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Young man standing in front of college building

Ryan Hickenbottom

Taking flight: Assisting people and animals in need helped incoming freshman earn McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship

It was just an ordinary day for Ryan Hickenbottom as he sat this past February in his entrepreneurship class at Heyworth High School. Then, he received an email that would change his life.

Despite the incoming Illinois State freshman’s longtime volunteer efforts in McLean County, it still came as a surprise to him that he was selected as one of seven incoming recipients of the McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship. The scholarship provides free tuition to students who have a history of leadership, service, and commitment to our community.

Hickenbottom’s community involvement started at a young age when his family began volunteering at Ruby’s Rescue and Retreat animal shelter and boarding facility in Bloomington. He and his family taught the dogs commands, cleaned kennels, and fostered dogs. Eventually, the family adopted one of the dogs and gave it a forever home.

Hickenbottom also combined his passion for cooking and helping those less fortunate in his community when he began volunteering at the Salvation Army Safe Harbor Shelter in Bloomington. Hickenbottom would help cook meals for more than 200 people in need.

“I’ve always been taught that you should put others before yourself and go above and beyond to do what is right,” says Hickenbottom. “And helping others is a priority before helping yourself.”

Throughout high school, Hickenbottom was involved in Key Club and Student Council and was elected onto his school’s Superintendent’s Advisory Council and into the National Honor Society. During his time in Key Club, Hickenbottom helped organize an annual blood drive hosted by the school; raised money for Water Week, which funds the building of wells in Africa; and made blankets to donate to children in the community.

Despite living near Bloomington-Normal for over 10 years, Hickenbottom had never been on Illinois State’s campus. Hickenbottom went on multiple visits to other universities before he finally took a tour of the college that was practically in his backyard.

“It just felt like home,” said Hickenbottom. “It was the first college visit where I walked in and it just felt right.”

Hickenbottom plans to major in marketing this fall. He currently runs his own lawn care service, Hick’s Lawn Care, and hopes to use his marketing skills as a way to promote his company.

Hickenbottom also plans to continue his civic engagement by joining the student chapter of Habitat for Humanity. When he was younger, Hickenbottom would join his father, a State Farm employee, to help Habitat build homes in the community. Since then, Hickenbottom has maintained a passion for building and believes Habitat would be a great fit for him.

“I’m most excited about starting the next chapter of my life which will consist of meeting new people, joining groups, and going to Redbird sporting events,” said Hickenbottom.

This is the fourth story in our “Taking Flight” series, profiling this year’s recipients of the McLean County Full Tuition Scholarship.