Cailan Cordwell: Cactus Shadows High School Graduate Wins Arizona State University Honors

Writer Lara Piu
Photographer Loralei Lazurek

As part of its commitment to help freshmen excel, Arizona State University (ASU) grants scholarship money and other helpful academic resources to outstanding new students through its New American University Scholar awards. This fall, one of those recipients will be Cactus Shadows High School Class of 2017 graduate Cailan Cordwell.

“When I opened the letter announcing that I had been selected for the scholarship, I was ecstatic,” Cailan recalls. “It felt almost too good to be true. I ran downstairs and showed the letter to my parents and we were all just so excited.”

Of the program’s five scholarships, Cailan was awarded its highest, the President’s Award, and earned $40,000 in tuition money — practically a full ride. She applied on the advice of friends.

“I heard about the scholarships at ASU through other students at school,” she says, explaining that the only other school she applied to was University of California-Berkeley. Cailan also received scholarships from the Kiwanis Club of Carefree.

ASU was her top choice, she tells us because her goal is to graduate college debt-free.

“A degree is a degree no matter where I earn it,” she explains. “I would rather go in-state and graduate with less debt than go somewhere prestigious just to be able to say I did. It just made more sense. I mean I can come home on the weekend to visit my family and do laundry, but I’m basically living on my own.”

She will use the scholarship to pursue a bachelor of science in psychology at Barrett, the Honor’s College at ASU.

“I’ve always been interested in the behavior and interactions of people, but I took AP psychology my senior year and immediately fell in love with the subject completely,” Cailan recalls. “I’m hoping to attain a doctorate in psychology with a focus on neuroscience afterward.”

In high school, Cailan’s favorite subjects were math, English, biology, chemistry, foreign language and psychology.

“I was pretty much interested in anything and everything,” she kids.

A marching band member for her high school career, Cailan entered the International Baccalaureate program as a junior. She was also a Future Problem Solvers member, a competitive club that promotes critical and creative thinking. She also volunteered with Key Club and Leaders’ Club.

“I wanted to excel in school for myself,” Cailan explains. “I knew I would need scholarships and since I’m not a great athlete, I knew those scholarships would be based on merit. I also just have really high standards for myself and I always have.”
And excel she did. With a weighted GPA of 4.636, Cailan graduated among the top 20 students of her class. Her unweighted GPA was 3.92.

Her advice for scholarship hopefuls? Time management.

“Figure out how to manage your time early on, whether that means setting out time in your calendar specifically for assignments or just using an agenda,” she explains. “Use that agenda religiously because it will help you stay organized.”

She says activities help too.

“Get involved in anything and everything your freshman year. Decide what you really like and want to prioritize, and drop everything else after freshman year,” Cailan suggests. “I recommend marching band and drama club because that’s where you’re going to build a strong sense of community with peers and just overall have fun.”
Come August, Cailan will move in with friends on the Tempe campus in ASU Barrett Honors Complex. She’s pretty excited about the Domino’s and Starbucks across the street from the dorm, as well as the chance to strike out on her own.

“I’m mostly looking forward to the independence this will bring and the sense of community I’ll build with my peers,” Cailan says.

Until then, it will be business as usual. This summer, Cailan is working and saving money, and she’s on the hunt for something new.

She explains, “I need to find a hobby because this is the first summer since sixth grade where I haven’t had summer assignments to work on.”

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