Looking To The Past To Find His Future

At an early age, through OACAC’s Head Start program, a little boy named Charles fell in love with the past and began his journey into the future. After spending a few years in Missouri’s foster care system, Charles was adopted by his foster parents, Charles & Carlye Withnell in Verona, Missouri, who enrolled him in OACAC’s Head Start Program in Monett. Charles fondly remembers his teacher, Ms. Renee, whom he credits for sparking his imagination and encouraging his interests with her dinosaur-themed classroom. Sitting in Ms. Renee’s classroom surrounded by dinosaurs excited and fascinated Charles as he wondered about the many facets of past and present life on earth and he recalls, “From that moment, I was hooked.”

Charles will be the first one to tell you that being in OACAC Head Start enabled him to develop and mature quicker than had he not been in the program, and he feels this preschool learning experience was important in sparking his interests and instilling good study habits. Charles’ ignited passion for learning about early life on earth was evident throughout his elementary and secondary school years. After he graduated from Verona R-VII High School, in Verona, MO, he attended the University of Arkansas to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Anthropology The summer of his junior year in college, Charles traveled to Tanzania to the Serengeti; Mount Kilimanjaro; Gombe Stream Reserve; the Island of Zanzibar; and Olduvai Gorge. Visiting the Gombe Stream Reserve had special meaning because this is the site Jane Goodall did her first study of chimpanzees. However, Olduvai Gorge was Charles’ favorite experience as that is the place that the “tool maker” was discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey, which Charles considers one of the most important pieces of evidence for human evolution. He was so amazed with Olduvai Gorge that he decided to work on an Honors Thesis with Dr. Peter Ungar, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of Arkansas, examining shrew dental microwear to ascertain whether diet or environment played a bigger role in their evolutionary development.

As a result of his research, he graduated in May 2013 with honors, and the study of dental microwear on shrews was published with a major peer reviewed scientific journal. Currently, Charles attends the Graduate Program in Evolutionary Anthropology at Arizona State University in Tempe where he is pursuing his doctorate (PhD). Charles will continue his study of both human and vertebrate evolution in East Africa.

Without the experience Charles had in OACAC Head Start he feels he might never have fallen in love with the past. The learning environment encouraged and delighted him and was extremely influential in his decision to continue his education, excel in school, and pursue the unknown. Charles said, “OACAC Head Start is truly an amazing opportunity that gives kids that otherwise might not have had the chance to excel, the chance to pursue the unknown. After all, this is America, and every kid, regardless of their background, should have the chance to dream for the stars and never give up. I am just one example of the success of the OACAC Head Start program. Success stories like mine and countless others are a testament to our country’s commitment to giving underprivileged children a ‘head start’ in life.”