Higher education has the power to make grandiose dreams come true.
For Alana Pankopf, it all started with the aspiration of becoming a doctor.
Through Pankopf’s commitment to her education and a support network of educated Northern Nevadans, she is on an educational path few travel.
Pankopf, a high school student participating in Western Nevada College’s Jump Start program, recently received a letter of acceptance from U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York.
“I think this reflects really well on the opportunities WNC gives and the kinds of students we have,” said Mary Gillespie, an English professor at WNC.
Only 10 percent of students who apply to West Point are accepted so Pankopf has the opportunity to serve her country and have four years of first-rate higher education covered.
“It is an unbelievable honor and privilege to have been accepted to West Point, given its storied history and legion of accomplished graduates who have gone on to serve our country,” said Pankopf, a senior at Nevada State High School in Reno.
West Point focuses on educating, training and inspiring future leaders in our country and is rated No. 1 by the Princeton Review in most accessible professors and No. 2 in top public schools by U.S. News and World Report. Among the notable West Point grads are Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, John J. Pershing and Douglas MacArthur.
“I believe very strongly that a clearly disciplined and clearly directed program of study is of great benefit to those who are willing to dedicate themselves to that level of discipline and that direction,” said Steve Carman, one of Pankopf’s professors at WNC. “I also believe that if someone has discovered their calling in life that that ‘fire in their belly’ adds to that determination, drive and dedication. Based on my discussions with Alana, I believe that she has that ‘fire in her belly’ and will perform on behalf of the USA at the highest level as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.”
Many people have contributed to Pankopf reaching a prestigious higher education institution.
“It was not an accomplishment that I achieved by myself,” she said. “I have had the support and encouragement from my family, friends, administration at NSHS and professors at WNC, such as, but not limited to, Mary Gillespie, Richard Arrigotti and Dr. Steve Carman. I do not believe I could have earned this honor without their support, guidance, and, of course, their recommendations.”
Gillespie remembers a then-15-year-old Pankopf in her first English class as a dual-enrollment student.
“She showed exceptional writing and critical thinking skills, as well as a strong ability to work well with every student,” Gillespie said. “She progressed through English 102 and 200 (Novels into Film), writing insightful analyses of literature and films, particularly as they relate to her own heritage and interests: Native American culture along with a desire to serve the country.”
Her appointment is for fall 2020 and for the West Point Class of 2024, meaning Pankopf must still continue to do well in her Jump Start classes at WNC and pass West Point’s certified fitness assessment to realize this opportunity.
Pankopf said that a number of factors contributed to her applying to West Point.
“My education has always been very important to me, along with serving our country,” she said. “I transferred to NSHS and began attending classes at WNC for the purpose of getting my associate degree in science along with my high school diploma. I then planned to transfer to a university as a junior, graduate in two years, and then begin medical school.”
She began considering West Point when her babysitting employers, recently retired Cmdr. Chad Mingo (Navy pilot) and his wife, suggested that Pankopf apply at one of the U.S. military academies, as well as the advice she received from her aunt, Renee.
Part of West Point’s application process required her to gain support from Nevada government leaders. She applied to Nevada Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez-Masto and Rep. Mark Amodei for a congressional nomination.
“After consideration of my applications by the representatives, I received a formal interview with Sen. Rosen and Congressman Amodei,” Pankopf said. “Thereafter, I received my congressional nomination from Congressman Amodei. I am very thankful for his consideration and nomination, which is a great honor to receive, and I intend to be worthy of it. Without his nomination, I would not be able to accept my appointment.”
Pankopf said that taking college classes at WNC while still in high school has helped her prepare for West Point and beyond.
“I consider myself a very organized person; however, being a student at WNC has helped me to hone my organizational skills, including time management and studying,” Pankopf said. “It has also helped me take the initiative regarding my education, become more responsible, and it has helped me to mature as a student and an individual.”
“She has shared that her experiences at WNC in several of her classes helped her make the decision to follow this career path,” Gillespie said. “She has shown gratitude and exceptional progress in her two years at WNC, navigating our small campus and using our exceptional facilities and resources to achieve her success.”
Encouragement, support and success have provided Pankopf a much clearer vision for her future and made her dreams much more attainable.
“Besides graduating from West Point and receiving my commission as an officer in the Army, my goal is to become a reconstructive plastic surgeon to help heal and rehabilitate our soldiers who have been wounded while protecting our freedoms,” she said.
Pankopf is delighted that she challenged herself academically earlier than most and believes it will benefit her at West Point.
“The courses I have taken at WNC and my professors have truly challenged me academically, which has enabled me to grow significantly as a student, and, undoubtedly, will help me to be successful in the courses I study at West Point,” she said. “It is clear to me that my WNC professors care about their students and want them to succeed.”