COLLEGE SPOTLIGHT: RCC is springboard to medical school for the gifted Zakara Blanding
Submitted by Eric Pesolan, Rappahannock Community College
“I’m excited to learn, to go to medical school, and to further my education,” says 14-year-old Zakara Blanding, a rising Middlesex High School (MHS) student whose dream is to become a neurosurgeon. The first step in her journey, as mapped out by her mother, has been to take dual enrollment classes for college credit at Rappahannock Community College.
Blanding expects to graduate from RCC in Spring 2017 with an associate degree, and in order to be sure that she would meet all requirements for both her high school diploma and the RCC degree, her mother met with MHS guidance counselor Kathy Page and Hutt Williams, RCC’s dual enrollment advisor, to review the plan she proposed. “When we talked to Hutt about my academic progress, he confirmed the possibility of receiving the degree,” says Blanding. “Since we were about halfway there, we figured that we might as well go for it.”
“All this hard work gets me closer to my goal,” Blanding declares. She is eager to complete her associate and bachelor’s degrees so as to “get to the medical part of my education.” With the academic work, residencies, and other requirements, she estimates that it might take as long as 15 years to achieve her goal. “Time is the only thing that holds me back.”
As for why she wants to become a neurosurgeon, a career she calls “the best of the best,” she got her inspiration from the movie “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” a biographical film about the recent presidential candidate, who was director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1984 until his 2013 retirement.
Blanding has already received early acceptance offers — some with full scholarships — from a number of four-year universities. Her mother would like her to stay in Virginia, perhaps at the College of William & Mary or the University of Virginia, but Blanding prefers the thought of getting away to an out-of-state school. Her mother has encouraged her to do much of the college search on her own, hoping that this will help her to become an advocate for herself once she is away at school.
Blanding’s first choices would be Harvard, MIT, or Johns Hopkins, the last of which she has already visited. In discussions about her best possible academic pathway, she and her mother have considered whether the distinction of going to an Ivy League college would outweigh the advantages of other universities that would reward her current academic efforts by accepting more of her RCC credits for transfer.
“She works so hard,” says Blanding’s mother, “so it’s important that her efforts, her time and energy and all her hard work, are not thrown away.”
Blanding’s grade-point average now stands at 4.3 on a four-point scale. At the end of her junior year, her class rank is sixth out of 101 students, but, she says, “I’m competitive, and hopefully will be first or second by my graduation. It’s funny,” she continues, “but early in my life and in elementary school, I didn’t like to read. Now I love it! I didn’t like school when I was in the second grade, but I started to love math in third grade. By fifth grade, I was in the gifted program” — where her obvious talent for math receives the encouragement it deserves.
“Learning for her comes very easily,” states Blanding’s mother. She calls Blanding “an amazing child,” and says, “I could always see her potential, her ability. I drafted a plan, but Zakara pushed to achieve it faster than some of the counselors or even I expected. She challenges herself. She pushes herself. Now I have to make sure that she has fun too!”
Due to her mother’s concerns about injuries, Blanding has not participated in school sports. “We have a running joke about going to a school where they play ping-pong.” However, academic subjects are not her only interest. She loves music — plays piano, tenor sax, alto sax, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and French horn — and has also won several prizes in music composition contests. “I will take my tenor sax with me to college,” she says. “It’s my favorite.” Unlike most students her age, Blanding is not much interested in social media, but enjoys playing cards and going to the library, where her favorite books are science fiction and fantasy. She also enjoys computers, especially playing traditional video games such as PacMan and Mario, and would “love to learn to code.”
Blanding volunteers at the Middlesex Public Library during the summer. But once she leaves the area to pursue her bachelor’s degree, her mother says, “I won’t let her work. She needs to focus on her academics.”
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