North Branch native Justine Joyal was named the Outstanding Student of the Year for Cambridge Campus of Anoka-Ramsey Community College for the 2021-22 academic year.
And that is pretty impressive when you consider that Joyal was a senior at North Branch High School at the time.
No one was more surprised than Joyal herself.
“I opened up the email [that announced the award] while I was in my room, getting ready to do some homework,” she said. “When I read it, I really thought it was pretty cool.
“I was surprised and a little excited. Mostly surprised, though.”
Judging by the words of the professors who nominated her for the award, she should not have been.
“Justine was a phenomenal student in my course,” professor Joe Schoen said. “She displayed obvious mastery of the material presented. Her discussion posts were thorough, critical, and effectively stated her position. She did not take the easy route when it came to discussions.”
Professor Peter Wahlstrom agreed, adding: “It is clear to me that Justine holds herself to a high standard of academic output. She consistently scores in the highest echelon of all graded submissions in my Medical Ethics class, which indicates that she is putting in the effort necessary to achieve excellence.”
Joyal received an associate of arts degree (no emphasis) from Anoka-Ramsey, which just added to an already busy schedule.
She was a part of the Vikings girls tennis team since she was in seventh grade, first seeing action on the varsity as a freshman, and she participated with the Mora Figure Skating Club – “They have a competition team, but I was more skating for fun,” Joyal said. “It also provided stress relief for me.”
She also was a member of North Branch’s Knowledge Bowl team and played in the jazz band on the trombone.
“When we tried instruments in middle school, that was the one I had first,” Joyal said. “I liked that the slide was different; everything else had buttons.”
And in her “free” time, Joyal held down a job at Caribou Coffee in North Branch.
That meant scheduling and completing class work was a key to her success.
“What worked for me is planning out the assignments that I have due,” Joyal said. “That way I know the order in which to do them, and roughly how long that it will take. That way I know how much time it will take, and that way I’m not as stressed out. …
“Usually when I get home from school, I write down all the assignments I have to do. Then I figure out roughly how long it will take to do that. I’ll do the assignment that is due first; and that saves time, because I don’t have to worry about what assignment I’m doing next.”
Joyal started taking PSEO classes as a junior at North Branch, completing five college-level classes that year. She then took three classes each semester through Anoka-Ramsey as a senior – not to mention two summer classes at the college in the summer between her junior and senior years.
The result is 60 college credits, which means Joyal will enter her first year at Minnesota-Duluth as a junior. When she actually steps foot on campus, she will already have completed the general requirements for a degree.
That means Joyal enters college already focused on degree-specific classes as she pursues a biochemistry major with a minor in biology with the goal of eventually entering med school.
“[Taking classes in my major] is pretty exciting, but also a little scary,” she said. “I think I may want to do one thing, but that may change depending on how I feel about my classes. Taking college classes in high school helped me figure out that I liked chemistry and biology. I felt that, if I worked harder in high school, that would pay off in college.”
It was not an easy path, however. Joyal took a number of online courses at Anoka-Ramsey, meaning she had to push herself to do the work.
“When you take a class online, which doesn’t have a set time when you need to be online, you have to manage your own time – you have to know what to do and when to do it,” she said. “In high school you meet every day. Online classes through Anoka-Ramsey actually were easier for me because I could decide when to do things on my own time. It gave me more independence.”
It also gave her a chance to participate in two graduations this spring.
“There were eight of us [from North Branch] who walked through the ceremony at Anoka-Ramsey,” Joyal said. “It was cool to have some people I knew at that commencement. There were fewer graduates, and it was different. If it weren’t for those eight, I wouldn’t have known anyone.
“At North Branch we had grown up together, and I knew most everyone.”
Joyal wanted to thank her parents, Patrick and Jennifer, for their support.
“And I wanted to thank my professors – thanks for noticing me,” she said.
Now she will travel to Minnesota-Duluth to begin her college career as a freshman with junior standing.
“I’m excited to get started in college,” Joyal said. “I’ll live in the dorms, and I’ll take a couple of freshman classes.”