Meet the Star Students

By Brooke Giacin


Sixteen young, ambitious and overachieving Wacoans each have a vision they are working toward. Their visions range from starting a cosmetology business, working for NASA, launching a podcast to advocate for mental health, building houses and becoming an academic in philosophy and linguistics. Yet they all share one commonality: Waco. Some enjoy sitting by the Brazos. Others enjoy a scoop of ice cream at their local creamery. These young men and women — with diverse interests and backgrounds — are on track to graduate at the top of their respective high school classes. Read our conversations with these distinguished students to find out who inspires them and to learn the inside scoop on where, when and how to study.

Avery Haynes
Vanguard College Preparatory School | Plans to attend Vanderbilt University

Study tips: Generally, being really organized and having a distinct schedule. Just knowing what you need to study each day is always helpful for me to get the material organized in my brain. I like to write things down a lot. If I rewrite things, it helps stay in my brain. I usually go to coffee shops just to get that background buzz.
Someone I look up to: I really look up to both my parents. In terms of an academic aspect, my dad is very dedicated to his profession and is very motivated. He loves what he does and encourages me to do what I love. He is an orthopedic surgeon and works with Baylor Football.
Favorite hangout spot: I would say Waco Cha. I love that place. The boba and the dumplings are just so good. I just tried the dumplings recently, and I was amazed.
Introvert or extrovert: I think I am both. I love meeting new people and talking to new people and hanging out with my friends. I also really adore a night in by myself with no social interaction. It could really go either way.
Favorite show to binge-watch: Definitely ‘Stranger Things.’ Every time the new season comes out, I watch it all day.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am really looking forward to being in a new place. I love Waco, but I am excited to be in a new city and meet new people. When I was looking for a college, I looked for a place with a diverse student population. I want to meet people from everywhere with all different experiences. I really want to major in chemistry.

Selene Castro
McGregor High School | Plans to take a gap year

Study tips: Mainly, I like to go over notes and videos. I am a visual learner. I like going on YouTube and looking up stuff that’s explained in videos. Usually for my AP classes, you can find a lot of videos on [].
Someone I look up to: My mom. She is my biggest role model because she has been very supportive with everything I do. She is so hardworking and does anything possible for me and my brothers. I have always looked up to her.
Favorite hangout spot: When I am alone, I love to go to Starbucks. I just love the environment, and it is usually where I do my studying.
Introvert or extrovert: I have always considered myself an extrovert. I like talking to people. My freshman year I was not very talkative. Over the years, a lot of leadership positions have been offered to me. I have always liked being a leader. I was a team captain for cross-country. I always liked talking with all of them and encouraging my team. It is my favorite sport; I have done it since seventh grade.
Favorite show to binge-watch: ‘Stranger Things.’ It is just so captivating and so interesting and a thrill.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I grew up in McGregor, and it is such a small town. So what I want to do is go either out-of-state or to a bigger city. Socially, I want to find friends and my group of people. I think that is a big thing that I am looking forward to. Academicwise, I just want to learn. I like being in the classroom learning new things. The two main things I am leaning toward is business and finance.

Truman Cunningham
Meyer High School, Rapoport Academy | Plans to attend Rice University

Study tips: I listen to white noise when I study. I like to rewrite my notes over and over again. That’s really how I get things in my head.
Someone I look up to: In terms of my personal life, I have an uncle that is really cool. I try to emulate him. But Leo Tolstoy is a hero of mine. He is a real strength of character and a brilliant writer, but also he is a down-to-earth, radical Christian, intellectual.
Favorite hangout spot: The Waco Downtown Farmers Market. I used to volunteer there on Saturday mornings. I know practically everyone there, and I like to go there and just get some food, walk around and talk to people. I really like the pupusa stand, [Alba’s Pupusas]. It’s cheap, delicious, a great brunch and a good opportunity to practice my Spanish.
Introvert or extrovert: I am an extrovert. I like having a large circle of friends and acquaintances. I think I have a large social battery, and I love talking to people.
Favorite show to binge-watch: ‘The Sopranos.’ I love it. It is so brilliantly written. I love the dialogue. It is such a great mix of drama and comedy.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I really want to find a community of people interested in the same stuff I am interested in. I am into philosophy and linguistics nowadays. I think I want to be an academic and teach those things professionally, at a collegiate level. Tolstoy got me into philosophy. During the pandemic, I picked up ‘[The Kingdom of] God Is Within You,’ and it really changed my worldview.

