News Release

For immediate release

News contacts:

Jenni Bullington, UTD
(972) 883-4431
[email protected]  


Second Class of Eugene McDermott Scholars
Named By The University of Texas at Dallas

Group Includes 10 Valedictorians and Has Average SAT Score of 1470


RICHARDSON, Texas (March 14, 2002) - The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) announced its second class of Eugene McDermott Scholars - a collection of 20 extremely bright and talented young men and women with outstanding records as academic achievers and energetic participants in a wide assortment of extracurricular activities, including volunteer work in their communities.

Ten of those selected are valedictorians of their high school classes. As a group, the 10 men and 10 women have an average SAT/ACT score of 1470, with a range of 1350 to a perfect 1600, and are in the top 1.7 percent of their classes. Seventeen are from Texas.

Modeled after the prestigious Morehead Scholars program at the University of North Carolina, the UTD program was made possible by the generosity of Mrs. Margaret McDermott, widow of Eugene McDermott, one of the co-founders of Texas Instruments. Her $32 million gift in memory of her husband - the largest in UTD’s history - formally launched the initiative in late 2000, and the inaugural class was admitted for the fall semester of the 2001-02 academic year.

Eugene McDermott, who died in 1973, was a life-long supporter of excellence in education. He and his TI co-founders, Cecil Green and the late Erik Jonsson, a former mayor of Dallas, founded the research institution that in 1969 became UTD.

As McDermott Scholars, the students just chosen will have all educational expenses - including travel, room and board and supplies - covered for the next four years. Also included will be special programs such as an orientation trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a visit to the nation’s capital, an opportunity to study abroad, a chance to apply for internships at prominent corporations and research facilities and countless other experiences.

UTD Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, who played a major role in developing the McDermott Scholars program, said the new class would “have an opportunity to become involved with all that UTD, Dallas and the world have to offer while also benefiting by the experiences of the inaugural class.”

Because all their expenses will be paid, the McDermott Scholars will be free from the need to work outside of school and will be encouraged to participate in a wide range of educational and civic enrichment activities that the program offers.

“Our goal is to foster the growth of future leaders in business, government and the not-for-profit sector,” said Dr. Charles Leonard, the program’s director. “The members of the second class of McDermott Scholars have all the qualities necessary to make a positive impact in Texas, the nation and the world.”

Leonard pointed out that McDermott Scholars chose UTD over offers from such schools as Carnegie Mellon University, Rice University, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and Washington University in St. Louis. For the second year in a row, the valedictorians of both Frisco High School and The School of Science & Engineering at Townview in Dallas are joining the McDermott Scholars program. Another of those selected is a brother of one of the current scholars.

Those selected are as follows:



Jessica Cockrell, Amarillo Highland Park High School, daughter of Wanda Cockrell. Jessica has won numerous outstanding achievement awards in her high school and has been active in student government, drama and creative writing. She plans to major in literary studies.

Bay City

Christina Johnson, Bay City High School, daughter of Chris and Carolyn Johnson. Christina has lettered in tennis and won numerous speech and debate awards while being an active community volunteer. Christina plans to major in biochemistry.


Annie Toung, Creekview High School, daughter of Tony and Ai Toung. Annie is a volunteer tutor, a nursing home volunteer, a dancer and an officer in her school’s student council and National Honor Society chapter. Annie wants to become a medical doctor and will major in biology at UTD.


Michael Seeligson, Greenhill School, son of John and Molly Seeligson. Michael is editor-in-chief of his school’s literary magazine, president of the math club, vice president of the chess team and manager of the cross-country, swimming and tennis teams. Michael plans to major in electrical engineering.

Daniel Wu, School of Science & Engineering at Townview, son of Chi and Wei Wu. Daniel is a violinist in the Dallas Youth Symphony, a member of the math team and president of his school’s award-winning computer team. He plans to major in electrical engineering.

