Eckelbarger selected as Lilly Endowment Scholarship winner

by Eric Stearley


On Thursday, April 3, Northfield High School Principal Mike Keaffaber, select teachers, and members of the press waited anxiously in the Northfield High School office for the arrival of Emily Eckelbarger, recipient of this year’s Lilly Endowment Scholarship. Waiting with them were two proud parents, Brian and Kryston Eckelbarger. Just as anxious were the six finalists, knowing that one day soon, the winner of the four-year, full-tuition scholarship would be announced.

The “ambush” style announcement ensured that the winner was completely surprised. While the group waited, secretary Melanie Penn made her way to Eckelbarger’s class to formally escort the winner to the office.

As she entered the office’s conference room, she saw her principal, teachers and parents, as well as cameras rapidly capturing her reaction. Then she saw Julie Garber, program director for the Community Foundation of Wabash County, and instantly, Eckelbarger knew why she was there.

“Is this what I think it is?” she said as she took a seat at the head of the table.

With that, Garber announced that Eckelbarger had been chosen to receive the prestigious scholarship.

“I’ve never had Mrs. Penn escort me, so I thought that spelled trouble, but I couldn’t think of anything,” said Eckelbarger after the reveal. “[I was] a little confused, but kind of connected it once I saw Julie. That connected the dots and I realized that if this was what I thought it was, I was about to have the best surprise...of this year.”

Eckelbarger clearly earned the scholarship. In addition to being an exceptional student, she is the president of student council and Teens for Global Awareness, which educates students on global issues, such as hunger, poverty, and education. She displays her commitment to these issues by volunteering at F.I.S.H.’s food pantry, the Lighthouse Mission, and the Roann branch of the free lunch program. In addition, she plays piano in the school’s jazz band and Mrs. Coppler’s Studio of Music. She is a National Honor Society member, as well as a performer and set designer in the school’s theatre program. Finally, she manages to keep a part-time job at Modoc’s Market.

When asked about her motivation to achieve, Emily looked at her parents and said, “I think these two are to be credited for that. I’ve always been taught that hard work pays off in great rewards.”

“We were just overjoyed and thrilled and relieved,” Kryston Eckelbarger said about being notified that her daughter was the winner. “It takes a big burden off. We were kind of sweating.”

A blind committee, which takes into account academic standing and achievement, financial need, family history of education, work experience, and community involvement selects the winner of the Lilly Endowment Scholarship. Finalists are also interviewed, which factors into the final score.

“It’s a privilege,” Garber told Eckelbarger after presenting the award. “You rose to the top of that group.”

The last Northfield High School student to receive the scholarship was Josh Unger in 2011. It is always exciting for a school’s educators when one of their students is chosen.

“It feels great, but it’s even better because it’s Emily,” said Keaffaber. “Her leadership has been fantastic. She’s been involved in a lot of things and allowed students to voice their opinions, and she’s very professional about it, which is what I really appreciate. It’s just fantastic.”

“Exceptional students from all Wabash County public high schools make the competition very robust for the four-year, full-tuition Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship,” Garber wrote in a press release.

Garber noted that the other 22 applicants and five finalists “are exemplary students who reflect well on themselves and their achievements, as well as the high quality of education in Wabash County.” Garber admits that announcing the winner of the Lilly Endowment Scholarship is bittersweet. While presenting the scholarship to a winner is exciting, it also means telling the other five finalists that they didn’t make the cut.

Kylie Echard is a Northfield High School student and the daughter of Julie Echard. She plans to attend Purdue University to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science and a minor in agribusiness, eventually hoping to earn a doctorate in veterinary medicine. She is a veteran 4-H member, a part-time employee of Brodbeck Seeds, and she coaches Special Olympics track athletes. She was named Best Math Student and Best Science student in 2011, 2012, and 2013, picking up Best English Student in 2013 as well.

Audriana Fuentes is a Manchester High School student who plans to study education in college. She is the daughter of Susan Finney, North Manchester, and Carlos Fuentes, Puerto Rico. She is involved in Science Olympiad, choir, Spanish Club, Key Club, and tennis. She also volunteers at camps through her church and Operation Christmas Child through Key Club. In the future, she hopes to improve the quality of life in Indiana through the state’s next generation.

Thomas Grier is a Wabash High School student. He is the son of Nathan and Leona Grier, Wabash. Along with several Indiana schools, Grier has his eye on Yale University. He plans to study chemistry and mathematics in college, hoping to one day begin a career as a chemist or pharmacist. He is especially interested in patient care and medical research. 

Adam Hanback is a Manchester High School student. He is the son of Nancy and Michael Hanback, North Manchester. He serves on the Student Technology Support Squad, as well as the Crossroads Bank Junior Board of Directors. He worked with Manchester Schools last summer, helping the school district gear up for 1:1 computing by preparing computers for students and troubleshooting system problems. He is a member of FFA, Science Olympiad, and National Honor Society. Hanback hopes to use his education to support the technology needs of small and large businesses, contributing to Indiana’s economic growth.

Mariah Mobley is a Manchester High School student. She is the daughter of William and Julie Mobley, North Manchester. She plans to attend Butler University or Purdue University and major in pharmacy, with a minor in arts. Like Hanback, she is a member of the Crossroads Bank Junior Board of Directors. She is also a member of student government, while pursuing her interests in science, art, and athletics.

“Though they do not receive a monetary prize, the five runners-up deserve high praise and may count their status as a finalist as a notable achievement,” Garber wrote in a press release.

The six finalists will be pictured on a billboard off of US 24 to let everyone know of their achievement. 

Eckelbarger plans to study creative writing and journalism in college, but has yet to decide where she will attend. Along with the scholarship, she received an offer for free room and board at DePauw University, but the school in Bloomington is her likely choice.

“I’m thinking IU,” said Eckelbarger. “I really like it there. There are obviously some new opportunities to evaluate, but IU’s top on my list.”

Posted on 2014 Apr 08