Ta’Niyah Iglehart
La Vega High School | Plans to attend Texas A&M University

Study tips: Manage your time wisely. Do not wait until the last minute to cram everything in and just take your time. Also, take notes to your preferences and no one else’s.
Someone I look up to: My mom because she is very independent and strong. She basically raised me and all my siblings all by herself. She did a great job at it because all of us turned out great. There are six of us; I am the youngest.
Favorite hangout spot: I am generally a homebody, but if I had to choose, the park. There is one in Lacy Lakeview in Waco. I used to go there all the time as a kid.
Introvert or extrovert: Most definitely an introvert because I have always kept everything to myself. I am more of a reserved person.
Favorite show to binge-watch: Oh, I have a lot! If I had to choose one, I would say ‘Friends.’ Chandler is my favorite. He very sarcastic, and so I am. So I feel like I relate.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I plan on attending Texas A&M’s Mays Business School and majoring in marketing. I want to hopefully become a marketing consultant and then give back to the community. I am excited for a new environment. I know A&M will force me to come out of my shell a little bit. I am excited about getting out of my comfort zone, meeting new people and trying new things.
I also plan on starting a podcast when I go on to A&M and being an advocate for mental health. That will be a side hobby for me. I was thinking of calling it ‘Vitally Green,’ because usually the color green is the symbol for health and ‘Vitally’ is something that is important and necessary.

Nic Kasten
Lorena High School | Plans to attend Texas A&M University

Study tips: I use Quizlet a lot. Quizlet’s notecard function and the test is the easiest way for me to study.
Someone I look up to: My dad. He is very handy. He taught me so much about fixing things around the house, fixing broken tractors or appliances. He has taught me so many life skills so he has been an inspiration. He is also the one who got me to join Boy Scouts at a young age, which eventually got me to join and become an Eagle Scout. My dad is a first-generation Boy Scout and also became an Eagle Scout.
Favorite hangout spot: My friends and I go to Woodway Park. We just hammock, hang out and kick the soccer ball around.
Introvert or extrovert: I would think at the start of high school I was very introverted. As I have grown older I’ve gotten more confident and had more extroverted tendencies. I started being more social and extroverted.
Favorite show to binge-watch: As a kid, I really loved Scooby-Doo. Sometimes I go back and rewatch old Scooby-Doo movies or shows for fun.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am planning on going to Texas A&M and attending the college of engineering. I think I want to do something along the lines of architectural or computer engineering. I am looking forward to the change of pace. High school is eight hours a day. College is a lot more work, but I will not have to go for eight hours a day. And I will be more independent from my parents. So, getting to have an experience of living on my own and learning new things.

Laura Lin
China Spring High School | Plans to attend Columbia University

Study tips: Make sure you understand the material and don’t just know the answer. You should know how to get the answer and understand the process.
Someone I look up to: Definitely, my cousin. She is like a sister to me. I tell her everything. She has been really helpful with anything I need.
Favorite hangout spot: Barnes & Noble because there is a Starbucks there. I go there anytime I want to study or catch up with a friend and get Starbucks. Recently, I read a good book called ‘The Alchemist,’ by Paolo Coelho.
Introvert or extrovert: I am a little bit of both. I definitely used to be more of an introvert and used to be shy and quiet. I think, especially now, I am more extroverted and more open to talk to people.
Favorite show to binge-watch: I do not watch many TV shows. ‘BoJack Horseman’ has been a show I have been watching. It has an interesting plotline. Diane is my favorite character. I feel like I see myself in her.
What I’m looking forward to about college: Being somewhere new and making a bunch of new friends. Currently, I am planning to either double major or do a major [with a] minor. The two are design and ethnic studies. For design, I want to be a designer. For ethnic studies, I would like to be a professor.

