Anaia Johnson was well aware of the broad range of experiences she would gain when she was accepted into the Academy of Math and Science (AMS) at Fort Hays State University in 2019. Her older sister, Aaliyah, was already attending the premier early college program for gifted and talented high school students from around the world.


But when Anaia left behind her classmates at Turner High School in Kansas City and enrolled in KAMS – the AMS program for students who live in Kansas – she probably couldn’t have imagined the success she would enjoy.


One of 44 high-school age students taking classes and living on the Fort Hays State campus, Anaia this fall was named a scholar for the College Board National African American Recognition Program after scoring in the top 3 percent of her class on the PSAT test last year.


Each year, that national program honors about 5,000 academically outstanding African American students across the United States who have taken the PSAT, the standardized test administered by the College Board for high juniors and seniors. With the scholar honor usually comes college scholarship offers.


That good news for Anaia came on the heels of learning earlier this semester she had received the KC Scholars Scholarship, a $10,000-per year, income-based award for 17 schools in eastern Kansas.


"Anaia has taken advantage of a lot of opportunities to prepare her for college and for her future," said Sherri Matlock, Anaia’s academic advisor. "She is a great ambassador for our KAMS program."


Students in the KAMS/AMS residential program take college classes along with other college students and can earn up to 68 credits. By the end of their second year at Fort Hays State, KAMS/AMS students graduate from their sending high school and can either continue studying at FHSU or transfer to another university.


Anaia, who is considering majoring in political science, is undecided where she will continue her education next fall. But for now, she wants to concentrate on this year, her last in the program before completing requirements in May.


She talks about her involvement in student organizations at Fort Hays State and how that has benefitted her grow as a person. Last year, she served as an ambassador for the KAMS program. She is an active member of the Black Student Union and a member of the Custer Hall Council. Custer is the residence hall for AMS and KAMS students.


"Being involved on campus, I am able to build a sense of community and develop friendships outside of the KAMS program," she said. "I have been able to build social connections with people who I usually wouldn’t be comfortable talking with outside my bubble."


Anaia first became familiar with precollege preparation programs in her early high school years in Kansas City. She took apart in Upward Bound, a program with the U.S. Department of Education that provides opportunities for participants to succeed in their precollege performance and in their higher education pursuits.


For Anaia, KAMS is reinforcing the foundation she began building as a student in Upward Bound.


"I really like the college atmosphere and the independence of KAMS," she said. "I have had to learn how to manage my time well and how to self-advocate, and I think all that will be really useful in my future."


Matlock agrees that KAMS has bolstered Anaia’s confidence and determination.


"Anaia has a strong will to achieve, and having the extra support of programs like Upward Bound and KAMS are truly life changing," Matlock said. "I look forward to seeing what this bright, personal, articulate and self-reliant young woman is doing with her life in the future. Anaia will seek to influence the world for good. KAMS is very proud of her and grateful that we have had a part in shaping her aspirations."


While she said she misses the personal interaction of in-class instruction, Anaia has adjusted to her new lifestyle. Because of changes to class schedules because of COVID-19, most of Anaia’s classes this semester are online, so much of her time is spent in Custer Hall.


She appreciates the efforts the university has made with safety measures for the campus community during a pandemic.


"I think it came rather easily to make some minor adjustments, like wearing a mask all the time," she said. "Being a student in a pandemic is tough, but Fort Hays State has developed ways for us to still be able to learn, whether in the classroom or online, and that’s the important thing."