2023 Council Scholarship recipient Jayquan Jaeger was 13 when he read Stephen Hawking’s breakthrough book on theoretical physics, “The Universe in a Nutshell.” That’s also when he watched documentaries like “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” and “How the Universe Works.” On long family car rides, Jayquan soaked up podcasts on astrophysics. It’s no wonder that once he reached high school, he needed to look beyond the course offerings at La Follette High School in Madison. During his time there he earned college credits through the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for high school students offered at Madison College.
Because of his STEM credits, Jayquan will start at UW-Madison in the fall as a first semester junior. He plans to pursue a double major in Astrophysics and Theater. An unusual combination? Not for Jayquan. Between science books and documentaries, he was singing, acting and playing instruments—four years of choir and orchestra at La Follette; two years of drama, choir and orchestra at Madison College; eight years in the Madison Youth Choir; and two years with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Jayquan says art and science go hand in hand. “Visually, art is really good at provoking the wonder that scientists feel themselves,” he says. “If you hear a planet described, you say ‘Okay.’ But if you see an artist’s representation, you get it. And that’s just the visual aspect, which is not my strong suit.”
But music and audio are his strong suits. “A movie score, for example, can help make a scientific concept more understandable,” Jayquan explains. As he wrote in his scholarship application, “I notice connections between movies and shows in ways my family and friends never think of. I use music in every part of my life, whether that’s singing to improve my mood, or just because I’m feeling joyful.”
“Jayquan is the most talented and active participant in school and community activities that I have ever met,” says Kelsey Tiradani, a Madison Metropolitan School District teacher of students who are blind or visually impaired. “I have full confidence that Jayquan will be successful in his endeavors of being an astrophysicist,” she adds.
Jayquan isn’t sitting still this summer as he awaits school in the fall. “I’m taking six credits through the UW–Madison PEOPLE (Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence) program,” he says. He’s looking forward to more challenging course work at UW–Madison, but he’s also excited about the life changes that will come with college. “The independence,” he says. “Yes, I can rely on my parents if I need to, but I’m really ready to start doing things on my own now.”
What is Jayquan most apprehensive about as fall approaches? “Mostly just dealing with my visual impairment,” he says. Jayquan has glaucoma and has endured various surgeries over the years. He says it takes effort just to help people understand what he’s dealing with day-to-day. “To explain it to the dozens of people I’m going to meet,” he says. “And then them getting used to it while I get used to it in a new environment.” Jayquan notes that he doesn’t see faces very well, which affects his ability to learn names. So, he came up with a unique approach. “I learn names like learning a line from a play. Just memorize.”
As for schoolwork, “I’ve learned to adapt by using assistive technology in every place I can. I consistently impress my mother with the speed at which I’m able to manipulate the screen to get where I want to go.”
Jayquan has already designated the Council scholarship money to help with a very specific need. “It’s going to help me pay for housing,” says Jayquan. “Housing was the main thing I wasn’t sure about how I was going to pay for.”