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Arkansas Times Academic All-Star alumni are scattered around the world, still succeeding 

A look back on the 20th anniversary of the first class.

To mark the 20th anniversary of our first Academic All-Star class, we put out a call for All-Star alumni to let us know what they were up to. Based at least on those who responded, being selected as an Academic All-Star appears to be a strong predictor for future success. Aside from who/what/when/where questions, we asked all those below to give advice to their high-school self (though not everyone played along); All-Stars of 2014, take heed.

A note to those All-Star alumni who missed our call for info (or their friends or parents): We still want to hear from you! Drop us a line at arktimes@arktimes.com.

1995

Rani Croager
Central High School
Social entrepreneur, Oakland

Say you are interested in social justice, thanks to a multicultural background that has made you sensitive to all manner of issues, and want to teach or maybe go to law school. But you've just graduated from Duke University and you've got a load of student loans to pay back. Do you take a satisfying but low-paying job and stretch those loans out forever or take on more debt to go to law school?

Rani Croager did neither. After she earned a degree in math and economics at Duke, Croager — one of the Arkansas Times' first All-Stars in 1995, Indian by birth and adopted by parents of English and Indian-Chinese ancestry — made a different plan: Work a couple of years at a higher-paying job, then pursue her dream. She got a job at Stephens Inc., where the two years stretched to a decade of learning the ins and outs of investment banking.

Croager, 36, now calls herself a "reformed investment banker turned social entrepreneur."

The experience she gained at Stephens and later at Credit Suisse, she said, "was a great platform to learn about business, capitalism, how deals get done."

But she shook off the "golden handcuffs," she said, in 2008 and started Oakland Cooperative Education Ventures, to help students get a business education with a lower burden of debt. The combined nonprofit/for-profit venture is, she believes, the first of its kind in the United States, one that uses a cooperative model of student and worker ownership — sort of like the employee-owned REI sports gear company for education.

As part of Oakland Cooperative, Croager and business partner Seyed Amiry have launched Uptima Business Bootcamp, where student members of the co-op will be buying into the school with their tuition fees. As investors, they'll eventually recoup their fees from profits earned by the cooperative and have a say in the running of Uptima. The nine-month program will offer training in business start-ups, including funding, scaling and marketing. "We are creating a real community, where business owners are investing in each other," Croager said.

Croager is also working on a cooperative technical institute that would provide cooperating employers with skilled workers they need; both workers and employers would be owners. The first institute will be located in Oakland and its first classes will start at the tech-support level, preparing students for a Microsoft certification. She likened the school to the Mondragon Corp. in Spain, a worker cooperative founded in the 1950s by graduates of a technical college that is now a global enterprise.

Croager said she'd love to "bring this model over to Arkansas. ... Our goal over time is to start setting up cooperatives in other parts of the U.S. and we specifically look at areas where there could be a high need."

Amy Drake Wilson
Rogers High School
Doctor, Zionsville, Ind.

Wilson is a pediatric nephrologist and teacher at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. She got her medical degree at Johns Hopkins and a master's in science at the University of Cincinnati, where she also did her pediatric and pediatric nephrology fellowship training. She has two kids, ages 8 and 4. Advice she would give her 18-year-old self: "You're not going to get me to go there!" she told the Times.

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