One look at Jake Okun’s resume, and one might think their reading the vitae of a much older, seasoned and accomplished professional, not an 18-year-old who recently graduated from Desert Mountain High School.
But it is Mr. Okun’s achievements in his career and technical education studies at Desert Mountain --- robotics, graphic design and information technology --- and his application of those skills that brought him to the attention of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman earlier this year.
Ms. Hoffman nominated Okun to represent Arizona in the CTE division of the annual U.S. Presidential Scholars program competition, according to a press release.
The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars annually recognizes the nation’s top 161 students for their academic, art and CTE accomplishments, as well as their community service, leadership and commitment to high ideals.
The commission selects one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; from U.S. families living abroad; another 15 at-large; 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts; and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in CTE.
Over 5,300 candidates qualified for the 2020 awards, but only 161 earned the very prestigious distinction. Last week, Mr. Okun learned he is among this year’s elite group as a CTE Scholar.
Mr. Okun’s acceptance of this achievement acknowledges the support he received while attending Desert Mountain.
“I am more than honored to be named a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar and to represent Desert Mountain High School, Scottsdale Unified School District and the state of Arizona,” he said in a prepared statement. “I have been fortunate to have some outstanding mentors who played instrumental roles in my growth and development over the years.”
One of those mentors has been CTE instructor Bernie Fritts, who has helped hone Mr. Okun’s skills in the graphic design and advertising art courses he teaches at Desert Mountain.
Mr. Fritts says Mr. Okun is that very special student who comes along once in a teacher’s career.
“Jake has excelled at everything he sets his mind to,” he said in a prepared statement. “It has been an honor these past four years, watching him become the man that he is.”
Starting in fourth grade, when he attended Laguna Elementary School, Mr. Okun had an interest in robotics. He went on to lead Desert Mountain’s robotics team to numerous competition titles while learning how to write computer codes to operate robots, websites and software interfaces for businesses.
When he set his sights on graphic design, he created state and national award-winning works. Mr. Okun is one of the most accomplished members of Scottsdale Unified School District’s Class of 2020, a release states.
Along with these recognitions of his academic and creative talents, he has also contributed more than 1,800 hours of community service to Desert Mountain clubs and causes.
Those efforts include creating logos and marketing materials; conducted technology device workshops for senior citizens; started two businesses; helped found, fund and mentor student robotics teams around the U.S. and the world; and volunteered and advocated for STEM programs.
Mr. Okun was one of several SUSD high school robotics students who successfully lobbied the SUSD Governing Board in 2017 to convert after-school robotics clubs into for-credit classes.
Desert Mountain Principal Dr. Lisa Hirsch says she is a big Jake Okun fan and won’t be in the least bit surprised if he wins a Nobel Prize for his work in robotics someday.
“He is an amazing young man and is so humble,” she said in a prepared statement. “I think he won because he is a learner. He takes feedback, really listens and puts his best foot forward. I really admire him.”
Mr. Okun heads to the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University in the fall, where he plans to major in mechanical engineering, followed by a master’s degree and doctorate.
“As I continue to pursue higher education, I will never forget the foundation that has been laid for me and the opportunities that SUSD provides for high school students,” Mr. Okun said. “I am proud to be a Class of 2020 SUSD graduate.”