When Blue Springs South High School senior Riley Jackson asked Pattie Balano to write a letter of recommendation for a summer scholarship to the Fulbright Summer Institute in Scotland, the biomedical science instructor was honored but not at all surprised.
“It was such an honor for Riley to ask me to write a letter of recommendation,” Balano said, “but I had to be careful not to make it too long because Riley is such an awesome student. She is so dedicated and devoted and so personal and caring – I just knew she was going to get that scholarship.”
And she did.
Jackson, a 2018 South graduate who just completed her freshman year at the University of Missouri, where she is studying engineering, received a place on a Fulbright Summer Institute to study at the Glasgow School of Art and the University of Strathclyde. It is considered one of the most prestigious and selective summer scholarship programs in the world.
Jackson’s portrait can be found near the front office at her high school as she was voted by teachers at South as the female Academic Senior of the Year in 2018.
“She is just so bright, so much fun to be around, a student who picks things up immediately, but has to work hard to get the job done – and she is an extremely hard worker,” Balano added.
When South principal Charlie Belt learned of Jackson’s honor, he was thrilled but, like Balano, not surprised.
“There’s her portrait for being our Academic Senior of the Year,” Belt said, “but she’s so much more than that. She was in band, she swam, she was just a great kid to be around. When you were visiting with Riley, you just felt good. She has that quality to make everyone around her feel special. And boy, is she smart.”
And busy. Jackson played trombone in the Jaguar Pride Marching band, swam the breaststroke and individual medley, was part of an award-winning Health Occupation Students of America team from South, was secretary of the National Honor Society, was on the Truman Heartland Community Foundation Youth Advisory Council and was a member of the Baccalaureate Leadership Team.
“I guess you could say I like to keep busy,” said Jackson, who was in the top 1 percent of her class. “I didn’t want to waste any opportunities I had here at South, and teachers like Mrs. Balano really inspired me and challenged me.”
Jackson glows when talking about the summer scholarship program.
“This Fulbright institute encompasses all that I am passionate about as an engineer: technology, research, creativity, innovation and collaboration with many different people and fields.
“Experiencing Scotland’s culture of innovation will allow me to form global partnerships and engage in problem solving through creative, scientific and social discoveries. As a future biomedical engineer, I want my pursuit of knowledge to benefit a global community by improving the quality of living for many individuals.”
Jackson will explore Scotland's culture, history and creative and technological industries. The Summer Institutes form part of the US-UK Fulbright Commission’s work to promote leadership, learning and empathy between nations through educational exchange.
“It will be my first real trip anywhere,” Jackson said. “I’ve never been overseas or anything like this. I can’t wait. It is going to be the experience of a lifetime.”