Jonathan Kidd
Eagle Christian Academy | Plans to attend Dallas Baptist University

Study tips: Studying with other people has been very crucial for me. It takes you out of the comfort of doing it by yourself and helps you be more active about studying. I take as many notes in class as I possibly can. Sometimes I make review sheets.
Someone I look up to: I look up to my pastor, John Durham, at Highland [Baptist Church]. He is a really smart person, and I have learned a lot from him over the past several years. There is a specific series he taught on anxiety and worry. I think that has influenced me a lot, especially this year figuring out college stuff and how to handle worrying and anxiety well.
Favorite hangout spot: Woodway Park because that is where my cross-country team had practice every day. It turned into a sport where we have made a lot of fun memories. I am on the varsity team and won state this year. We have only been a team for four years. I was a freshman the first year that we had the team.
Introvert or extrovert: I would say I am an introvert. Not meaning that I am shy or anything, but I get my energy from being alone rather than being around people.
Favorite show to binge-watch: ‘The Office.’ I think it is the best comedy show out there. When I get to the end of the [series] I just start over. My favorite character is Dwight.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am going to Dallas Baptist University. I am looking forward to being involved in all the groups there. I am thinking of majoring in health sciences, but that could change. I want to possibly be a physical therapist or a trainer of some kind.

Sheryl Loden
Live Oak Classical School | Hoping to attend Princeton University

Study tips: Getting ahead of your homework is a great tip because if you do the heavy lifting in class beforehand then you have less to study for when it comes time for a test.
Someone I look up to: I look up to both of my grandfathers. One was an engineer for NASA, and so I look up to him because we have similar interests. The other was a successful rancher for a lot of years, and I look up to him because he knows a lot about living in the real world.
Favorite hangout spot: I love to hang out at Dichotomy if I want coffee or to be with friends there. I order an Americano with half-and-half. I also love Woodway Park. I love to set up hammocks with friends and sit on the lawn in front of the lake.
Introvert or extrovert: It’s a hard choice, but in the end probably an introvert. I really love being with my friends, but at the end of the day I generally want to come home and watch a movie or something like that.
Favorite show to binge-watch: ‘Parks and Recreation.’ I think it is really funny. I have seen all of it several times, but I enjoy it every time I rewatch it.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am really looking forward to being in a completely new environment. I think it will just be really fun to discover new places. I definitely want to pursue engineering. Right now, I am thinking about aerospace or mechanical engineering. My grandpa was an engineer for NASA during the Apollo missions. He led the lunar module side of people.

Jonah Mehler
Connally High School | Plans to attend University of North Texas

Study tips: My main studying tips would be to find a comfortable spot that you can stay multiple hours, because if you are not comfortable you are not going to be able to focus. Breaking up big tests over a long period of time; do not just study it at once. I would also recommend taking breaks between subjects.
Someone I look up to: My parents and my grandparents. My grandma is always trying to help someone. Both my mom and dad, we bond over a lot of different things.
Favorite hangout spot: My favorite hangout spot where I would spend a lot of time with my friends would be these basketball courts a quarter mile down from where I live.
Introvert or extrovert: I would consider myself as both, but most of my friends would say I am an extrovert.
Favorite show to binge-watch: My favorite, which I have not watched in a while, is ‘Cobra Kai.’ I watched all three seasons in three weeks.
What I’m looking forward to about college: In college specifically, I am looking forward to the challenging classes that are specialized because I am always looking for a challenge and pushing myself to the max with whatever I do. I am also just looking forward to the atmosphere at a college. There is much more diversity and energy, greater than I have ever experienced in a high school environment. I have my majors narrowed down, but I am between a biomedical engineer or a math teacher.

