ACT Announces National Semifinalists in ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign

Exemplars from the Campaign Include Students, High Schools, Community Colleges and Employers

IOWA CITY, Iowa—ACT today announces the semifinalists for the 2016 national ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign. The finalists include an impressive array of students, high schools, community colleges and businesses that exemplify efforts to advance
college and career readiness for themselves, their students, their employees and their communities.

“As our campaign continues to grow in its fourth consecutive year, we are honored to share these stories and celebrate in the remarkable success of these students, schools and employers,” said Scott Montgomery, ACT vice president of policy, advocacy and
government relations. “In their states and across the country, these semifinalists are beacons of possibility for future improvements in college and career readiness.”

A national selection committee comprised of seven education and workforce leaders chose four semifinalists in each of four categories: Student Readiness (high school senior), College and Career Transition (high school), Career Preparedness (community
college) and Workplace Success (employer). Each of these categories represents a critical juncture in the college and career readiness continuum.

A single National Exemplar will be chosen from each of the four categories. The four National Exemplars will be announced and celebrated at the 2016 ACT National Gala on College and Career Readiness in Washington, D.C., in late June, where all semifinalists and state exemplars will be recognized. Each of the 41 student state exemplars will be awarded an academic scholarship from ACT, regardless of semifinalist status.

“By setting clear goals and tracking measurable progress towards achieving them, all of this year’s exemplars are having a tangible and meaningful impact on the education and economic advancement of their states,” said Jeremy Anderson, chair of the campaign’s
national selection committee and president of Education Commission of the States.

A total of 13 states have exemplars that have earned the semifinalist distinction, with Mississippi, Nevada and South Carolina each home to semifinalists in two categories.

The 2016 semifinalists are listed below, followed by profiles on each:


Matthew Tyler Barrett (Georgia)
Ella Breider (Nevada)
Shaelyn Kessler (Missouri)
Jerrell Rolack (South Carolina)

High Schools

Advanced Technologies Academy (Nevada)
Gulfport High School (Mississippi)
Hawthorne Math and Science Academy (California)
KIPP Denver Collegiate High School (Colorado)

Community Colleges

Central Louisiana Technical Community College (Louisiana)
Elgin Community College (Illinois)
Lake Area Technical Institute (South Dakota)
North Dakota State College of Science (North Dakota)  


Bullwinkle’s Pizza (Alaska)
Capsugel (South Carolina)
Crossland Construction Company (Kansas)
Ingalls Shipbuilding (Mississippi)

In addition to Anderson, this year’s National Selection Committee included Kris Amundson, National Association of State Boards of Education; Kwame Boadi, Democratic Governors Association; Adam Lowe, National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment
Partnerships; Chris Minnich, Council of Chief State School Officers; Angel Royal, American Association of Community Colleges; and Ranjit Sidhu, National Council for Community and Education Partnerships.

Learn more about the ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign at

Profiles of Semifinalists by State

Bullwinkle’s Pizza
Juneau, Alaska

“We have valuable employees from all walks of life, from the halfway house to the university. Many of my employees have never had opportunities to make choices to become successful. I like giving all my employees opportunities to make choices to improve themselves.”

Mitch Falk, owner of Bullwinkle’s Pizza

The longest-standing restaurant in Juneau is also one of Alaska’s most admirable employers for its strong commitment to supporting education for its workers and local community. When Mitch Falk, the restaurant’s current owner, bought the 43-year-old business in 2007, he expanded on its founder’s commitment to supporting education through college scholarships. From a diverse staff of 55—half of whom are Alaskan Native—30 employees have received scholarships in the past eight years. Beyond that, Falk also created a partnership with the Juneau School District to support youth education initiatives and created a company policy to reimburse employees’ tuition for math and science courses at University of Alaska Southeast, provided they earn a “B” or higher.


California—High School
Hawthorne Math and Science Academy
Hawthorne, California

Hawthorne Math and Science Academy enrolls 600 students, 83 percent of whom are underrepresented minorities. Though nearly half of the academy’s ACT test takers come from low-income backgrounds, these students surpass their peer group nationally in academic achievement, as Hawthorne offers a broader array of challenging classes than many other schools serving similarly disadvantaged students.  Beyond the classroom, Hawthorne provides intensive education and guidance for students and their parents to help them
choose their future path and succeed after graduation. 


Colorado—High School
KIPP Denver Collegiate High School
Denver, Colorado

Since graduating its first class in 2013, 100 percent of KIPP Denver’s seniors were admitted to college, and nearly all were first-generation college students. Many of the open-enrollment school’s 400 students previously attended low-performing schools and, on average, enter KIPP two grade levels behind. The school’s student population is 94 percent Hispanic, and 95 percent of students
are eligible for free or reduced lunch. 

 Students at KIPP Denver Collegiate have steadily improved year over year in their readiness for college, and the school remains committed to its students after graduation, as KIPP helps its alumni navigate the social, academic and financial challenges they might encounter as they persist toward a college degree.


