By Nadine Matthews, Special to the AFRO

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are—if, you work hard and get a little bit of help from Mom. Sixteen year old Lauryn Howell, at the urging of her mother Monica, entered a contest to get a coveted spot at the Disney Dream Academy just a few months ago. Though she has always been a great student and all-around great kid, she knew the competition would be incredibly tough. Lauryn didn’t really think she would make it. Now that she is on her way, Howell says, “I’m excited to meet Steve Harvey and all the other winners.”

The Dreamers Academy, now in its 12th year, is an immersive four-day experience that includes career workshops ranging from animation to zoology with a focus on communication techniques, leadership skills, and networking strategies. Participants will also interact with celebrity Steve Harvey and other motivational speakers.

Lauryn Howell (Courtesy Photo)

Howell, in one of her essays for the contest, wrote about her passion for animals and the environment. Howell revealed she has always loved animals but didn’t consider a related profession until high school upon discovering how a career in forensic science aligns with her interests. “I want to do something to have a bigger impact on the world,” she emphasizes. “What’s most important now is climate change and the environment as a whole and animals are a big part of that. What is happening to animals mirrors what’s gonna happen to people if we stay on the same course we’re on.”

The measured Howell, who is active in Girl Scouts (at the Ambassador Level), and volunteers at the Clearwater Nature Center, also wrote of her great admiration for physicist and television host, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. “He’s so smart and understands things in such a deep level and is able to translate things so that everyone can understand,” said Howell.

A passionate Harry Potter fan, Howell reveals herself to be something of a contrarian, admitting that she considers herself more a Slytherin than anything else. “It’s a bit controversial,” she says carefully. “They’re misunderstood. Everyone who is bad is from Slytherin but not everyone who was from Slytherin is bad. A lot of their good traits are overlooked, like being resourceful and independent.”

It was hard for this avid animal lover to choose a favorite animal but finally decided that the Bengal Tiger would be her choice. “Cats are really beautiful,” she enthused. “Bengal Tigers are the only type of cats that know how to swim. They have webbed toes.”

Proud Mama Monica points to Lauryn’s independence as something she likes most about her accomplished daughter. “She never shies away from anything and she’s never felt the need the need to conform. She was wearing her hair short for example, before it was fashionable, before Black Panther came out.”

Monica describes her daughter as always having been, “A mature student and a mature child.” In terms of making sure she got the best education she could, Monica tried different methods; first homeschooling her, then putting her in a charter school, and finally in the talented and gifted programs in public schools. Asked what she would advise other parents to do who also seek a great education for their children she stated, “Pay attention and allow your children to explore. Look out for free activities and anything they’re interested in, do it.”

In addition to her impending Disney adventure, Howell is also gearing up for two other momentous events. First, she’ll intern at the National Aquarium in Baltimore this summer, another competitive program. “I will be a tour exhibit guide,” Lauryn explains. “So I’ll be at an exhibit talking about the animals and answering people’s questions. I’m looking forward to honing my presentation and communication skills doing that.”

Howell has also been saving up for a trip to Southeast Asia in late summer.  “I saved all my babysitting money and birthday money to go to Thailand in August.” She will travel to Thailand for two weeks to  be part of the “Elephant Sanctuary Project” service program hosted by Global Leadership Adventures.”  The program includes teaching English at a primary school, assisting with renovations of the school building, and care of Asian Elephants at the Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary. A Go Fund Me has been established to raise travel for the trip. Please visit it here: