Kelsey Willcox, Next Step Magazines’ Super Teen
by Chandra Brin
Conifer resident and Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) sophomore Kelsey Willcox is bound to make the world a better place. At only 16, she’s accomplished more than many adults: she’s a self-taught artist, an entrepreneur and a gifted student with a 4.3 GPA who’s on track to becoming a surgeon.
Kelsey was recently selected out of hundreds nationwide to be featured as Next Step U magazine’s Super Teen, recognizing students “who drop jaws” through their academic, community and extracurricular work. And without a doubt, Kelsey can drop jaws.
At COVA, she founded the premedical and “mathemaniacs” clubs, was elected president of the International Forensic Science club and participates in Japanese animation (Anime), art, history and debate clubs and is the secretary of student government. She’s also in several AP courses including calculus and chemistry—unheard of for most high school sophomores—and was nominated for the National Honor Society.
“Kelsey has truly inspired and challenged me as an instructor and as a person,” said Shandra Pankoski, Kelsey’s AP calculus teacher and head of the COVA Math Department. “She’s full of creativity, energy, and passion, and attempts everything whole heartedly.”
Kelsey completed several apprenticeships with surgeons around the United Sates. This summer, she’ll be heading to India for a surgical placement at Jodhpur Hospital. She also has her apprentice doctor certificate through the apprentice doctor program, where aspiring surgeons gain practical medical field experience through labs, simulation instruments and common medical tools.
“When I saw my first surgery, I was hooked,” said Kelsey. “I started studying the art of surgery and watching operations on YouTube. I picked up a course on anatomy and physiology and started the premed club at school to teach the other students about what I learned.”
Kelsey’s goal is to become a vascular neurosurgeon, specializing in the repair of damaged blood vessels in the brain, a career path she feels will satisfy her dual passions for medicine and working with her hands.
Beyond her affinity for the medical field, Kelsey’s a published illustrator. She recently illustrated a volume of books to help students in China learn English and she provides freelance design work for area companies, including a Ugandan dance company.
Her love for art led her to launch a nonprofit called The Starving Artist, where proceeds from her artistic creations—all food-themed miniatures—are donated to area food banks, a cause close to Kelsey’s heart based on her family’s own experience.
“We were on the verge of losing our home. Our local food bank at the time really helped us and I think Kelsey remembers the positive impact it had on our family. I think that’s why she made it her mission to give back to them,” said Kelsey’s mother, Pam Willcox.
In addition to art and charity work, Kelsey teaches Sunday school, studies multiple languages including Mandarin, Hindi, Latin and German and is an active thespian. In fact, she snagged roles in a couple short films through the NYC Talent Management Group and regularly performs at the Conifer Stage Door Theatre. She also plays the guitar and is a self-taught pianist and composer. But despite being multi-talented, Kelsey admittedly has struggled socially at past schools.
“I was really proficient in other aspects of my life. I couldn’t understand why that didn’t translate to the social scene. I spent my first quarter in middle school frustrated and upset because I really didn’t fit in.”
That’s when Kelsey and her family decided to transition to homeschool and eventually COVA, a full-time, online public charter school that serves students in grades kindergarten through 12.
“We’re lucky to have Kelsey and assist her in her educational goals. No doubt, Kelsey and other students like her are the future leaders,” said Heidi Heineke-Magri, Head of School at COVA. “Students come to our school for a variety of reasons, for instance the award-winning curriculum, the variety of student clubs, the more customized but still structured approach, and fewer social distractions, such as bullying incidents.”
“I have normal assignments, tests and grades and I participate in extracurricular activities like every other student. Enrolling at COVA allowed me to pursue other interests and helped me to advance academically and personally,” said Kelsey.
Even though Kelsey has ambitious dreams, for now, she’s taking it one day at a time. “At this point, I’m just enjoying life and focusing on getting into a good college like Yale, Stanford or Harvard,” added Kelsey.