To sit in conversation with Malei Tipton is to be impressed.
She gives off a sense of sublime competence in close quarters. There are few pauses and little indication that she’s ever at a loss for words or understands anything less than 100 percent of whatever it is she’s talking about.
A five-minute chat is more than enough to tell you she’s going places and that a good deal of the when, where, how and why will be on her terms.
Of course, if you’re pressed for time — and Lord knows she is — you could just take a gander at her curriculum vitae and arrive at a similar conclusion.
How’s this for starters? At just 17 and with a March 2002 birthday, having jumped over the majority of kindergarten (less two weeks), Tipton recently graduated from Southwest High School with a weighted GPA over 4.3. She survived a murderer’s row of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, including multiple helpings of the hard (and also difficult) sciences like physics and chemistry.
Beyond that she’s served as a Junior Fair Board member for the Imperial Valley’s annual glow-up, the California Mid-Winter Fair and Fiesta, and served as a competitive cheerleading and recreational gymnastics coach for Flipz All-Stars … since she was in eighth grade.
Exactly how many other middle-schoolers have sufficient discipline and attention to detail to be coaching anybody at anything? That might be hall-of-fame worthy in and of itself.
Then there’s her involvement in the El Centro Chapter of the Future Farmers of America.
Tipton joined up as a freshman and has been an integral member ever since, serving as the local chapter’s vice president last year before taking the top slot for 2018-19, where she handled everything from monthly business meetings, to committee oversight, to coordination with other branches of the sprawling FFA organization.
Tipton is one of the rarest of breeds — a bona fide doer-of-things. She has a talent for taking naturally occurring restlessness and steering it away from ennui into action. “I like to keep myself really busy. I don’t really know what to do with myself if I have free time,” she says.
One thing she’s kept herself busy with is her signal FFA accomplishment: The conceptualization and introduction of a service-dog-rearing program — providing the dogs with general socialization and obedience training until they’re about 13 to 15 months old — to the Southwest High ag department in coordination with Guide Dogs for the Blind, the country’s largest guide-dog training program.
Tipton says she got the idea in her freshman year after a trip to the State FFA conference where she saw some students from up north who were raising guide dogs as a way of fulfilling the program’s supervised agricultural experience requirement.
Raising animals is one of the more common ways of taking care of these SAEs, but usually that means raising livestock. Tipton had been hoeing that row since age 9, when she started 4-H and saw an opportunity to do something a bit more fulfilling than “me just selling my animal to the food industry and getting cash for it. … I wanted to do something a little bigger,” she said.
She brought the idea to Southwest FFA advisor Kristin Mayo and went about making it a reality.
It was not light work. “It took a really long time,” said Tipton. “I had to reach out to people from Lemoore, Calif. — which is a really big (Guide Dogs) chapter that’s close to us — and they sent me out to Yuma (where they also have a chapter), and they had to agree to help out. … We had to take it to our principal, our school board, get an insurance policy, go to two months’ worth of training with other people’s dogs … puppy proof our houses and all that stuff. … It took a little over two years before we got dogs.”
Throughout the slog (which was of course assisted on by Mayo and other members) Tipton was never really tempted to throw her hands in the air and have done with it.
“I just really fell in love with the idea that I could help people that need it,” she said. “I don’t have anyone in my family that’s visually impaired and would need a dog, or really know anybody personally — which is a question I do get asked a lot — but these dogs change people’s lives … and I just kept [that thought] in the back of my brain, ‘You could really help someone. You could really make a difference. You gotta do this.’”
So she did.
That’s just how it goes with Tipton, whether it’s a shepherding a new school program into existence or devising a biochemistry experiment on the effects of the size of calcium particulates in chicken feed on egg production, she gets it done.
The next thing on her to-do list is, of course, college. She’s all set to enroll at Colorado State University in Fort Collins where she plans to study animal science with a chemistry minor, with an eye toward gearing up for a potential run on veterinary school.