Matthew Tyler Barrett
Dunwoody High School, DeKalb County School District

Student Quote: “The greatest lesson that I’ve learned throughout my life is to never consider myself a victim. My circumstances do not define me, nor do they make me any better or less of a person. What does define me is an optimism that has transformed into resilience.”

By the time he graduates this spring, Matthew will have attended seven schools in four different states due to family moves. Through all those transitions, his interest in science, particularly astronomy and space travel, has remained consistent.

With the goal of someday working on building a Mars colony, he took college-level science and math classes through his high school’s dual enrollment partnership with a local college, and he regularly earned top grades in college preparatory
courses across all subject areas.

To overcome his initial shyness about always being “the new kid at school,” Matthew sought out public speaking opportunities, earning top recognition in regional high school speech competitions and honing his presentation and leadership skills outside the classroom.


Illinois—Community College
Elgin Community College
Elgin, Illinois

With a third of Elgin’s matriculating students not meeting key college readiness benchmarks, the college stands out for its exceptional services and success in bringing students up to speed academically. Elgin Community College has an enrollment of 17,000 students, a
quarter of whom come from low-income backgrounds.

By building on its partnership with Achieving the Dream, which assists community colleges in prioritizing improvements and tracking results, Elgin Community College is beating the odds. The college is retaining and graduating its students at rates far higher than the national averages for community colleges. 

Elgin Community College is also strongly committed to serving its local community through offering open-door   unemployment services, high school courses and local financial literacy courses. The college uses nine types of ACT WorkKeys® assessments to provide career preparation to both students and unemployed community members. The college’s unemployment services coordinator serves more than 100 unemployed individuals each month, 60 percent of whom are over the age of 50.


Crossland Construction Company
Columbus, Kansas

“We actively promote the [ACT WorkKeys] test at all schools and recruiting events. In the 2014–2015 school year, we made funding available to all high schools in Cherokee County, Kansas, to give their seniors the Work Readiness exam.” 
Nathan Kubicek, Crossland Academy

Crossland is one of the largest family-owned commercial construction companies in the country and is  committed to helping its employees advance in their careers by clearly outlining and supporting their career paths and helping them develop corresponding
skills and certifications.

Crossland is also a minority-owned business and has 1,100 employees in eight offices across six states in the Midwest and Texas. Since 2004, the company has provided more than 900 internships and over $1 million in tuition assistance to area college students, and it uses the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate™ to identify employees and interns for recruitment and mentoring opportunities. Crossland is also involved in K–12 education efforts and has sponsored the If I Had a Hammer program, which has taught applied math to over 1,000 students in southeast Kansas.


Louisiana—Community College
Central Louisiana Technical Community College
Alexandria, Louisiana

Central Louisiana Technical Community College’s (CLTCC) graduation rate vastly exceeds predictions, despite one in three CLTCC students enrolling with ACT scores indicating they have not met key readiness benchmarks for postsecondary education.

The college prioritizes helping students find the right fit  in courses and internships related to their career goals, offering them individual attention from the college’s employment specialist and requiring all students to complete ACT Career Ready 101 and take ACT WorkKeys assessments to gauge their progress and best career fit on their path to graduation and career

CLTCC has successfully expanded engagement and support from several large employers in its region, and many of these companies
now provide financial support for numerous apprenticeship and internship programs to train students in high-wage, high-demand jobs in the central Louisiana region.  The college has also doubled its dual enrollment program in the past year, with 1,100 regional high school students taking its college-level courses.


Ingalls Shipbuilding
Pascagoula, Mississippi

“When employees are able to develop their mind and skills in a conducive and relevant environment, they thrive and give back a

Fred Howell, Talent Acquisition Manager

With 12,000 employees, Ingalls Shipbuilding is the largest industrial employer in Mississippi and has built over two-thirds of the U.S. Navy’s current warships. During its 75 years in business, it has established a long track record of supporting employee advancement and educational success in its local community. Through the company’s Registered Apprenticeship program, apprentices are
trained across 13 craft disciplines, and Ingalls uses ACT WorkKeys assessments to identify qualified workers for these programs. As technology and workforce needs have evolved, so has the company’s commitment to learning opportunities; 750
employees are currently enrolled in the apprenticeship program, which includes dual enrollment courses through a partnership with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

To support STEM education in local schools, Ingalls annually awards over $100,000 in grants to local K–12 schools.


Mississippi—High School
Gulfport High School

The 1,600 students who attend Gulfport High School come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and the school’s leadership is deeply committed to improving achievement and opportunity for all of its students.

Almost half of Gulfport’s ACT test takers are African American, and their average ACT scores exceed the Mississippi state average for African American students by three points. The high school is also distinctive for being one of a handful in Mississippi that covers all fees for students who enroll in college courses in high school. The school’s dual enrollment program provides much-needed financial
assistance to many Gulfport students, as 64 percent qualify for free or reduced price school lunches.

To ensure that all students remain on track for college and careers, Gulfport continuously assesses students’ individual progress, using scores from ACT Aspire® and the ACT and individual college and career counseling at every grade


Shaelyn Kessler
Park Hill South High School, Riverside School District

Student Quote: “I want to change policy so that people can live without fear, so that they can lead happy lives. I want to protect human rights as much as possible, and I want to help the government make sure that it does not harm its people.”

