Carraro awarded Jack Kent Cooke scholarship

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Rachael Carraro (standing) looks over her class work with advisor Dr. Terri RuckelA Pearl River Community College student is the second in three years to win the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Transfer Scholarship.
            Rachael Carraro is one of 55 scholars nationwide to achieve this $40,000 per year award to further her education.
            Make no mistake: To meet Carraro, who just turned 21 and is about to graduate from PRCC in May, you could never imagine the route she has taken while growing up in Hattiesburg.
            Poised and well-spoken, Carraro was a homeschool student, self-taught in many aspects. She is far removed from two perceived disadvantages of homeschooling, undeveloped social skills and inferior academic experience.
            “When I first got (to PRCC’s Forrest County Center), I was very introverted,” said Carraro. “I never had to interact with so many people at one time. People would notice me off by myself. They thought I was this girl who walked around campus and studied all the time.”
            Eventually, that changed. She became involved in many campus activities. At the top of the list is serving as president of the PRCC Honors Institute, vice president of the Student Government Association, and president of the social science club.           
            While traveling with fellow students on the way to the Phi Theta Kappa convention in Nashville, Tenn., last month, one of her instructors, Dr. Ryan Ruckel, called her with the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship news.
            “I started screaming in the van,” she said. “I wanted to get out and jump on the highway. When we got to the hotel, I was jumping up and down. I did not realize it was worth $40,000. I was really happy in the moment. When I called my dad, he was so happy. He kept asking me, ‘How much money is this worth’?”
            Carraro, whose dad is a general contractor and mom serves as homemaker and tutor, is one of  five girls and three boys. She is second oldest in a group that ranges from 22 down to 7, six of whom are being homeschooled today. Up until two months ago, she shared a room with her 7-year-old sister. They all went to public school some, except Rachael, who was homeschooled all the way through.
            The stigma of homeschooling was never a problem. “When I first got here, it was different,” she said. “I never had that kind of experience of people actually coming up to talk to me and not knowing anything about me.  A lot of my friends did not realize I was homeschooled.”
            The transformation was not without its challenges.
“After I finished middle school, I bought my own books online with a credit card,” she said. “I made my own lesson plans. I did not want to attend public schools. I heard about some of their experiences and I did not want to be a part of that.
“When I got (to PRCC), I had to watch somebody teach me. I had to learn from books. I did not know what a syllabus was.” 
            Carraro was 17 when she graduated from high school and unsure about her career path. She worked for a year at a retail store in Hattiesburg and did an internship in Kansas City with a Christian organization for six months. “That gave me time to think about what I wanted to do with my life,” she said.
            She chose to attend PRCC in 2015, unsure exactly what to major in. “I went from dental hygiene to architectural engineering to aerospace engineering,” she said.
            “I want to design planes, to be the person in the lab who experiments on engines and  builds 3-D models. Both of my granddads worked on planes. One was an airplane mechanic in the Air Force, and the other one made jet engines. I just thought it was so fascinating.”
            Carraro’s accomplishments at PRCC are myriad. Dean’s list and president’s list, vice president of Phi Theta Kappa, Beta Tau Chapter; vice president of the History and Humanities Club, Who’s Who scholar, recognized as international scholar laurate scholar and much more.
            “Rachael is driven to success in everything that she does,” said Dr. Terri Ruckel, one of her instructors and advisor. “Whether she is performing at a BSU lunch in front of a hundred students or tutoring one classmate in algebra, Rachael gives her all. She has been a great student and a joy to watch as she has grown from a somewhat introverted girl into a confident young woman.”
            Said Carraro,  “It was the Ruckels who encouraged me to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. They coached me through it. It took me three months to do the paperwork. I had to get a homeschool transcript. I tutored my dad to help me write one.”
            Added Dr. Ruckel, “Rachel wrote for months to polish her application, going through multiple drafts with me in my office. She wanted her application to be perfect, and obviously, it was just what the evaluators were looking for.”
            Carraro is not sure where her future lies. She is looking at aerospace engineering programs at Mississippi State University, Purdue, Georgia Tech, MIT and others.
She credits PRCC with her success and that of fellow students. “Everybody at PRCC has been so nice to me, starting with the admissions office,” she said. “I would not trade my experience at PRCC for anything.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Pearl River Community College student Rachael Carraro (standing) looks over her class work with advisor Dr. Terri Ruckel.