Sultana senior Amanda Bowering is a thoroughly 21st century girl.

When she begins college in the autumn, she'll be taking the first step toward landing a job in space exploration. And she got there, in part, with a hunting rifle.

"It's more or less something that bonds my family," Bowering said, in the living room of her home, which is filled with the mounted heads of various quarry the family has hunted over the years. "It usually terrifies [friends] the first time they come over."

Bowering went on her first hunting trip when she was 11, and actually participated in a hunt for the first time at age 12.

"I still go hunting with my dad," she said, "Still go fishing."

Five years after her first hunt, it paid off: In May, the National Wild Turkey Federation presented her with a check for $10,000, in addition to $1,250 she had made at the local and state levels of the scholarship competition.

The scholarship money will be helpful: Bowering will be studying aeronautical engineering 1,800 miles from home at Georgia Tech.

"They have an amazing football program. That was a big decider," she said, still feminine for all the talk of guns, spacecraft and football, barefoot with toenails painted lime green. "And they're ranked number one or number two for aeronautical engineering."

Her interest in space exploration began in fourth grade, when she had to choose from a list of famous people to write a biographical essay about. By chance, she chose NASA astronaut Sally Ride, who in 1983, became the first American woman in space. Three years later, she attended a science camp at University of California, San Diego, and learned she was attending lectures in a classroom that Ride had once taught in.

Bowering is taking her first small steps toward a hoped-for job at NASA just as the space shuttle program is winding down -- the shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired in 2010 -- but she hopes to get in on the ground floor of future fleets.

"I would love to do spacecraft design," she said.

With her passion for hunting and spacecraft, Bowering has sometimes been a puzzle for her peers.

"Then I have the blonde hair and the blue eyes. I don't fit in any stereotype."

And so the Sultana valedictorian always had to chart her own path.

"My parents have always known me to be very independent. They never had to push me for grades."

The one pushing Bowering the most has always been Bowering herself.

"People [often] set their standards low so they can easily surpass them," the valedictorian said. "But that's not me."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.