Basalt High senior, musician, No. 1 in class, earns prestigious scholarship |

Basalt High senior, musician, No. 1 in class, earns prestigious scholarship

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Daniel Barnes, a Basalt High School senior, computer science whiz, musician, singer and varsity wrestler, recently earned a scholarship that will award him a full ride to any college in the state.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Daniel Barnes is the type of student who, as a high school sophomore, scored perfectly on an Advanced Placement college-level exam for a class he never took.

The fact that Basalt High School lacks AP computer science and music theory courses didn’t deter the teen from asking his teachers if they would order the exams, both of which he passed.

“It was just a fun, weird thing I tried out,” a modest Barnes said.

Elizabeth Penzel, his high school college counselor, describes it differently.

“(Daniel’s) the last one to stay in a meeting and clean up; when everyone else has left, he’ll be there.” -Elizabeth Penzel, Basalt High School college counselor

“(Daniel) has taken every opportunity to expand his intellectual pursuit. He doesn’t just stick to what’s given to him, he goes out and gets what he needs,” Penzel said. “He doesn’t take (the tests) for the kudos, he takes them because he wants to see if he’s mastered the information.

“And that’s incredibly rare to find in a student.”

But there is more to Barnes than his brain, which may explain his recent recognition as a Boettcher Scholarship recipient.

The four-year scholarship honors the top students in Colorado each year on the basis of four criteria: leadership, service, character and academics.

It was established in 1952 in an effort to “keep the best and brightest in the state,” Boettcher Foundation spokesperson Marisa Pooley said.

“We truly look at each scholar holistically, so just having perfect grades and test scores is not enough to get you a scholarship,” Pooley said. “We’re genuinely looking for well-rounded leaders.”

Barnes, who’s ranked No. 1 in his class at Basalt, fits this bill, according to Penzel.

“He has both that incredible, scientific logical brain, but he’s just equally smart on the creative and musical side,” Penzel said. “And I just think that makes him such a compelling student.”

Along with his passion for programming, coding and building websites, Barnes is an accomplished musician, singer and thespian.

The Basalt native earned a spot on both the all-state band and choir teams and has participated in every musical throughout his high school career.

“I really pack everything into my schedule,” Barnes said, laughing. “It’s kind of scary sometimes.”

Adding to his list of extracurriculars, Barnes is a varsity wrestler and active member of Basalt High School’s Gay Straight Alliance.

“As an openly gay student — I think one of the only openly gay athletes at our school — it’s something I’m really passionate about and something I want to try to make better in our school,” Barnes said. “To make everybody feel comfortable.”

One of Barnes’ best qualities, Penzel said, is his selflessness.

“He’s always concerned about other people and is just incredibly thoughtful,” Penzel said. “He’s the last one to stay in a meeting and clean up; when everyone else has left, he’ll be there.”

The last time a Basalt High School student earned the Boettcher Scholarship was in 2005, according to Basalt High School Communications Coordinator Kara Williams.

“It’s a big deal for any Colorado kid,” Williams said, “but an especially big deal at our small, rural school.”

The scholarship finances nearly every expense to attend the Colorado school of the recipient’s choice, including full tuition and fees, a book allowance and an annual stipend for living expenses.

As for what’s next, Barnes said he is “very much leaning” toward Colorado College in Colorado Springs.

“I visited during the (Boettcher Scholarship) finalist day and loved the campus and people there,” Barnes said. “It was a really great time.”

The high school senior said he is considering double majoring in computer science and music, noting that he is not yet 100 percent sure.

“I’m not too concerned about it,” he said. “I think I’ll definitely find something I like.”