Douglas High School senior Shaylene Connolly arrived in Casper just in time Tuesday morning for what she thought was a program about the importance of higher education.

Shaylene sat with about a dozen other students in the middle of the common area of WyoTowne, a student financial literacy program of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Wyoming.

The students and their parents listened to the virtues of business, hard work and community involvement from K2Radio General Manager Bob Price and Riata Little of the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance.

Then Linda Childears, president and CEO of the Denver-based Daniels Fund, took the podium and said the event wasn't so much about business as it was about the students.

Childears asked those who applied for the Daniels Fund college scholarships to stand, adding this was the day finalists would be notified in four states.

"But we thought we would give you a sneak preview to tell you that you're in," she said.

The crowd cheered, because they will receive full-ride scholarships to the university of their choice.

The Daniels Fund is a private charitable foundation set up by the late Bill Daniels, former Casper resident and cable television pioneer. After his death in 2000, his $1.1 billion estate went to the Daniels Fund for causes including scholarships for residents of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

Daniels wanted the scholarships to go to students with good character, their likelihood of contributing to society, their engagement in their communities, and their prospects of leadership roles in their lives and their businesses, Childears said. "The academic component is not the top criteria for this scholarship, although we seem to find a lot of kids who have character also have high academic success."

Slightly more than 2,000 students applied this year, and the Daniels Fund awarded 230 scholarships.

Thirty-three of those finalists are from Wyoming including the stunned and very, very happy Shaylene.

She said she planned to attend the University of Wyoming, study social work and sociology and apply that to families and children.

Academic prowess is important, but some life events have given her some education in life, too, including working since she was 15, and the death of her mother last fall, Shaylene said.

"My mom dying, it's a big thing, but it's not something to knock me down because I've been through so much," she said. "I think I'd be the best at helping families and helping like younger children because I've been through pieces of life."

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