Desert Mountain High School graduate Jake Okun has been named one of 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education.
“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,” said Jake, one of this year’s 161 Presidential Scholars.
One of the nation’s highest honors for high school seniors, Presidential Scholars are cited for their accomplishments in academics, the arts, and career and technical education fields.
“Jake is an amazing young man and is so humble,” said Desert Mountain Principal Dr. Lisa Hirsch. “I think he won because he is a learner. He takes feedback, really listens and puts his best foot forward. I really admire him.”
Hirsch also said in a release that she wouldn’t be surprised if he wins a Nobel Prize for his work in robotics someday.
“I really admire him,” Hirsch added.
Jake’s achievements run long.
Not only did the 18-year-old lead Desert Mountain’s robotics team to numerous competition titles, he also created state and national award-winning graphic design works and is considered one of the most accomplished members of Scottsdale Unified School District’s Class of 2020.
“Jake has excelled at everything he sets his mind to. It has been an honor these past four years, watching him become the man that he is,” said CTE instructor Bernie Fritts, one of Jake’s mentors. “
Fritts helped hone Jake’s skills in the graphic design and advertising art courses he teaches at Desert Mountain.
Jake contributed more than 1,800 hours of community service to the high school’s clubs and causes, including volunteering for STEM programs and hosting technology device workshops for senior citizens.
In addition to playing an instrument role in establishing, funding, and mentoring student robotics teams around the country and the world, Jake was also one of several SUSD high school robotics students who successfully lobbied the Governing Board in 2017 to convert after-school robotics clubs into for-credit classes.
“We could not be more proud of the hard work and dedication this young man has shown,” said Jake’s mom, Michelle Levin Jake. “In these uncertain times, there is still positivity out there. Keep shining and making us proud.”
Jake plans to attend the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University and major in mechanical engineering.
He’ll then go on to earn 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,” Jake said.
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos said, “These exemplary young people have excelled inside the classroom and out. And while they are facing unprecedented challenges as they graduate from high school into a world that looks much different than it did just a few months ago, their determination, resilience and commitment to excellence will serve them well as they pursue their next steps.”
The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations, and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.
Of the more than 5,300 candidates who qualified for this year’s awards, three students from Arizona were awarded.