McDermott Scholars Mark a Decade of Excellence

When the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program began a decade ago, the 18 participants who will make up the program’s 2010 class were more focused on arithmetic and recess than winning prestigious college scholarships.

Their priorities have definitely changed – their current academic pursuits now include majors in biology, business, psychology, various engineering fields and the humanities. But the program that will be celebrating its 10th year when when they start class in the fall has stayed committed to its founding academic principles.

“We provide an excellent experience to program members, and Scholars in turn strive for excellence in academics, leadership and service,” said Molly Seeligson, director of the program. “From the outset, their impact on the University has been significant as Scholars consistently take important roles on campus, participating in the intellectual discourse of academics, and leading and serving in student organizations.”

Since the program’s inception in September 2000, McDermott Scholars have been involved in more than 25 initiatives benefiting the UT Dallas community, including:

  • Development of the nanotechnology minor.
  • The University’s community garden, located between the soccer fields and Waterview Apartments Phase II.
  • Establishment of UTD TV, UTD Radio and A Modest Proposal, an alternative student newspaper at UT Dallas.

The incoming freshmen bring the total number of scholars to 174 since the program was created in 2000. The class of McDermott Scholars includes three valedictorians and two salutatorians and boasts an average SAT score of 2240.  Collectively, the students are in the top 2.2 percent of their high school classes and hail from seven states: Alaska, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and Washington; and the country of Bahrain.

In addition to their academic accomplishments, members of the incoming class have made time for athletic, artistic and civic endeavors. Many members of the new class participate in such sports as tennis, lacrosse, volleyball, diving and track and field.  Others are singers, dancers, musicians and writers. They are members of student government and academic clubs, and volunteer in their communities. 

As McDermott Scholars, the students will have educational expenses — including tuition and fees, and stipends for living expenses and books, travel and post-graduation preparation — covered for the next four years.  They also will participate in a wide variety of cultural and educational enrichment experiences in the Dallas area and beyond.

With an emphasis on four years of leadership and community service, the program was born of the belief that education should blend academics, culture, experiential learning and travel.

In fact, each year of the McDermott Scholars Program is carefully designed to incorporate various aspects of experiential learning:

  • Freshman year includes an orientation trip, weekly seminars with University administrators, faculty and staff and civic leaders, and a trip to Washington, D.C., for an immersion in national politics and business.
  • During their sophomore year, the scholars will have leadership opportunities via such outlets as Student Government, and exposure to state and local political leadership opportunities via a trip to the state’s capital in Austin.
  • Junior year is focused on study abroad and/or internships.
  • Senior year includes a class project for which the group finds an area where they can give back to society.  During their senior year, the scholars also prepare for the next phase of their lives, be it furthering their education, international travel or searching for a job.

“Leadership development is a key aspect of the McDermott Scholars Program,” said Seeligson. “The Scholars enter UT Dallas as very accomplished young people; throughout their time in the program, we work to further develop their knowledge, skills and abilities in a variety of ways. Their experiential learning undertakings, whether in a laboratory or a law office, provide invaluable opportunities for observation and practice of leadership as well as team-membership.”

The McDermott Scholars Program was made possible by a $32 million gift from Margaret McDermott, wife of the late Eugene McDermott, one of the co-founders of Texas Instruments (TI).  McDermott and two of his TI co-founders, Cecil Green and Erik Jonsson, both of whom also are deceased, founded the research institution that in 1969 became UT Dallas.


2010 McDermott Scholars

Those selected as McDermott Scholars for the 2010 entering class are:


Husain Mogri
Bahrain School, Manama

Mogri was valedictorian at Bahrain School (Department of Defense), where he served as president of the National Honor Society and class president. Mogri also attended the Research Science Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he conducted chemistry research.  He was a member of the Academic Games Team, Junior Science Humanities Symposia, International Student Leadership Institute, Toastmasters and Future Business Leaders of America.  Mogri competed in varsity volleyball, varsity cross country and badminton.  In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball.  Fluent in Gujarati, a language of Western India, Mogri also speaks Hindi and some Arabic. He plans to major in biochemistry in preparation for a career in medicine.



Lye-Yeng Wong
South Anchorage High School, Anchorage

Wong received the “Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award” from the Alaska chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and placed second in the state for the “We the People” mock-congressional hearing competition.  She was a member of National Honor Society, Key Club, Interact-Rotary International and was the treasurer of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council. Wong worked as a public relations assistant with the Anchorage Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. She also was captain of her school’s varsity diving team. Wong expressed her creativity through music, voice, dance and theater groups, guest starring in “Hello Dolly” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” She volunteered with Partner’s Club, an organization that advocates for inclusion of students with disabilities, and Habitat for Humanity.  Originally from Malaysia, Wong moved to the U.S. at age 10. She is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish. Wong is currently undecided on  a college major.



