Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On target — NRA helps teen set sights on college

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Living in Alaska, gun rights weren’t something Skyview High School senior Marquee Lucas gave much thought to.

Her family hunts and has firearms. She’s gone deer and grouse hunting with her family, and said she’d be interested in shooting sports if they were available on the central Kenai Peninsula. She’s never run into opposition in those pursuits, so the Second Amendment that protects her and her family’s ability to own and use firearms and the organization that lobbies to preserve gun rights didn’t grab her attention.

That is until she was a junior in high school aiming for scholarships and found the National Rifle Association could put valuable new experiences in her sights.
The NRA operates a Youth Education Summit and scholarship program in Washington, D.C., for sophomores and juniors in high school.

With five siblings, a desire to go to college and an interest in the medical field, possibly in radiology, Lucas wanted to get as early a jump on scholarships as she could. This was one of the few she found that was open to juniors.

The program’s goal is to give students an up-close and personal look at government in action, and to instill an interest in the nation’s history and its governmental processes. Lucas said only 11 students in Alaska applied for the program last year, and she was one of 10 selected to participate, with 35 others from across the country.

“They love having kids from Alaska, too,” she said. “Because, I don’t know, we’re Alaska. We’re special.”

Through the NRA Lucas visited Juneau to get a first-hand look at state government, and went to the week-long Youth Education Summit in D.C. last year.

Participants saw the sights in D.C. — the White House, Supreme Court, Capitol, Pentagon and several monuments. They met congressmen and participated in speeches and debates. Lucas said the highlight of the trip for her was visiting the Quantico Marine Corps base, where she did a night-vision goggle training course, shot an M-16 and M-9, tried Meals Ready to Eat rations and did physical training. She said some students were right at home on the shooting range, while others had never handled a gun before.

Throughout the summit, she said students learned about the Second Amendment and the NRA’s mission and activities. But Lucas said students weren’t required to support the NRA, although she does, and it wasn’t the overall focus of the trip.

“I was always a big supporter of gun rights. I do support the organization and that they work hard to protect gun rights,” she said. “I definitely would like to be a member of the NRA, but it was just neat because the trip wasn’t about making kids be NRA members. It was about us learning about government and that we were going to be the future leaders. I thought that was neat; there wasn’t any pressure at all.”

At the awards banquet at the end of the week, $10,000 in scholarships was given out to recipients chosen for their involvement in the program and their speech and debate skills. Lucas was awarded a $1,500 scholarship.

“It was just a really good opportunity, it just keeps on giving,” she said.

Students who participate in the summit and do outreach in their community to educate others about the trip or other NRA education programs are eligible to apply for further NRA scholarship money, with $20,000 to be awarded in all. Lucas has been spreading the word at Skyview about the program in hopes of getting another scholarship, but mainly so other students can benefit from the opportunity, she said.

Her experience in D.C. is one she won’t soon forget.

“You can try to learn as much as you can in the textbook, but you’ll never learn it until you apply it,” she said. “It brings everything full circle. You learn so much more. It’s not like somebody putting it on the light board or reading it in a textbook. I’ve actually seen it and I’m a part of it.”

Lucas has been putting the leadership experience to use at home. She’s active in her church youth group and Teens Against Tobacco Use. She’s the student body president at Skyview this year and last, and she’s active in the school’s National Honor Society. She did play several sports — swimming, cross country, basketball, track and lacrosse — until an injury sidelined her. Now in her senior year, she’s focusing more on getting ready for college, taking EMT and other classes. This summer she hopes to take a trip to Nicaragua with her uncle, an orthopedic surgeon.

She may also qualify to chaperone a future NRA Youth Education Summit trip.

“I would love to get back to D.C., I’d never been there,” she said. “To actually see what’s in history books — it’s jaw-dropping. It’s amazing. Pretty surreal. It’s a good opportunity for money, but more important than the money is just the learning. What you learned from the trip is so much more valuable than what you get out of the scholarship.”

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