Optimism, empathy the ‘sunshine’ of Trevor Arellano, the Journal-World’s 2020 Academic All-Star

photo by: Contributed photo

Trevor Arellano, the Journal-World's 2020 Academic All-Star winner.

When Trevor Arellano was a junior at Lawrence High School, he stumbled onto a career path he was excited to explore during his college years and possibly turn into his profession afterward.

Little did he know that the profession — public health officer fighting the spread of infectious diseases — would become the center of the global conscience a year later as the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the world, including Arellano’s senior year at LHS, to a screeching halt.

“When it first started, I was just reading every article I could find,” Arellano said of the pandemic. “I wasn’t really sure it would get this big, but I knew it could be something catastrophic to the world, because diseases don’t care what anyone thinks.

“But right now, I’m just wondering (about fighting the disease),” he added. “Because that’s all I really can do.”

Arellano, 18, has plenty of education left before he can help to fight such diseases, but he has a stellar academic pedigree to help make his dream a reality.

Every year since 1997, the Journal-World has invited administrators and counselors from public and private high schools in the Lawrence area to nominate their most outstanding seniors for the Journal-World’s Academic All-Star team. As in previous years, a panel of three judges reviewed applications for the award and $500 scholarship. The Journal-World recognizes an overall winner each year, along with 11 runners-up, all of whom are chosen based on their strong academics, extracurricular involvement and essays.

Meet the 2020 Academic All-Star finalists

Where are they now? Checking in with the 2010 Academic All-Stars

According to his application to the Journal-World’s 2020 Academic All-Star program, he earned straight A’s during his high school career, leading to a 4.115 weighted GPA, and finished tied for first in his class ranking. He was also accepted to attend the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school in Philadelphia, when he enters college in the fall. These are just a few of the reasons a panel of judges selected Arellano as the winner for the Academic All-Star award, which comes with a $500 scholarship.

However, outside of his academics and what you can learn about Arellano through his application for the award, it’s his positive personality and his empathetic care for others around him that make him special, said Valerie Schrag, a teacher at LHS.

“He is just an amazing human being,” Schrag said. “Everyone is comfortable around Trevor. He is a magnet of goodwill.”


Schrag, who taught Arellano’s advanced-placement U.S. history class at LHS, said the best word to describe Arellano is “sunshine.” That’s because he has such an optimistic view and he lights up the room with that personality. Additionally, Arellano’s favorite color is yellow, she said.

“He always has a smile on his face,” Schrag said. “He is constantly greeting people who he walks by in the hallway, or dropping by just to touch base with teachers he may or may not have in class.”

Sami Turner, an LHS senior who is close friends with Arellano, said she would describe him in a similar fashion. She too said he “lights up the room.”

Turner met Arellano when they were freshmen at LHS, but she became close friends with him through their National History Day project, which finished in ninth place for its category at nationals in 2019. While they were working on the project during their junior year, she said they would meet almost every day after school.

“Sometimes group projects like that can tear people apart, but that was one of the first projects I had a friend who was doing the same amount of work as me,” she said. “We just really worked well together.”

When Turner was applying to colleges, Arellano, who had already been accepted to Penn, helped her with filling out applications and editing her essays to her list of schools. Turner said she would get stressed out during the process, but that Arellano would tell her it would be OK and everything would work out.

“He truly cares about the people he surrounds himself with,” Turner said. “He’s really an incredible person.”

And Arellano was right: Everything did work out for Turner. She would later get accepted to her dream school, as well — another Ivy League institution, Harvard University.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Lawrence High School students Sami Turner, left, and Trevor Arellano, right, served as moderators for a student-led public forum on school safety on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2019.

Arellano and Turner would team up again during their senior year for another project. In January, LHS held a student-led conversation on school safety issues, particularly concerns about firearms making their way into school buildings.

The event allowed the school’s students to speak out clearly about what affects their lives, and in the middle of it all were Arellano and Turner, who moderated the event.

“That again is a real part of who he is,” Schrag said of Arellano. “The fact that he’s able to lead a discussion of his classmates shows his classmates trust him.”

Those are just a few examples of Arellano putting his talents toward the benefit of others, which is what Schrag has learned to expect from him, she said.

“His focus is on humanity and improving life for those around him,” Schrag said. “Trevor is so focused on making the world a better place for everyone.

“It’s youthful optimism, but at the same time it’s exactly who Trevor is,” she added. “It’s not just youthful optimism; he is optimism.”