As the second eldest of five children from a single-parent household, Shaelyn has admirably balanced academic demands with time spent caring for her younger siblings, and she will graduate with top honors, ranked sixth in her class of 400.

Even prior to high school, Shaelyn sought out advanced courses and earned straight A’s in her efforts to prepare for college. She hopes to pursue a career as a human rights advocate, and, despite her family obligations, she has sought out opportunities to develop her reasoning and public speaking skills through her high school’s debate team and volunteer projects in other school clubs.


Nevada—High School
Advanced Technologies Academy
Clark County School District

In Nevada, Advanced Technologies Academy (A-TECH) has consistently defied expectations and closed achievement gaps for underserved students, with equally high graduation rates for students across all demographic groups and 90 percent of graduating seniors enrolling in postsecondary education.

Among its 1,100 students, one in three are Hispanic and one in four ACT-tested students are from low-income households, yet average ACT test scores at A-TECH buck national trends and exceed Nevada’s average by six points. The school’s curriculum emphasizes technology and cross-disciplinary projects that develop students’ academic and career skills, with eight different program areas of study, all of which lead to completion of both a college-preparatory curriculum and professional certifications.


Ella Breider
Incline High School, Washoe County School District

Student Quote: “When I was younger, I felt as though I was a victim of circumstance, but my struggles have taught me that despite where I come from, I can always grow and learn.”

Physics and poetry are two of Ella’s most ardent areas of interest, and she has managed to earn straight A’s taking college-prep classes while regularly working part time to support her college plans. Ella has been a leader in her school, serving as president of
her school’s National Honor Society chapter, president of her class in both her freshman and junior years and as Incline High School’s student body president.

She is a varsity athlete in both tennis and soccer, and she  also serves on the Washoe County School District Student Advisory Board, working with her high school peers and school district officials across Nevada to improve educational policies and practices for all students.


North Dakota—Community College
North Dakota State College of Science
Wahpeton, North Dakota

North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) is distinctive for its approach and success in serving both current and future students through adapting to its community’s changing demographics and workforce demands. Through longstanding partnerships with local K–12 schools to help students seamlessly transition to college, students from 31 area high schools are enrolled in its dual enrollment courses, allowing them to earn college credits while enrolled in high school.

One in five NDSCS students come from a low-income household, and 70 percent qualify for tuition Pell Grants. Though students’ financial constraints frequently impede their postsecondary plans, NDSCS has greatly exceeded expectations, with first-year student retention and three-year graduation rates above the national average for community colleges. Almost all of the college’s 2015 career and technical education graduates are employed and/or continuing their education and, on average, these students have increased their annual salaries by 7 percent since 2014.  

The college pays particular attention to helping students navigate the non-academic barriers that can impede their progress to graduation, and it employs a full-time advocate to help students navigate resources and assistance for housing and other public


South Carolina—Employer
Greenwood, South Carolina

Capsugel is a global pharmaceutical manufacturing company with 600 employees and is notable for its support of education and training for its staff and local community. The company encourages employees to continue their higher education pursuits at all levels through a tuition reimbursement policy, and it runs an intensive paid internship program for area high school seniors.

Through its career partnership program with three area high schools, Capsugel also works proactively to identify qualified high school
graduates who are not planning to attend college. The company uses interviews and a series of ACT WorkKeys assessments to identify graduating students who have the necessary skills for available  jobs at Capsugel and actively recruits these students for entry-level


South Carolina—Student
Jerrell Rolack
Woodland High School, Dorchester School District

Student Quote: “To me, college and career readiness means not only rising to, but rising above my own expectations in my efforts and planning to succeed.”

Since childhood, Jerrell has been fascinated by cars and how they work. His engineering instinct, along with his dream to be “the world’s best automotive engineer,” led him to meticulously choose and excel in challenging courses across all subjects in high school, particularly in science and math.

Because of Jerrell’s exceptional motivation to gain knowledge and real-world engineering experience, he landed a youth apprenticeship at the engineering firm Robert Bosch LLC, where he works on three-dimensional design projects. In his efforts to continually try new things, Jerrell has meticulously worked with his high school robotics team to build a solar-powered car, which has widened his
interests in designing cars that run on renewable energy to lessen their environmental impact. 


South Dakota—Community College
Lake Area Technical Institute
Watertown, South Dakota

At Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI), the college’s staff and faculty are notable for the personalized attention and guidance they provide to each one of their 2,000 students. As 41 percent of first-year students enter LATI unprepared for college, LATI focuses closely on identifying and helping at-risk students get up to speed academically.  

The college has been recognized by the Aspen Institute and President Obama for its exceptional results and commitment to success for underserved students. The president served as the keynote speaker at LATI’s 2015 commencement ceremony.

To identify students for a growing number of its scholarship and job opportunities, LATI uses ACT WorkKeys assessments to allow students to earn ACT National Career Readiness Certificates. The college continues to expand its partnerships with local employers, including 3M and Siemens, and LATI has one of the highest job placement rates in the nation, with 98 percent of graduates either employed or furthering their education six months following graduation.