Ellet High School senior Alexis McCullough knows what it means to work hard. It’s in her blood, passed down from her great-grandmother, who had to leave school at an early age to care for eight younger siblings after the death of her mother.

Her great-grandmother, Alice Fields, was able to pursue a career as a successful restaurant manager.

“She has shown me that with dedication and perseverance, you can achieve any dreams and goals you have in life,” McCullough wrote in her Beacon Journal Star Student application.

And that’s exactly what McCullough is doing, tackling her ambitions full force.

Although she’s a senior at Ellet, the valedictorian — No. 1 out of a class of 195 — spent all year on the University of Akron campus taking college courses to pursue a career in nursing. She played varsity soccer all four years, being elected captain her junior and senior years. She participated in the National Honor Society, Student Council and a variety of other clubs and activities while also taking part in community events such as the Red Cross Blood Drive, a spaghetti dinner, Toys for Tots and time volunteering at Haven of Rest, all while also working 28 hours a week as a cashier, supervisor and customer service representative at Marc’s.

How does she balance it all?

“My coach was really lenient and we could miss a couple practices here and there,” she said. “But mostly I worked on the weekends a lot during soccer season, and then when soccer was over I mostly worked nights. I gave them certain days I could and couldn’t work just so I had certain times to study for school.”

She started playing as a 5- or 6-year-old.

“I grew up playing it,” she said. “It’s something that me and my cousins did a lot together. Now I’ve made my best friend through soccer. It’s just really fun. You get a lot of experience. You meet new people. I grew close with a lot of them. My coaches were great. It’s just something I’ve always loved doing. I love being active and running.”

Named to the First Team All-City Series, she’s thinking she’ll look into club soccer at UA.

When she does have downtime, she enjoys spending it with her family, parents James and Tammy McCullough and brother Brandon, 16, a sophomore at Ellet, her friends and her two Labs, Marley and Oreo. She’s currently reading Dear John by Nicholas Sparks.

She started at the University of Akron her junior year with six classes. This school year, she decided to go full time.

“I really liked it a lot,” she said. “You get the whole experience of actually going to college. It’s just a different environment. It’s like I got prepared for it already. The professors are really nice and I met a lot of new friends there.”

She got on the President’s List in the fall semester for having a 4.0 grade-point average at UA. She has a 5.0 at Ellet. Because of the rigor of the College Credit Plus classes she takes, grades are weighted. Through the program, McCullough will graduate from Ellet High School with 34 college credits. Most bachelor’s degrees are about 120 credits, guidance counselor Judy Maver said.

Next fall, McCullough will commute to UA from home.

In 10 years, she sees herself practicing as a pediatric nurse practitioner at Akron Children’s Hospital.

“I want to be there for the little kids,” she said. “When I was a kid I had surgery, I had my tonsils out. The nurses were there to comfort me. I want to make sure kids can grow up to have a life like mine, where they are able to go to school and do what they want [with their lives].”

Some of her fondest high school memories include getting close with some of her teachers, especially Allison Glidden, whom she had for world history as a freshman. This year at a special dinner, Glidden was presented with the Shining Apple Award. McCullough wrote a paragraph about Glidden’s influence on her that was read by the speaker at the dinner.

She chose Glidden because she made her first year of high school “comfortable.”

“She’s fun to be around and every time you needed something she was always there for you,” McCullough said. “She helped me a lot.”

Glidden had a big hug for McCullough in the hallway when she saw her and they posed for a photo.

“She’s everything that she says she is,” counselor Maver said of McCullough. “Dependable, determined ... a woman with integrity. If she came into the room as my nurse I would be thrilled.”

Monica L. Thomas can be reached at 330-996-3827 or mthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @MLThomasABJ  and www.facebook.com/MLThomasABJ.