever she chooses to set her mind on, Oesterblad has the financial backing. Besides getting her tuition paid by the University of Arizona, she also will receive $27,000 a year to cover living and other expenses and a stipend to travel abroad.
In 2011, 20 of Arizona’s highest-achieving students were named Flinn scholars. The scholarship covers room and board, funding for study abroad and provides mentorship from faculty at the state’s three universities.
But don’t get Oesterblad started on where she wants to study abroad. She is currently contemplating India, Jordan, studying primates in Rwanda, or going on an archaeological dig in Italy. This is on top of the three weeks she is required to spend in Hungary and Serbia for a Flinn seminar.
Described by Jones as “super smart” and “gifted,” that is not what sets Oesterblad apart from many classmates, it is her drive to explore and push herself further.
“I have had to modify my classes to push her,” she said. “She has that drive and she always wants to do better. She is one of the most inquisitive students I have had.”
In an essay she attached to her Flinn scholarship, Oesterblad writes “I remember the time my math teacher wrote me a proof for the quadratic formula because I refused to use it until I understood it,” she writes.
“I’m the rebel simply because I question that which my peers take for granted ... I’m the stubborn kid who argues with the Austrian policies we’re taught in economics and who stands up to the propaganda touted by the local paper. I am known as the devil’s advocate; I will argue anything.”
Oesterblad’s drive to question the norm will serve her well in college where professors normally have to instill a sense of analytical thinking. Throughout school, teachers have not had to work hard to get Oesterblad thinking. In fact, most teachers left her yearning for more.
Jones was one of the few teachers that “expected a lot out of me” and was not content with “me being born,” she said.
Jones and Oesterblad have fostered a special friendship. Jones urged Oesterblad to apply for the Flinn scholarship. Oesterblad resisted at first because she wanted to study out of state at the University of Columbia or Chicago.
“Jones forced me to apply,” Oesterblad said. “I had a plan A, B and C (of where I would apply) and staying in-state was plan Z.”
Now a University of Arizona student, Oesterblad said her outlook has changed and she can’t wait to apply for classes.
“I got on the Web and explored the different classes and thought how on earth will I pick?” she said.
Oesterblad is the fourth Flinn scholarship winner to graduate from PHS. Jones’ sister, Beryl Jones, won the scholarship in 2006 and is studying at the University of Arizona.
Strangely, Jones’ sister nominated Oesterblad’s stepfather and former PHS chemistry teacher Jerome Lubetz as the educator who most influenced her education.
Now, Oesterblad has nominated Jones for the same honor.
Besides Jones, some of the people to inspire Oesterblad include Sylvia Plath, E. E. Cummings and anthropologist Margaret Mead.
“I read a lot,” she admitted.
Oesterblad’s self-proclaimed “nerdiness” has at times left her feeling like an outsider.
In an essay, she writes “I don’t belong here ... I have never fit in here, but at the same time, this town created me. I have spent my entire life trying not to be brainwashed by it. I have fought its mindset every step of the way, and I’ve grown to love that fight. Nothing is more important to who I am than my inability to take things at face value. Much as I may wish to deny it, I am who I am — whoever that is — because of Payson.”
As she dreams about the cities she hopes to dig up, Oesterblad said she will always carry a piece of Payson with her.