The head prefect at Rowland Hall is much more than she seems. Senior Austen Van Burns has a calm demeanor and a smooth, even tone to her voice. Yet, according to her adviser Liz Paige, Van Burns is a fierce debater, a young woman with conviction who can speak passionately on any subject.
It's one of the reasons Paige nominated Van Burns for the United States Senate Youth Program, held yearly in Washington, D.C., for outstanding students interested in pursuing careers in public service. Van Burns was one of two students chosen from a field of more than 60 from around the state.
"She's an incredible spokesperson for her generation of students," Paige said. "She is naturally engaged and interested in national politics and history. The things they were asking for in this program were completely within Austen's wheelhouse."
While Van Burns' credentials, from working with the Salt Lake Mayor's Office to lobbying for an anti-idling resolution at the Capitol building, helped, the road to D.C. was challenging. Each candidate needed to submit a 20-page portfolio of accomplishments as well as take a test on the U.S. government. Rowland Hall prides itself on academics, but the school doesn't offer AP U.S. Government like many other schools around the state. Van Burns needed to study in her spare time, collect review materials from her teachers and learn facts and figures that many of her competitors had learned a year before.
Her diligence proved worthwhile.
"When they first announced my name, I couldn't stop smiling, I suppose," she said. "It feels good initially, but when I reflected on it, I realized how much effort I'd put in to get to that point. I'd worked so hard, I invested all this time, and it paid off."
The program will run March 9-16, with Van Burns getting the opportunity to hear major policy addresses by senators, cabinet members and other officials. She also will be awarded a $5,000 college scholarship, an endowment provided by The Hearst Foundation.
Her hope is to meet U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and discuss what it's like to be an ambassador in the modern world. Van Burns' ultimate goal is to become an ambassador herself.
"International relations has so many moving parts to it," she said. "You have to consider so many cultures, a modern political system that has to intersect with the past. It really mixes together a lot of things I like. To me, international relations is applied history and applied English, and that's really the best that I could ask for."
At a glance
The USSYP was established in 1962 by U.S. Senate resolution.
The Utah student representatives will be given an opportunity to meet with a U.S. Supreme Court justice as well as his or her state's senators.
Austen Van Burns was also one of six Rowland Hall students nominated for the National Merit Scholarship Program.