By Katie Wornek – StepUp Outreach Officer and Paying For College Expert – 11.2.17

Last week, I had the privilege of travelling to southern Utah for three FAFSA Completion Open Houses (events where we help students and parents complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – Monticello High School, Grand County High School, and San Juan High School put on some fantastic events. The turnout was great, the counselors were incredibly friendly and accommodating, and the students were enthusiastic about taking a big step toward college and their futures.

I moved to Utah 9 years ago, and I am still continuously surprised and delighted by its beautiful and diverse landscapes. I’ve been to southern Utah many times over the years, but driving to these schools allowed me to get to know some areas of Utah I had never explored before. The sights I encountered on my trip inspired me to write a blog post with a theme centered on Utah’s 5 stunning national parks. You might be surprised by how much these locations relate to your life as a student!


This is a picture of me and a few friends after we finished a half-marathon next to the Colorado River near Moab.



Arches’ lesson: Change your perspective

Arches was the first National Park I visited when I moved to Utah and, to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with it at first glance. The Delicate Arch license plates I had seen on thousands of cars led me to believe that I was in for a spectacular view the second I entered the park. I drove on for a few miles and enjoyed the steep red cliffs and cool desert plants, but I didn’t see any huge arches. However, as I drove deeper into the park, I started spotting them at almost every turn. Rock formations that looked like typical cliff faces or hills from a distance suddenly revealed the ancient geometry that had been hidden from view earlier.

This relates to something you should keep in mind as a student – sometimes, in order to truly get the most out of something, you need to change your way of looking at things. For example, doing homework every night can feel tedious, challenging, and time-consuming. Instead of viewing homework as an obligation that has been assigned to you, think of it as an opportunity to practice a skill. Soon, these school subjects will transform from ideas you are learning to fields you have mastered.


That’s me as a recent college graduate taking a celebratory trip to Arches with my Mom (she is clearly FAR more chic than I could ever hope to be!)



Bryce Canyon’s lesson: Persevere.

Bryce Canyon is an incredibly unique place. It’s covered in the most bizarre, vibrant red rock pillars called hoodoos. Sandstone is pretty soft and some of these hoodoos are delicate, so it’s hard to believe they could survive millions of years of rain, snow, wind, seismic activity, and interaction with humans and animals, but they did.

If you want to find success in education, become a hoodoo! In other words, work every day with the mentality that you can survive (and even thrive) in the face of seemingly impossible odds. High school and college come with more than their fair share of challenges and hardships. As long as you use grit to persevere, ask for help when you need it, and use your goals as your motivation, you can overcome those issues.


Dawn over Bryce Canyon
Morning sunlight over the amphitheater at Bryce Canyon viewed from Inspiration Point.



Canyonlands’ lesson: Take time for yourself

I visited Canyonlands National Park for the first time this February. It was President’s Day weekend, I had been going through a lot of stress at the time, and I decided to take a short trip by myself. It was rainy and cold that weekend, so there were very few people around (which is unheard of in a National Park), so I spent my days in almost complete isolation hiking, taking photos, and just existing quietly with my own thoughts. This sense of solitude, along with the serene beauty of the cliffs, plateaus, and riverbeds in Canyonlands, made the stress in my life seem a lot more manageable. The lesson here for all you students is to remember to take time for yourself. We certainly grow by learning, working hard, and achieving important things. But we also grow through personal experiences, self-reflection, and maintaining a healthy body and mind.


Canyonlands Nat'l Park
This is my favorite picture from my President’s Day Weekend Canyonlands trip.



Capitol Reef’s lesson: Think beyond yourself

The Utah Office of Tourism describes Capitol Reef this way: “Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared when nothing existed but earth and sky.” Having an experience like that is a good reminder that our individual lives are only a small part of the history of this huge and ancient planet. It’s easy for a busy student (or anyone for that matter) to get caught up with personal issues and day-to-day tasks, but it’s important for all of us to remember that we need to live our lives not just for ourselves, but for other people. Your first priority should be taking care of yourself and doing well in school, but it’s also important to give back. Volunteer service is a great way to meet new people, learn new skills, and gain a sense of pride and fulfillment. Plus, volunteer hours look great on resumes and scholarship applications! UServe Utah can help you find volunteer opportunities in your community.


Eph Hanks Tower and Milky Way, UT
Eph Hanks Tower, Capitol Reef NP, UT. At this time of year (April) the Milky Way core rise before dawn.



Zion’s lesson: Embrace diversity

Zion National Park is full of waterfalls, ancient trees, and geological wonders, but it also houses a whopping 289 species of birds, 32 types of reptiles, and 19 types of bats. Some of those species are similar to one another, others are vastly different, but they all call this landscape home. Education is similar – it exists to create a place of belonging for everyone. When you get an education, you don’t just gain knowledge from your textbooks; you learn from your environment and every person you interact with. Your teachers, professors, administrators, counselors, and peers come from different places, speak different languages, and have different life experiences. Diversity is a natural and vital part of education that teaches us to appreciate new ideas, resolve conflict, and empathize with other humans. Remember to look for, appreciate, and learn from the diversity at your school every day.


Bighorn Sheep
A Bighorn ram stands proudly on a sandstone cliff in Zion National Park.


Katie Wornek - Step Up Utah Outreach Officer and Paying for College ExpertKatie is an Outreach Officer with UHEAA and StepUpUtah. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Political Science from the University of Utah and previously worked as a tutor with the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) college preparatory program. You can follow her for professional advice about preparing and paying for college on TwitterInstagram, and Snapchat (@StepUpKatie).