Heidi Kuang
Midway High School | Plans to attend University of Texas

Study tips: My best study tip for history and English classes, at least, is to read all your study materials the day before the test so that it is fresh in your mind.
Someone I look up to: I definitely look up to my brother. He is pretty much the smartest, funniest, nicest person I know.
Favorite hangout spot: I really enjoy downtown Waco. I like Waco Cha a lot.
Introvert or extrovert: I would definitely consider myself an introvert. I enjoy being with my friends. But if it is a super long day of socializing, there is nothing more that I want to do than come home and unwind. I will probably just lay in bed, hang out with my cat, Nimbus, and watch YouTube.
Favorite show to binge-watch: My favorite show of all time is ‘Naruto Shippuden.’ If anyone tells you the original Naruto is better, I would tell them they are wrong. It is a masterpiece of storytelling. It is about this orphan with a nine-tailed beast in him, and he has to learn how to cope with it.
What I’m looking forward to about college: The thing I look forward to most about college is the lack of dress code. I am looking forward to wearing shorts, leggings and trench coats. I probably want to major in computer science and work in that field. I am hoping to maybe go to Austin because I know they have a really cool houseplant scene. I am really into houseplants. My most prized houseplant is a philodendron mayoi. It is 4-foot tall but growing pretty fast.

Jacob Norris
Harmony School of Innovation | Plans to attend University of Texas

Study tips: For studying, I like to use Quizlet a lot and making my own flashcards and using other people’s whenever they are available. I also like to write down all my notes in my notebook and check it a couple times a day before a test.
Someone I look up to: Definitely my dad. He is an engineer for a company, and that is where I got my inspiration to pursue engineering. I want to do aerospace engineering, so rockets.
Favorite hangout spot: Either Central Texas Marketplace or the mall. I like to wander around and look in all the stores.
Introvert or extrovert: Definitely more introverted. It’s difficult for me to more or less make connections. I like to play games on my computer, which is what I spend most of my free time doing. I like to watch YouTube, as well.
Favorite show to binge-watch: I would say ‘Parks and Recreation.’ It has really good humor and is one of my favorite shows.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am ready to be on my own and to have the new experience of living by myself. I am ready to join all the clubs and enjoy college activities. I want to do environmental-type clubs and maybe some recreational-type sports. Now, I play soccer, cross-country and track next semester.

Elisha Ravi Sriram
Waco High School | Plans to attend Texas A&M University

Study tips: Personally, I have found it helpful to take mental breaks. I don’t know if you have ever wondered why you have some of your most creative thoughts in the shower. That is because you are not trying to focus on one thing at one time, you just let your mind wander. It is one thing to retain information, but an easier way to understand it is to allow your brain to connect the information you just read or studied with other things around you.
Someone I look up to: I really look up to my dad. He is one of the hardest working guys I know. He is incredibly intelligent. On top of that, he is a really good people person. We spend a lot of time together redoing cars and have three official project cars.
Favorite hangout spot: In Waco, I really like going to both Common Grounds and Dichotomy downtown.
Introvert or extrovert: Definitely an extrovert. I love being around people. I love meeting new people. I have always found that different people have different perspectives, and I have always enjoyed learning about those.
Favorite show to binge-watch: Right now it is ‘Yellowstone.’ I am a huge fan of that show. I like how it transports you into this modern Western world. My favorite character is probably Rip because his values are so strong.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am really looking forward to expanding my network, meeting new people, new experiences, and really getting an education that I can use to build something out of. I am planning on majoring in business.

Esau Perez
University High School | Plans to attend Texas A&M University

Study tips: Tips that I have for studying include managing your time, putting your reminders on when you need them and rewarding yourself for studying. Once you finish, make sure you have a motivation to study. A reward would look like going to hang out with friends or going to eat but only after studying.
Someone I look up to: Someone I look up to is my dad because he works hard and taught me to always do the best I can and always have goals that are higher than what I can accomplish but push myself to do better.
Favorite hangout spot: My favorite hangout spot in Waco is Cameron Park. I love nature, and Cameron Park is really pretty. I go to Circle Point, and I walk around on the trails.
Introvert or extrovert: I would describe myself as an extrovert. I love talking to people and love making friends. I am not a shy person, and I like to talk.
Favorite show to binge-watch: My favorite show is ‘Money Heist’ because it gives you a lot of adrenaline. It gives a lot of suspense and is a cool action-packed show. My favorite character would be someone called ‘The Professor’ because he is always ahead of what he is doing and times everything out.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I plan on going to Texas A&M to major in civil engineering. I am looking forward to meeting new people and going out with friends during the year. I am interested in civil engineering because my dad has built a house and I have been by him the whole time. It is also fun seeing the process of it and now I want to do it myself.

