Coming Up CorbellOct 01, 2023 ● By Lisa Dawson
By Lisa Dawson
Young adults today are faced with many complex challenges and tough decisions. Navigating high school, planning for the future, learning how the world works, and connecting with the right people can be daunting for lots of young people. So, it’s not surprising to hear about young adults struggling with their career ambitions and goals. For teenagers, knowing themselves, understanding their motivations, and finding their passion are pivotal moments in life.
For Frisco high school student Emma Corbell, that moment came last summer, surrounded by a group of politically curious and academically talented young women from states across the country in a Washington, D.C. hotel room late one evening. As part of the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation program, Corbell and her counterparts were taking part in a national week-long event where young women hold mock Senate sessions, campaign for office, and work together to pass legislation. As Corbell was practicing her presidential speech, she and other senators were discussing education, human rights, and abortion, as well as other geo-political, real-world issues. “We spent from midnight until about 5:00 in the morning just discussing different topics, coming up with ideas, and talking about how to move our country forward,” says Corbell. “That’s when I knew. I looked around and thought: ‘These are the type of people I want to be around. I want to work to help change things and serve others.’”
Each state sends two young women and men to Girls/Boys Nation to the nation’s capital each year as part of the leadership program. The prestigious program has seen past notable participants such as Ann Richards, former Governor of Texas, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. The program is widely regarded as a civic training program for young adults looking to pursue a career in public service, and the admissions process is known to be extremely rigorous. Participants learn about the American political system and develop leadership qualities as well as a greater understanding of American traditions.
While the Boys and Girls Nation programs are run separately, each group has an opportunity to see the mock Senate sessions. While observing the Boys Nation program, Corbell says she saw differences within the programs and more opportunities for gender equality. “Going into that experience and being raised in Frisco, I never would have imagined there are differences between how women and men are treated, but this opened my eyes,” Corbell explains. “I had never seen genders being treated differently before, and it never crossed my mind that such disparities could exist. But girls definitely had to fight harder on the Senate floor.”
Strong female role models are important to Corbell. She says she seeks female role models who defy the male military stereotypes, such as recent United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) graduates Joely Gruhn and Jessica Ahner, and Madi Marsh, Miss Colorado 2023. She says being strong and confident while remaining feminine and pursuing greatness in every aspect of her life is something she strives for. “One of my public strengths is public speaking. No matter what I do, I want to be able to use my voice,” she says.
Corbell’s journey to Washington, D.C. wasn’t her first. The 17-year-old had been there before, on vacations with her family and while visiting the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, a potential undergraduate college she’s planning to apply for admission. As the daughter of a military contractor, she and her parents and three younger siblings have traveled the world. Corbell was born in Jordan, and each of her siblings was born in a different country, as the family relocated with her father’s military career. Eventually, the family settled in Frisco where Corbell is now a senior at Lone Star High School.
The week-long experience at Girls Nation was an opportunity for this highly motivated senior to explore a future in government and public service and connect with young women from across the country. Corbell was nominated for the prestigious Girls Nation program as one of two Texas representatives by her Lone Star High School counselor and American Legion Auxiliary Unit 178 President Tracy Gamble.
During her week at Girls Nation, she was elected as the Federal Party Presidential Nominee and awarded the “Most Outstanding Senator” scholarship. Corbell says the experience helped her learn more about her values and what legislation she is passionate about and ignited her desire to pursue a government role in the future. “I want to become a pilot and fly fighters. And my long-term goal is to become the Secretary of State of the United States.”
Corbell’s ambitions to join the Air Force began last fall with a visit to the USAFA in Colorado. “My Dad and I went to a football game there, and I sat next to a woman who completely welcomed me to the campus, talked to me about her son’s experiences there, and gave me advice on the admissions process,” she says. “She was the first to tell me about Girls State. I completely fell in love with the campus and sense of community at the Air Force Academy.” She attended the USAFA Summer Seminar program and had the opportunity to spend time on campus, exploring academic/athletic facilities and learning about student opportunities. She also attended a similar program at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) and says she’s hoping to earn an appointment to either the Air Force or the Naval Academy.
