Taking Flight on a Gap Year: Q&A with 2022 Scholar Nell Taylor

Image of Boettcher Scholar, Nell Taylor

Meet Nell Taylor, a 2022 Scholar from the serene town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Despite her small high school, Nell embraced leadership, sports, and STEM. Taking a gap year, she spread her wings, gaining a pilot’s license in Alaska, a phlebotomy certification in Minnesota, and traversing several continents solo. Nell’s journey reflects a shift from conventional paths to self-discovery. Now at Colorado State University, she carries the courage to shape her future, fueled by the invaluable experiences and lessons of her transformative gap year.

Tell us a little bit about your academic journey and where you are from.

Pagosa Springs is a rural town in the southwest Colorado mountains. Although the high school is small, I had many opportunities to pursue my leadership and academic interests, specifically in the athletic and STEM fields. I am very grateful to have grown up in such a close knit and supportive community, and plan to take these values with me in my college experience.

What did you do during your gap year?

I started my gap year working as a dockhand at a float plane school in Talkeetna, Alaska. This workplace was a great learning environment regarding aviation; thus, I earned my private pilot’s license and my float plane rating that summer.

Nell Taylor trekking through snow

After my Alaskan adventures, I completed a phlebotomy certification course at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. At the beginning of the new year, I flew to South Africa, starting my five-month solo journey that took me through South Africa, Tanzania, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy. The experiences I had on this transformative trip impacted me in an intense way, allowing me to discover new passions, educate myself on how cultures can change, stagnate, and regress; and gave me a worldly yet analytic perspective of how people interact and work together. I stayed home in Colorado for the summer, applying for my phlebotomy training at my local hospital.

What motivated you to take a gap year?

For a while, I was really stuck in the mindset that I had to go to college immediately after high school or else I’d be “behind.” My senior year of high school, I started adopting the new mindset that I could create my own future because my success was not related to anyone else’s path or plan. This inspired me to pursue several of my nonacademic interests (that would be difficult to accomplish concurrently with school) over a gap year.

What is the biggest thing that you learned from your gap year?

Listen to the advice of the people who inspire you! They have a lot of lived experience and want you to succeed.

Were there any challenges as you were taking a gap year?

I certainly had trouble with being away from my family for such an extended period of time, but we tried to remedy it with frequent FaceTime calls. Another big challenge during my solo trip was the need to quickly develop my problem-solving skills, as there was no one to solve my problems but me.

How are you taking the things you learned from your gap year into this school year?

I plan to be very intentional with the people I surround myself with, as they have a very big impact on my habits and how I live my life.

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