Turns out, Kia Johnson has her older brother -- and that B+ she got back in elementary school -- to thank for the deluge of success she's enjoyed lately.
"He made fun of me for it, and pushed me to do better," she said. "He even would get me outside to play basketball, or softball until I couldn't move. There was always that competition factor with my older siblings."
There are no grades other than A's for the University of St. Thomas senior who's perched atop both the academic and athletic realms.
About two weeks ago, the defensive specialist's Tommie volleyball team went 40-1 en route to the program's first Division-III national championship.
But her off-the-court prowess is even more impressive, as her 3.961 GPA has been attracting scholarships like a magnet.
Not only did she have multiple before attending St. Thomas – and receiving the university's presidential scholarship while on campus – she's netted two prestigious academic awards since then, too.
The UNCF/Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship – given to just 15 students annually throughout the country – ended up on her lap, providing up to $25,000 in assistance. She was also awarded the Goldwater Scholarship, for students interested in science at the graduate level.
The biology major - and chemistry minor - hopes to also secure a Spanish major, too.
After her St. Thomas team overcame an 0-2 hole in the national championship game to win it all, she was a repeat honoree for the Elite 89 Award as the 5-foot-2-inch standout had the top GPA of the 136 players remaining in the round of the elite eight.
With so many opportunities, the selfless senior is still considering forgoing the graduate scholarship and giving back.
So what are your post-undergraduate plans?
That's difficult to say. One thing I know I love to do is to help people. I know I can help people indirectly via research, but I love direct contact.
I also want to possibly do Teach for America. I grew up on the east side of St. Paul and that's not the best neighborhood. So a lot of people find it hard to believe that I'm where I am, seeing where I grew up. So, through Teach for America, I'd be helping as much as I could.
Why don't you like to play mini-golf?
I never play mini-golf because I don't win. I'm a perfectionist in everything I do. I always want to get it right, no matter what it is.
What kept you from a 4.0 at St. Thomas?
I was 1 percent off from an "A" in my freshman year biology course. And then I went to Spain, too, and took five classes while I was there. It was hard to be a tourist, enjoy the experience and also pay attention in school.
You were an All-State athlete in softball – and not in volleyball – so why didn't you play softball as a Tommie instead?
I was recruited for basketball and softball (check out the gaudy prep accolades). But volleyball was the sport I loved to play the most.
What draws you to science?
I like to challenge myself and I knew science was a challenge. And there are so many different ways to help people with research. People don't even realize how important the research is that goes into fighting diseases like cancer.
I like dancing a lot. I go salsa dancing at Loring Pasta Bar on Friday and Saturday nights.
I'm vice president of the Spanish Club. And I'm a learning community leader for biology – it's not quite a tutor, but we help students in introductory courses, providing activities and helping them get through difficult content.
Were you surprised by the Tommies' 40-1 record?
It was definitely something no one expected. We always found a way to win, whether down 0-2 in the national championships, or down 10-4 in the fifth set in the MIAC championship. I can't express how amazing it is to be part of a team that no matter the circumstance, we could do it.
What were your teammates saying when you all were down 0-2?
We had a freshman who didn't really play all year – Ashley Dahly – but brought the team together and yelled at us "What are you doing – get it together!" As a freshman, that was pretty awesome.
Favorite Christmas song? "This Christmas" by Chris Brown
Favorite movie? "Love & Basketball" or "Remember the Titans"
Favorite author? JK Rowling
Favorite TV show? "So You Think You Can Dance"
Top 3 artists on your iPod: Probably Beyonce, Prince Royce (Spanish) and a lot of oldies R & B.
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