Corbell’s family, including Dad, Cliff, Mom, Caroline, and her three younger siblings, have been Frisco residents for the last nine years. After moving for many years for Cliff’s deployment, the family settled on Frisco for its schools, access to activities, and community feel. “My family settled in Frisco because of the community and schools, and I really love Lone Star High School,” says Corbell. “It’s a family-oriented community, and that’s really important to our family. Plus, my mom felt safe here raising kids in Frisco with my Dad away a lot.”
The Frisco community and Lone Star High School have been places where Corbell has thrived. She is the school’s Head Varsity Cheerleading Captain, Senior Class President, and National Honor Society President. She is also the Vice President of Communications for the Junior Frisco Women’s League and has been an officer in the Student Council for two years. As part of her dedication to empowering young students and education, she also started her own tutoring business that serves students in Frisco in 2020. She also has served on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council for two years and the Mayor’s Youth Council for the past year.
Lone Star High School Lead Counselor Leslie Warstler knows well the impact Corbell has made on campus. Ms. Warstler shares, “We all know Emma has a bright future waiting for her and are excited to see the impact she will have on her community and our country. Our hope, as a campus, is that she continues to serve her community and spread her positivity to those she meets.”
When it comes to education, Corbell says she’s seen firsthand the power of learning and having support first-hand through her tutoring. “The importance of education came into focus for me when I started teaching two young girls. In their family, English wasn’t their first language, and their grandparents didn’t speak any English at all,” she says. “As I worked with them, I had the opportunity to see two quiet, shy girls become more and more comfortable in themselves and school as they learned. It’s very powerful to see the value of a good education and the importance of having the right support when it comes to school,” she explains. “Learning is powerful and not only helps with academics but also changes how young people engage with their world and sets them up for success in life.”
Another important aspect of Corbell’s success is the opportunities available within the Frisco community. The Girls Nation program wouldn’t exist without the funding and support of the local American Legion. Tracy Gamble, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 178 President, says the Girls Nation program is important for students like Corbell and many others. Designed to help students retain information, the program fosters a sense of accomplishment as students “learn by doing.” “Instead of just listening to a lecture about municipal government structure, the girls establish a city charter and then run for mayor and council and pass local laws. Instead of just reading a book about the legislative process, the girls become senators and representatives, then draft and file legislation that they must debate with their peers to get it passed through committee and floor vote,” explains Gamble. “This ‘hands-on’ approach gives a once-in-a-lifetime experience to young women of not just reading about leadership or government -- but actually leading and governing. This is unique among youth programs, and it makes an extraordinary impact. I just wish the same kind of experience could be available for every student in Texas!”
Gamble goes on to say that as a former Texas Girls State citizen herself, she is extremely proud of the ALA Girls Nation program and the opportunity it gives young women to learn and lead together. “Locally, I hope that our community continues to support ALA Unit 178 in our efforts to send as many young ladies to Girls State as possible,” she says.
Meeting and speaking with Corbell, it’s easy to see how she thrived in the Girls Nation program. Her bright spirit, confidence, and articulate manner shine through. She says she continues to be friends with the young women she met in Washington, D.C., and has made lifelong friends there. This is a sentiment shared by her fellow citizen Evelyn Park, the Utah Senator from Girls Nation. “Emma is the nicest person to be around. She is inspiring to everyone, and her positive energy is contagious,” says Park. “Working with her at Girls Nations was one of the highlights of my summer!”
Aside from strong female role models and mentors, Corbell says her true inspiration is her father. “My drive and passion was first instilled in me by my dad, who has always pushed me to be the best version of myself that I can be.” She says that although he was deployed overseas for most of her early childhood in countries like China, Afghanistan, and Iraq, he called home every day and made sure to support her no matter the distance between them. She says he was focused on ensuring she was put in plenty of sports and activities from an early age, and now that passion for activities and athletics is self-motivated with support from her family. “Sports first fostered my competitive spirit, and I now have a constant hunger to do and achieve more so that I can use my skills to make a lasting impact on others and the world,” she says.
Reflecting on her family, Corbell says nothing is more important to her. She says she realizes her father missed out on precious family time being stationed overseas and acknowledges the many sacrifices he’s made for her family’s good, which has allowed them to live the life they enjoy in Frisco. “Everything I do is to make him proud.”
Lisa Dawson is a professional writer and mom of three. She is grateful to call Frisco home since 2013.