Hunter West, a top scholar and athlete at South Lenoir High School, has been awarded a Morehead-Cain Scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina, one of the 70 students chosen from a nationwide pool of applicants that typically numbers nearly 3,000.
The announcement of 2018 Morehead-Cain winners was made Friday, a few days after West and 139 other finalists had spent a long weekend in Chapel Hill submitting to interviews and immersing themselves in the campus environment.
“I found out on Friday night. I was checking my email the whole day. It was a bummer because you were really anxious the whole day,” West said. “Whenever I finally opened it, I was right beside my mom and we both checked it together and basically we just jumped up and down.”
Valued at about $80,000 for in-state students, the Morehead-Cain Scholarship covers all expenses for four years of undergraduate study. Scholars also participate in summer enrichment programs.
The selection process puts an emphasis on students’ leadership abilities, their character, scholarship and physical vigor.
West is the second Morehead-Cain winner from Lenoir County Public Schools in as many years. Angel Gaona, a top student at North Lenoir High School, won the scholarship in 2017.
After being chosen as a semi-finalist in January and making the list of students selected to attend Finalists Weekend at UNC March 3-5, West said she felt confident about her chances. Then she met the competition.
“I was more confident before I went up to UNC during Finalists Weekend because I met a lot of super accomplished kids and I did not know how they would decide on just half of them,” said the 17 year old, the daughter of Timmy and Sheila West.
Perhaps the interviewers who spent more than an hour with West in multiple sessions Monday morning were impressed with her No. 1 academic ranking at South Lenoir, her 5.0 GPA, her demonstrated leadership abilities and her starring role on the Blue Devils’ volleyball and basketball teams.
This year, her academic schedule consists entirely of college-level classes, which should allow West to enter UNC as a sophomore, according to South Lenoir school counselor Candice Tyndall. West is also president of the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, president of its National Honor Society chapter and deeply involved since her freshman year with Erasing the Lines, a summer community service initiative.
When she leaves South Lenoir in June, she will leave behind a Math I tutoring program that she was instrumental in creating two years ago and that she continues to coordinate. The program is credited with dramatically improving the proficiency rate in Math I, a gateway course for high school math, and a resulting decline in the school’s dropout rate.
“Hunter is an amazing person. She is humble, determined and hard working. She is the epitome of what everyone should aspire to be,” South Lenoir principal Steve Saint-Amand said. “She leans on her faith and has been a wonderful ambassador and role model for South Lenoir High School and Lenoir County Public Schools. To put it simply, Hunter is the best student I have ever known. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to watch her blossom into the adult she has become.”
West shows an appreciation of the Morehead-Cain Scholarship that bespeaks her maturity. “It’s not something that just pays for your college. It really sets you up for your career,” she said. “No matter what I go into, I’ll have those connections there to be able to do what I want to do and what I need to do. In the long run, I’ll be able to help other people better.”
The Morehead-Cain’s long reach gives it an edge for West over East Carolina University’s Honors College, its program for top scholars to which West she was recently accepted – this despite ECU’s overtures to West about playing basketball there.
UNC has countered in a way by courting West as a possible walk-on for the women’s team. “I met with the assistant coach (during Finalists Weekend) and she drove me around campus,” West said. “I got to meet the coach and the academic advisor, so I got to experience a lot of Carolina basketball, which I love.”
But athletics is almost beside the point for a scholar who is leaning toward law school. “The most I could get out of basketball is four years. I know that academics will take me much farther, so that’s really my main focus right now,” West said.
The senior also has an application to Duke University pending and a possible scholarship there. But West’s future for the next four years at least was settled when she was jumping up and down with her mother on Friday night.
“It’s not really a decision for me. Whenever I got it, I said, OK, I’m going to UNC,” she said. “I was worried at first about not getting the scholarship; now I just want to make sure I really utilize all its resources to get the best out of it for me and for everyone else.”