San Tan’s Brieanna Van Buren named December Student of the Month
By Guy Harrison, CAC Media & Marketing Specialist
SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. - If one were to try to summarize Brieanna Van Buren's time at Central Arizona College in one word, that word would be discovery, for more reasons than one.
A native of Hickory Corners, Mich., Van Buren's family moved to Arizona while she was a teenager. Despite the challenges that a move like that can present a teen, she persevered through the use of modern technology. If not for social media such as Skype and Facebook, the impact of moving away from her homeschool friends and family would have hit even harder.
In the five years her family has spent in Arizona, not only has she adjusted to a new state and a new way of learning but, through Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society of the two-year college, she has put her stamp on the region while also making a few discoveries about herself along the way.
This is why Van Buren, who has just finished her last semester at CAC and will move on to Northern Arizona University in January, has been named CAC's December Student of the Month.
"It's an awesome honor to receive this award," she said. "It's a great boost of confidence for me as I transfer to a large university and it's great to be recognized for my academics as well as my hard work with Phi Theta Kappa."
After settling into San Tan Valley with her family, the time came for Van Buren to pursue her higher education. Since her mother had a good community college experience when she was in school, Brieanna looked no further than CAC. The college's convenient location and relatively low tuition rates are what attracted her to the school.
Although CAC is not a large institution, Van Buren's transition was still a significant one.
"It took a while to adjust to the college lifestyle," she said. "But, eventually, I managed to adapt to the environment."
In fact, as Van Buren assimilated into the CAC student body, she entered an era of growth and self-discovery in which her greatest contribution to CAC and the local community at large also was the most revealing.
After her induction into Phi Theta Kappa, Van Buren was determined to be an active member and the opportunities to do so were plentiful. There was just one major obstacle - because it was a center and not a campus, CAC's San Tan location didn't have a Phi Theta Kappa chapter, which meant that in order to participate in the organization's meetings and activities, Brieanna would need to trek to CAC's Superstition Mountain Campus in Apache Junction roughly 25 miles away from home. This proved especially difficult since Brieanna doesn't have her own car.
"We have two cars in my house and they're both in use almost all of the time."
Where most students would wave a white flag and wait for any extra-curricular opportunities to literally come to them, Van Buren spoke with CAC's Phi Theta Kappa leaders and worked out an arrangement that would allow her to be an active PTK member without having a campus chapter close to home. As part of CAC's PTK Honors in Action project, she has done research and has volunteered locally at Epic Food Mission.
"Brieanna is a humble, caring servant," Maren Wilson, who has taught Van Buren in an online anthropology class and is Phi Theta Kappa advisor at CAC's Aravaipa Campus, said.
"She first contributed to Phi Theta Kappa with an annotated bibliography and has contributed many volunteer hours at Epic."
The annotated bibliography, which is one of the many ways that an inductee can actively participate in PTK, is a research document that is not required for inductees but is tied to the organization's Honors in Action Project, which this year has a focus on food drives and volunteerism.
"She wasn't the only student who did one," Wilson explained, "but Brieanna's annotated bibliography stood out because she was out there working on it by herself." She was alone at the San Tan Center.
"I did the annotated bibliography to bring recognition to my [PTK] chapter and because it gave me more insight into what Phi Theta Kappa does and the meaning behind their hard work," Van Buren said.
But her contributions didn't end there. Over the course of her volunteer work with Epic, Brieanna has become a leader at the food mission, overseeing an area of the facility that distributes vegetables, bread and desserts. In her role, she instructs and directs other volunteers and is responsible for determining how much food is to be distributed to clients that come to her area.
This leadership opportunity, as well as her induction into Phi Theta Kappa, has given Van Buren a whole new perspective about who she is as a leader and as a member of our society. Among other things, Brieanna has learned that she is an introvert, someone who is more inclined to work behind the scenes, without the spotlight shining brightly on her. This knowledge and the experience she has had while gaining it, she says, has allowed her greater development as a person.
"Socially, my experience at CAC has helped me grow as an adult. As you emerge from high school you leave behind your childish ways and begin the journey of becoming an adult."
And it is that matured perspective that Van Buren will take with her as she enrolls at NAU in pursuit of a bachelor's of science degree in interdisciplinary studies.
In her free time, Van Buren enjoys swimming, bike riding, horseback riding, visiting historical sites and reading historical novels. She also professes a love for the History Channel, artifacts and databases, so it should come as no surprise that she hopes to one day enjoy a career in museology - the study of museums - or anthropology, a career that seems fitting considering the fact that she already has experience making discoveries.