Not a ‘people person’

But despite all this, Arellano said he doesn’t consider himself a “people person.” That’s part of the reason he chose to explore public health, rather than other medical professions.

Arellano said his interest in public health began when he took advanced-placement biology at LHS and learned more about infectious diseases. The interesting lesson led him to researching the many careers associated with fighting diseases, and public health and epidemiology were at the top of the list.

His interest was solidified while he volunteered at LMH Health, the local hospital. While there, Arellano said he spoke to some of the hospital’s nurses who said the infectious diseases field was one of their favorite fields to work in, too. However, during that period, Arellano realized he liked helping people but he did not particularly enjoy helping patients face to face, he said.

“I’m not a people person, I guess,” Arellano said. “I wanted to work behind the scenes. I know working as a public health officer or epidemiologist, I would be helping so many people but I wouldn’t have to have that face-to-face contact.”

With the pandemic happening now, during his senior year of high school, Arellano said it was unfortunate he wasn’t in position to help combat it himself.

“If this happened in four years, I would be set and have a job,” he said. “It’s unfortunate it’s happening now, but I think next year I will have a lot of opportunities in Pennsylvania.”

Heading to Penn

Both of Arellano’s parents — Michele and Travis Arellano — work at the University of Kansas. Because of that, Arellano feels like he grew up on the university’s campus.

But KU was not his first choice for higher education, because he wanted to branch out from his hometown.

“I think I know everything about (KU), even though (my parents) tell me I don’t,” Arellano said. “I go to high school right at the bottom of the hill. And Lawrence, in general, I’ve explored so many aspects of it; I wanted to get something new.”

Penn offers that exact opportunity. One thing Arellano said he likes about KU is its large campus, and he wanted whatever university he attended to have something similar. When his family visited Philadelphia before his junior year, Arellano said he was excited to see that Penn had a large campus in the middle of the city.

Arellano knew he had to continue working hard to make sure he got in, and his academic record shows he did just that. He was accepted during the university’s early decision period, when less than 20% of the applicants of the 2020 class were admitted, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the university’s student newspaper.

“It was probably the best news of my whole life,” Arellano said.

Academic All-Star Trevor Arellano

School: Lawrence High School

Parents: Michele and Travis Arellano

School clubs, programs and teams:

• Marching band (10th through 12th grades): trumpet section leader (11th and 12th grades)

• Symphonic band (10th grade)

• Wind ensemble (11th and 12th grades)

• Cross country (ninth through 12th grades): boys co-captain (12th grade)

• Student council (11th and 12th grades): junior class treasurer, senior class treasurer

• Link Crew Leadership Program (11th and 12th grades)

• Scholars’ bowl (ninth through 12th grades)

• High School Democrats of America (ninth through 12th grades): Club Treasurer (11th grade)

• The Budget newspaper (12th grade)

• Track and field (ninth and 10th grades): team manager (12th grade)

• Boys swimming and diving (ninth grade)

Awards and recognitions:

• National History Day (11th grade): finished ninth in the nation for senior group website about the triumph and tragedy of Lawrence after William Quantrill’s raid; won a Civil War History Special Prize at national competition and took first at regional and state competitions. (For the same project, Arellano also won the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area’s Tacha Freedom Award and was invited to speak twice at a Freedom’s Frontier symposium.)

• Lawrence Schools Foundation Student Champion (12th grade)

• Kansas Honor Scholar (12th grade)

• AP Scholar with Honor (11th grade)

• LHS Honor Roll (ninth through 12th grades)

• National Honor Society (11th and 12th grades)

• Volunteer research with KU professor Gwendolyn Macpherson regarding biochar filters on runoff water (11th grade)

Other activities:

• Co-moderated and organized a community forum allowing Lawrence High School students to voice their opinions on school safety (12th grade).

• LMH Health Junior Volunteer (10th through 12th grades), with more than 150 hours of volunteer work

• Corpus Christi Catholic Church Sunday doughnuts volunteer (ninth through 12th grades): raised money for local homeless shelters by serving doughnuts and coffee after Mass on various Sundays.

• KU basketball concession stand volunteer (11th and 12th grades): profits went to a local softball team.

• Billy Mills Middle School garden volunteer (10th and 11th grades)

• Paid job at Pendleton’s Country Market (summer 2019): spent extra time helping after the May 28 tornado that destroyed many of the market’s greenhouses and damaged the owner’s home.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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