Leigh Swistock is the first Carroll Community College student to be named a New Century Scholar, a prestigious award only given to one community college student in each state every year. (Dylan Slagle and Ulysses Munoz / BSMG)
If there were moments of doubt for Leigh Swistock during her past two years at Carroll Community College, times when she wasn't certain she could really balance all of her campus commitments — president of the Campus Activities Board, vice president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and more — with her academic work, she needn't worry any longer. The second-year student has just won two prestigious academic awards, having been named the 2016 New Century Scholar and receiving the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society's Guistwhite Scholar award.
The Manchester native is the first student from the college ever to win either.
"Just to win the first one was a huge achievement for me, and it really validated everything I have been doing here at Carroll," she said. "I really have tried to be involved in everything I could possibly be involved in. I really have put my focus on that. Of course, school work as well, but I really did love being involved in the activities here."
The New Century Scholar award selection stems from Swistock's participation in the All-Maryland Academic Team, according to Josiah Guthland, an admissions and honor society adviser with the college. Every two-year college campus in the state sends two students to represent their school at this annual competition, and Swistock was one of the college's representatives this year, competing with more than 40 students from across Maryland for the award, he said.
"What that means is she is the top-rated Phi Theta Kappa student in the state of Maryland, so she is going to be flown out to Chicago for the American Association of Community Colleges annual conference — along with James Ball, our president — to be recognized in front of her peers."
The competition wasn't just about academics either, and Swistock said she believes her many activities on campus might have given her the extra experience needed to put her over the top.
"We completed an intensive scholarship application; it had a lot of essays with it, but also in that I had to show a lot of my leadership and extensive experience with community events I have taken part in and been a leader in," she said.
She followed that award up with the Guistwhite scholarship, for which she was chosen out of 1,800 students who applied, Guthland said.
"She was one of 15 students [nationwide] that won this scholarship — it's even more elite than the New Century Scholar," he said.
Swistock's victory might have come as a surprise to her, but to Guthland it is not a mystery why she won.
"Phi Theta Kappa has four pillars of excellence that are the basis of all its decisions. Those are scholarship, leadership, service and fellowship," he said.
Scholarship was no problem with Swistock's 3.8 GPA, Guthland said, and when it came to leadership, she was the vice president of the leadership for Phi Theta Kappa on the campus. She organized numerous service projects, he said, such as bringing in service dogs during finals so students could combat stress by petting puppies. For fellowship, she helped organize honor society outings to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play.
"With those four things, she was rated the number one student in the state of Maryland, then she was rated one of the top 15 in the nation," Guthland said. "I am just happy that I know her; she has been such an excellent student and I am really happy for her."
Swistock will receive $5,000 for the Guistwhite Scholar award and $2,000 for being selected the New Century Scholar, funds that will aid in her plan to study hospitality management at the University of Central Florida after she graduates this spring. That's a decision that came out of her experiences in event planning while at Carroll Community College, she said.
"What has helped me come to that conclusion was my involvement in the Campus Activities Board," she said. "I've really learned that I love planning events and I really love being a part of that, feeling that I had a hand in what was going on."