Once-Struggling High School Student Excelling in College

OGDEN, Utah – Zach Stickney’s outlook on life today is a far cry from the struggling youth he was in ninth grade. Back then, Stickney experienced so much tragedy, loss and turmoil in his life, he dreamed of quitting school in Utah and pursuing a fresh start in Texas.

Flash forward six years. Stickney has indeed traveled far from the borders of Utah, but many of those trips are the result of his educational pursuits.

Now a college senior working toward a degree in political science at Weber State University, Stickney is heading to Washington, D.C., in January to serve an internship with the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC).

The internship is the latest in a series of academic and travel opportunities the 20-year-old Layton resident has experienced since enrolling at WSU in 2008.

Stickney credits WSU’s Upward Bound Program and its director, Dave Trujillo, for helping him replace his sense of hopelessness with a greater self-awareness and optimism.

“Dave just had a knack for visiting me at school on the days that I felt the worst,” Stickney said. “He made me realize that the biggest problem I had was really one of self-pity. The biggest thing that needed to change wasn’t my environment; what needed to change was how I reacted to it.”

“We form a family with these kids,” Trujillo said. “We are their surrogate parents, providing support and resources that might not otherwise be available on the home front.”

While Stickney had entertained the idea of attending college, he had doubts about being smart enough to get in and how to pay for it. Through the mentoring and encouragement of the Upward Bound Program, he became engaged in Advanced Placement courses and earned 29 early college credits by the time he graduated from Layton High School.

The financial concerns were alleviated by several scholarships. Stickney was awarded a Presidential Scholarship, named a Horatio Alger Utah Scholar, and most recently received a scholarship from the Richard Richards Institute for Politics, Decency and Ethical Conduct at WSU.

The scholarships gave Stickney time to become involved in organizations on campus, including STAND (Student Anti-Genocide Coalition), a campus group that works to mitigate international crises through fundraising, awareness and advocacy.

“Our world is getting smaller and smaller due to advances in technology and the development of global institutions,” Stickney said. “When things become as closely knit as they are that increases the possibility for confrontation, but it also increases opportunities for cooperation.”

 Zach Stickney interacting with children while on a humanitarian trip to Kenya.
Stickney has had a chance to witness those opportunities first hand. He missed the first week of school this fall, while completing a month-long trip to Kenya. Stickney and a classmate, David Lindblad, spent last August interacting with Kenyan students who are living in refugee (internally displaced persons) camps. Many of these students have been funded by donations raised by STAND. Stickney hopes sharing their stories with people back in Utah will lead to additional financial support.

The internship with the MEPC, which runs from January through April, offers another learning opportunity.

“Zach is a brilliant student who represents the best academic skills and personal qualities that we seek to instill in our students,” said political science professor Nancy Haanstad. “At the Middle East Policy Council Zach will assist in editing the MEPC journal, escort visiting scholars, attend diplomatic conferences, and do research for staff. It will offer wonderful opportunities to network with others concerned about international social and humanitarian issues.”

Stickney is in the process of writing a book about the importance of trust and compassion between people and communities. He also works with Omid for Iran, a human rights organization based in Salt Lake City, which has inspired an intellectual interest in Iranian history and politics, and U.S. relations with that country.

Eventually he’d like to attend graduate school and study international law, history and philosophy.

“In the long term, I’d really like to start an organization like Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, and work on building and funding schools in Africa and possibly other portions of the Middle East,” Stickney said.

If successful, perhaps someday he will nurture and empower another generation of students, like his former self.

Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.

Zachary Stickney, political science major
801-386-1397 • zstickney@live.com

Dave Trujillo, director WSU Upward Bound
801-626-6798 • davetrujillo@weber.edu

Nancy Haanstad, political science chair and professor
801-626-6698 • nhaanstad@weber.edu

John Kowalewski, director of Media Relations
801-626-7212 • jkowalewski@weber.edu