El Paso

Vicki Dashley, Bel Air High School, daughter of Richard Dashley and Geraldine Rajski. Vicki is active in academic decathlon, key club and Latin club. She volunteers in her local emergency animal shelter. She is a pre-health professions major and plans to go on to veterinary school.


Jared Duke, Frisco High School, son of Charles Duke and Barbara Williams. Jared is an Eagle Scout and active community volunteer who participated in numerous academic and computer-programming competitions. He plans to major in electrical engineering.


Matthew Leonard, Garland High School, son of William and Susan Leonard. Matthew is an international baccalaureate student who participated in science fair and plays saxophone in the Garland High School band. He is an active community volunteer and plans to major in electrical engineering.


Kassandra McLean, St. Agnes High Academy, daughter of John and Kassandra McLean. Kassie is captain of her varsity academic challenge team, has participated in Harvard Model Congress and is an actress and poet. She also is an award-winning science student who will major in electrical engineering at UTD.


Cheng Lee, MacArthur High School, son of Chee Lee and Siew Tan. Cheng is a violinist, a student government officer and a volunteer at Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. He wants to work in international business or with the Federal Reserve System and plans to major in economics.


Thomas Elliott, Mayde Creek High School, son of William and Tina Elliott. Thomas is an Eagle Scout who has won numerous math and science scholar awards. He wants to be an elementary school science teacher and plans to major in physics at UTD.


Mary Makary, Ralph H. Poteet High School, daughter of Mike and Awatif Makary. Mary attended the Texas Honors Leadership Program at Lamar University in Beaumont. She is active on the debate team and sings in her school and church choirs. She plans to attend law school and will major in government and politics at UTD.

Sani Matthew, West Mesquite High School, daughter of George and Suja Matthew. Sani is president of her high school choir, vice president of the student council and a multiple medal winner in academic decathlon. Sani will major in biology and plans to go to medical school.


Leia Biholar, Plano Senior High School, daughter of Kenneth and Christine Biholar. Leia is a visual artist and a soccer player. One of her drawings is in the O’Donnell Foundation Young Masters Exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. She is undecided on a major.


Caleb Nelson, Prosper High School, son of Craig and Grace Nelson. Caleb has won numerous academic awards, including the International Foreign Language Award. He plays in his school’s jazz band and concert band and is an active community volunteer. He plans to major in electrical engineering.


Sophie Rutenbar, Richardson High School, daughter of Todd and Winifred Rutenbar. Sophie is a competitive swimmer, a synchronized swimmer, water polo player, a bassoonist and head drum major at her school. Sophie plans to become a research scientist and will major in molecular biology at UTD.


Robert Janecka, Memorial High School, son of Russell and Gail Janecka. Robert is a singer, actor and dancer and is a recipient of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Award. The stage is an avocation for Robert, an accomplished math and science student who plans to major in computer science.

New Mexico

Kimberly Vela, Los Alamos High School, daughter of Octavio and Eileen Vela. Kimberly is a local and regional science fair winner and a regional Science Olympiad winner. She is active in youth issues in Los Alamos and is a student associate at Los Alamos National Labs. She plans to major in psychology.

South Carolina

Richard Voit, Wando High School, Charleston, son of Eberhard and Ann Voit (and brother of current McDermott Scholar Walter Voit). Richard is captain of his school’s quiz bowl team, is a section leader in the show choir, president of the math club and has lettered in soccer. He is active on his school’s Odyssey of the Mind team and plans to major in biochemistry.


Benjamin Weittenhiller, Big Horn High School, son of Curtis and Anne Weittenhiller. Ben is state president of Future Business Leaders of America and is student president of Big Horn High School. He is on his school’s Destination Imagination (DI) team, which won the Renaissance Award at last year’s national DI competition. Ben will major in government and politics.

Each year, the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program recruits 20 students from throughout Texas and other states. For additional information on the program, please call (972) 883-4610 or visit the McDermott Scholars Program web site at

About UTD

The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor , enrolls more than 7,000 undergraduate and 5,000 graduate students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s Web site at

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This page last updated
August 15, 2002