BOISE — Two of Boise State University’s “Top Ten Scholars” for the class of 2019 hail from the Magic Valley.

Janice Witherspoon of Jerome and Jaraka Ball of Paul were among the honorees during an awards ceremony May 9, the university announced. Each student, along with university officials, spoke during the event.

Awards are presented by the Boise State Alumni Association and Boise State Honors College. Students were nominated by their academic dean and have at least a 3.8 GPA.

“Nominees are then reviewed based on academic breadth of coursework, research, creative works and publications, presentations at professional meetings or conferences, and extracurricular community and campus service,” BSU said in a statement.

Ball, 23, grew up in Paul and is a 2014 Minico High School alumna. In high school, she was a cheerleader and member of National Honor Society.

She graduated Saturday from BSU with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages certificate.

“Alongside student teaching, Jaraka has conducted significant research including, response to intervention and the impact of mindfulness in the classroom for sixth-grade students,” according to her biography from BSU.

After graduation, Ball plans to finish out the school year at Jefferson Elementary School in Boise — where she did her student teaching — even though she’s not required to do so.

And for a second summer, she’ll be a teacher assistant for the six-week Boise State Summer Academy. It’s a summer camp for children that focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and art.

Ball wants to spend next school year abroad as an English as a second language teacher. She doesn’t have plans set in stone yet, but is considering an offer in Shanghai, China.

As a BSU student, Ball was involved with the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

“Through there, we’ve gotten to volunteer in the community,” Ball told the Times-News during a phone interview Friday. One of the main places they volunteered was for Boise Rescue Mission Ministries.

She also was part of the Delta Delta Delta fraternity for two years and the big philanthropic activity was raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Ball worked at the BSU provost’s office for four-and-a-half-years. She was involved with TRIO, a program that helps low-income, first-generation students. And she participated in the Disney College Program in spring 2017 in Orlando, Fla.

The Magic Valley’s other honoree, 22-year-old Witherspoon, grew up in Jerome and attended Kimberly High School until she was 16. Then, she completed her junior and senior years of high school in the Treasure Valley, where she graduated in 2015 from Vallivue High School in Caldwell.

She’ll graduate from BSU with two bachelor’s degrees: communication, and political science, public law and political philosophy. After graduating, she plans to take a gap year to prepare to take the Law School Admission Test, with the goal of attending law school.

“I would like to eventually end up in public service,” she told the Times-News during a phone interview Friday.

Witherspoon was president of Talkin’ Broncos, BSU’s speech and debate team, this school year. The team won its fifth consecutive national title in March.

“That’s probably where I’ve spent most of my time on campus and it’s been a deeply rewarding experience to be part of that,” she said.

Witherspoon also volunteered for the Prison Debate Initiative, teaching a weekly class to inmates about argumentation and presentation. And she co-founded an organization called Students Against Misogynistic Establishments, which received national recognition from the Anti-Defamation League.

And Witherspoon presented communication research at conferences and was a research assistant for a political science professor.

As for her time growing up in the Magic Valley, Witherspoon recalls waking up early on school days to make a 30-minute drive from Jerome to Kimberly for school. One of her best memories of Kimberly High was being on the school’s debate team, under the direction of teacher Julie Underwood.

Outside of academics, Witherspoon said she loved going to the Jerome County Fair every summer. As a child, she participated in events such as mutton busting. And when she was older, she and a group of friends created matching T-shirts and competed as a team in pig wrestling.


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