When Zac Scornavacco started high school, his first day went smoothly. He was comforted by all of his familiar middle school peers transitioning to a new campus together. Then, his mom closed on a house in a new school district and on his second day of high school, Zac found himself in a completely new, much larger campus surrounded by 3,000 students he had never seen before.
“Freshman year I was a loser. I didn’t know a single person,” said Zac. “It was like starting all over again.”
It wasn’t long before everyone knew him. He joined the men’s freshman volleyball team in hopes of making friends, and found a mentor in his volleyball coach, who recommended he apply to join Associated Student Body, their student council. Upon his acceptance into the selective program, he found himself in a classroom full of the “most popular kids” at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, California.
Zac’s passion for leadership and vast involvement in the San Diego community would shape him into a competitive candidate for the Hunt Leadership Scholarship at Southern Methodist University.
“It was intimidating at first, but then I started getting involved, like really involved. I participated in all of the events and helped plan everything,” Zac said. “I started making a lot of friends and by the end of the year, I had built up the social support and confidence to run for a position. I decided to run for junior class president against the reigning freshman and sophomore class president, which was bold because he knew everyone on campus; he was the guy-to-be.”
After an aggressive campaign, the election results came out, and Zac was named the new junior class president. He felt like he had finally established himself, but he was just getting started.
In his first year as junior class president, Zac quickly discovered his passion for leadership. He ran again the following year for president of the Associated Student Body, and, subsequently, the entire student body. He won.
“My senior year of high school I was overly involved,” Zac said. “I was the president of three different organizations, the president of the entire school, served on a million boards and was enrolled in four AP classes.”
For Zac, there was no such thing as free time. He was constantly occupied with school district board meetings, where he helped pass a tax for more funding for schools, or planning Relay for Life, the fundraising event for cancer research that he initiated at Torrey Pines.
“Zac was always the epitome of a team player. It was amazing just being able to work with him, nonetheless be friends with him too,” said Antonia Caicedo, Senior Site Council for Torrey Pines’ ASB while Zac attended. “He was everyone’s biggest fan, and he was so loved and respected for that by the entire student body at Torrey.”
When it came time to apply to college, Zac’s process was just as extensive. He submitted applications to 18 universities across the nation.
“I had no idea where I wanted to go to college,” said Zac. “My college search was heavily narrowed to basically what I could afford.”
After Zac’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer when Zac was in 7th grade, Zac’s mother worked hard to raise the family alone. Zac’s eldest brother, Jake, wasn’t able to pursue higher education for financial reasons, and Zac’s twin sister, Taylor, earned her college education through an athletic scholarship to Stanford University.
“I knew that if I wanted to go to college, I had to earn my way on my own, and it definitely wasn’t going to be for my freshman volleyball skills,” said Zac. “So, I did a lot of research into scholarship opportunities at every school I applied to.”
“I knew that if I wanted to go to college, I had to earn my way on my own, and it definitely wasn’t going to be for my freshman volleyball skills. So, I did a lot of research into scholarship opportunities at every school I applied to.”
the SMU Hunt Leadership Scholar program caught his attention during Zac’s research.
“The Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt Leadership Scholars Program is one of the nation’s premier leadership scholarships. Hunt Scholars form a tight-knit community of students with a wide variety of backgrounds and leadership experiences. The tie that binds them all together is their desire to lead and enact change, both while in college at SMU and beyond,” said Lindsay Davis, director of the Hunt Leadership Scholar Program.
The Hunt Scholar program receives up to 700 applications each year and the top 60-65 candidates are invited to campus for an in-person interview in March of their application cycle. When Zac was invited to Dallas for the Hunt interview weekend, he brought his resume full of his high school accomplishments in tow.
“Our selection committee is looking for students who have excelled outside of the classroom in high school just as much as they excelled in their academic life. The Hunt Scholarship is awarded to those students who demonstrate great potential, both in their written application and their interview, to be leaders and change agents at SMU,” said Davis.
“The students selected as Hunt Scholars have demonstrated leadership in various ways. Some students served as student body officers, others oversaw student publications, others achieved the highest ranks available in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, others created new opportunities to lead when the ability to do so arose. The goal is that each class of Hunt Scholars would represent a wide variety of leadership skills and interests,” Davis continued.
Zac fit the Hunt Scholar criteria to a tee. Now a sophomore at SMU, Zac is pursuing a dual-degree in Finance and Corporate Communication and Public Affairs on the political communication track. The Hunt Scholars program opened the door for Zac to attend college and continue to build his resume.
“Hunt to me means opportunity. Hunt gives opportunity to some students that otherwise might not have had it,” said Zac. “Leadership was really the thing I’ve always been best at, and there’s not really any other school that recognizes leadership in the way that SMU does with the Hunt Leadership scholarship.”
Zac is currently serving on the Student Advisory Board and Student Foundation, is a member of Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity and College Republicans, helps plan SMU’s Relay for Life annual event, holds a job with the Bush Institute, and was elected by his peers as a pre-major senator.
“My freshman year I went to ‘Night at the Club’ after Mustang Corral, and I was so excited. I joined 13 different organizations,” recalled Zac. “I went to every single meeting for every organization for the first week in order to try and decide which organizations I wanted to be a part of.”
Zac’s interests stretch vastly across sectors, but from his education and experience at SMU thus far, he envisions himself working in campaign finance in the future. But for now, Zac focuses on his plentiful day-to-day responsibilities in his classes, board meetings and organizational activities at SMU, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m so involved because I wouldn’t be here at SMU if it wasn’t for Hunt and its funding of my education. I want to give back to the school because in essence it is giving back to the program.”
“I’m so involved because I wouldn’t be here at SMU if it wasn’t for Hunt and its funding of my education. I want to give back to the school because in essence it is giving back to the program. I want the Hunts to see that I’m not taking it for granted,” said Zac. “For me, college has been such an amazing experience so far, and I think so many people are well-deserving of higher education, but simply can’t afford it. My end goal is to have an opportunity like this to give back for college students like the Hunts do.”