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Seven Schools, Eight APs, Infinite Possibilities

Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month based on the simple idea that our citizens should have the opportunity to publicly recognize the sacrifices and successes of American service members, past and present. Supporting military families by providing their children with the best possible educational opportunities is an important part of our mission at NMSI. During the month, we are highlighting perspectives of educators, active and retired service members and members of military families on the intersection of military life and STEM education. Today, we share the story of Abby Butikofer, a former NMSI student who grew up in a military family and is pursuing a future in STEM.
 
As a high school senior, Abby Butikofer was excelling at Georgia’s Warner Robins High School with a demanding course load and a perfect GPA. When she started thinking about college, though, she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to study.
 
“I was a good student and I really liked all my classes,” she said. “There wasn’t just one thing I was really passionate about.”
 
Two years later, she has just finished her freshman year at Utah State University, where she declared a computational math major after enjoying an introductory computer science class. She wasn’t deterred by the fact that she was one of only a handful of women in the class of 50 students; in fact, it only motivated her more.
 
“As a girl, I love telling people that I study math. A lot of people choose the safe route, but the truth is that you grow a lot more by taking hard classes,” she said. “Ultimately, I decided to study math because it’s a good foundation for a lot of opportunities and will open doors for me into graduate school and beyond.”
 
Abby’s drive to succeed in the face of challenges is one product of her upbringing as the daughter of a U.S. Air Force Colonel. Growing up, she moved more than a dozen times, attending seven different schools. Besides the difficulties of saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones with each move, she and her twin sister found that from state to state, schools could have drastically different standards and course progressions.
 
Difficult school transitions are not uncommon for the more than two million kids growing up in military families, who enroll in six to nine different school systems on average.
 
Still, Abby continued to pursue challenging coursework, with encouragement from her father, now a One-Star Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force, and her mother, who had been the only Hispanic female in her mechanical engineering courses at the Air Force Academy 30 years earlier.
 
“My parents always told me, ‘Math isn’t hard and science isn’t scary. We did it, and so can you',” she said.
 
During her senior year at Warner Robins, Abby had a particularly challenging academic schedule. She signed up for four Advanced Placement® classes including physics, calculus and environmental science.
 
The same year, NMSI launched the College Readiness Program at Warner Robins and four other high schools in Houston County, Georgia, with support from the Department of Defense Education Activity. The program is designed to dramatically increase the number of students taking and succeeding in math, science and English AP® courses with comprehensive support for students, teachers and schools. The results are often transformational for schools, which increase the number of qualifying scores on AP exams by ten times the national average after just one year.
 
“It was a hard year for me and I’m really glad that NMSI was there for it,” she said. “And I can say now, those courses and the support I received through the program really helped me prepare for college.”
 
Abby earned qualifying scores (3 or higher on a 5-point scale) on all four of the AP exams she took that year and, eight in total during her four years of high school. Those qualifying scores enabled her to enter college last year with 36 credits and gave her the opportunity to immediately start working on courses that applied to her major. Now she is preparing to take three semesters off school to live in Trujillo, Peru as part of a church mission.
 
“Growing up in a military family, I’ve been a lot of places and met a lot of people, and I’m so grateful for that. This is another opportunity to gain a broader understanding of the world,” she said. “NMSI is part of the reason I’m able to take this trip. The fact that I got so many college credits while I was in high school means I don’t have to worry about being behind when I come back.”
 
Abby hopes to see the College Readiness Program in more military-connected schools as NMSI continues its commitment to ensuring high-quality education for the children of our servicemen and women.
 
“It’s so beneficial for students. I got a lot more out of my classes because of the extra study sessions and other support, and it opened up a lot of opportunities for me,” she said. “I’d definitely encourage any school that has the opportunity to work with NMSI to adopt the program.”
 
Advanced Placement® and AP® are registered trademarks of the College Board.