Omari Tucker
Robinson High School | Plans to attend University of Texas

Study tips: The main tip I have is to set aside some time. At least a couple times a week; just whenever is convenient for you and take a bit to look into whatever you are struggling with the most. It helps if you try to cultivate an interest with whatever you are trying to study or ask for help from somebody who knows a little more about the subject than you do.
Someone I look up to: Generally, for most of my life, it’s been my mom. She has been the one to raise me and instill a lot of my values in me. She has a lot of values about her that I would like to incorporate into my life.
Favorite hangout spot: Outside of home, it would have to be the library. I like to read and just hang out. Generally by myself or sometimes I will go with a friend.
Introvert or extrovert: I would say I am definitely an introvert. I can deal with other people, but I much prefer being alone or with a small group of people I am familiar with.
Favorite show to binge-watch: I usually do not binge-watch a lot of TV. I am into Marvel. So I binge-watch pretty much every show they put out. My favorite characters are Black Panther and Loki. Loki is very clever, intriguing.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I think it is the new experiences. It will be different from what I am used to. I am looking forward to getting to see new people, getting to be accustomed to a new place and new things. Just start a new chapter of my life.

Sarah Whitworth
Bishop Louis Reicher Catholic School | Hoping to attend University of Dallas in Irving

Study tips: If it were for a test, to first go over the material you need to learn and focus on the ones you do not know. I personally write them down on notecards as if I would be able to bring it on the test so I can remember it better and just review, review, review.
Someone I look up to: My grandpa on my mom’s side. He is very creative. He is a carpenter and a fisherman. He is an amazing person, and I enjoy spending time with him and learning from him about things that people wouldn’t know about. Like how to make a chair out of wood or catch a certain type of fish.
Favorite hangout spot: That’s easy! It is Heritage Creamery. Best ice cream place ever! I normally get the dark chocolate ice cream, but they got rid of it at the Woodway one.
Introvert or extrovert: I would say I am an introvert. I enjoy spending time with people, but I need alone time to recharge.
Favorite show to binge-watch: In my family, we love the show called ‘Psych,’ which is really funny. We have watched it over five times, and there are eight seasons.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am looking forward to having a community. My parents have lifelong friends from college, so I am looking forward to finding those kinds of friends there. Having time to study my specific interests rather than a bunch of different ones, being able to focus in on what I really love. I am interested in [attending] veterinary school.

Courtney Tindle
Parkview Christian Academy | Plans to build her business, Cuts & Color by Courtney

Study tips: If the weather is nice outside, I like to find a nice, quiet place and sit on the back porch and just really concentrate on what I am doing and studying.
Someone I look up to: My mom. She inspires and encourages me that I can do everything and anything that I put my mind to. She helps me with anything that she can along the way. She has been encouraging with my cosmetology business. She let me practice on her.
Favorite hangout spot: We live on the Brazos [River]. Just at my house, hanging out by the pool with friends and family would definitely be my favorite spot.
Introvert or extrovert: Extrovert. I enjoy hanging out with family and friends all the time and going to concerts. I love going to country concerts. The last one I went to was Parker McCollum.
Favorite show to binge-watch: ‘Yellowstone,’ the cliffhangers, are always so good. It makes you want to come back for more and more and figure out what is going to happen next. My favorite character is Rip because he stands up for what he believes in and always shows what it means to work hard.
What I’m looking forward to about college: I am not going to college since I did go to cosmetology school. I have had the opportunity to take some classes at MCC. I have my cosmetology license from Bella Beauty College. For the next year, I just plan on working in the business industry and perfecting my skills.

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