Lauren Weittenhiller
Lafayette Senior High School, Lexington

Weittenhiller was a Kentucky Governor’s Scholar and an Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction.  She served as class president, president of Beta Club, president of Mu Alpha Theta math honor society and an officer of Key Club. She also was elected secretary at Kentucky Girls State. As a drum major, Weittenhiller helped lead her high school marching band to become Kentucky 5A State Champion. She served as a Big Brother, Big Sister mentor; was a local organizer for TOMS shoes One for One program; volunteered at a local food shelter; and was a math tutor. Most recently, she won the “Best of the Bluegrass” Award from Lexington’s chamber of commerce, which enables her to complete a summer psychology internship at Eastern State Hospital. She plans to major in psychology.


Jessica Higgins
Fontainebleau High School, Mandeville

Higgins was a member of National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Quiz Bowl and vice president of her school’s Mock Trial team. As president of Students Against Destructive Decisions, she encouraged peers to live healthy lifestyles. As the performance coordinator of Amplify Youth and member of the board of directors for Community Resources, she helped create performance-style education about drug abuse prevention. Higgins participated in a local theater group through acting, student directing, stage management and props coordination. Her hobbies include swing dancing and beekeeping. Higgins is a member of Girl Scouts of America and is active in her church drama team.  Higgins will major in biology, then plans to attend medical school.


Jessica D’Souza
Visitation Academy, St. Louis

D’ Souza is a National Merit Honor Scholar, and served as class president and student council representative. She assisted with cataract research at Washington University’s ophthalmology department.  As a member of National Honor Society, she served as chair of the tutoring committee.  She was selected as “Outstanding Statesman of Senate” by the Missouri YMCA Youth in Government. D’Souza was an ambassador for admissions at her high school. She performed with the St. Louis Children’s Choir.  Active in sports, she was as junior varsity field hockey team captain and was on the lacrosse, cross country and field hockey teams all four years of high school.  D’Souza founded Town and Country Community Vegetable Garden and volunteered at St. Agnes Nursing Home, Habitat for Humanity and taught Bible school.  D’Souza speaks Spanish and will major in biology. She plans to pursue a career in medicine.

North Carolina

Mitchell Owens
North Carolina School of Science and Math, Durham

A National Merit Honor Scholar, Owens co-founded and served as vice president of International Relationships in Practice, exploring ideas concerning treaties and economics. As co-founder and president of the Pasta Appreciation Club, he fostered the exploration and appreciation of different cultures through the food staple. Owens has been an active member of Boy Scouts of America, earning the rank of Life Scout. He competed in cross country and track and field throughout high school, and earned a black belt in martial arts. Owens also was a tutor at West Iredell High’s summer school and is active in his church’s service projects. He speaks Spanish and intends to major in molecular biology.


Sagar Shah
Allen High School, Allen

Shah is the third consecutive valedictorian from Allen High School to join the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program. The International Baccalaureate student was National Honor Society vice president, French club vice president and member of French Honor Society. Shah tutored fellow Allen High students through Eagle Depot, the school’s tutoring group. He also was chairman of Love Week 2010, a week of events to raise awareness of scleroderma, a disease of the body’s connective tissue. Shah volunteered with Key Club-Angel League, Kids Against Hunger, Allen Community Outreach, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Relay for Life. Shah also was on the Teen Advisory Board at the Allen Public Library. He is fluent in Gujarati, and speaks Hindi and French. Shah plans to major either in biology or biochemistry to prepare for a career in medicine.

Abhishek Raj
Hebron High School, Carrollton

Raj, an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors, is a member of Mu Alpha Theta, the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. He was founder and president of the 4-H Science Adventurers Club and was president and vice president of the Science & Health Careers Exploring Post at UT Southwestern (UTSW). He interned in the Structural Biology Lab at UTSW, conducting research in protein crystallography. Raj performed on the B-flat contra bass clarinet as part of the Clarinet Choir at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago.  As a former senior patrol leader in his Boy Scout troop, he is working towards Eagle Scout rank. Raj will major in electrical engineering and plans to pursue a career in biomedical engineering.

Kayla Klein
Cedar Park High School, Cedar Park

Klein participated in her high school’s student council, serving as student body president her senior year and was class president, freshman, sophomore and junior years. Klein also was a member of Mu Alpha Theta, Spanish Honor Society and National Honor Society. She founded Glimmer of Hope, an organization that raised money to fund the building of an elementary school in Dali, Ethiopia, and volunteered with the “Shattered Dreams” drunk driving awareness program. Klein sang in her school choirs and her church’s band. She is considering a major in biology or biomedical engineering.


Charles Holman
Flower Mound High School, Flower Mound

Holman is a National Merit Honor Scholar and Advanced Placement (AP) Scholar. He was a member of National Honor Society, German Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta.  Holman was a section leader in the Flower Mound High School Marching Band and performed in the school’s Jaguar Chorale and Jazz Band. He is active in his church and has volunteered in food pantries. Holman tutors children in math and history. He speaks German and intends to major in electrical engineering.

Marissa Miller
Plano East Senior High School, Plano

Miller, a National Merit Honor Scholar, was a member of the National Honor Society. A lifelong member of Girl Scouts of America (GSA), Miller is pursuing the Gold Award. As part of her efforts to reach this elite status with the GSA, she is working with the city of Dallas Water Utilities department’s “Cease the Grease” public education program to increase awareness of the pollution issue in apartment communities.  She was editor and contributor to her school’s literary magazine and member of the Literary Criticism club. Miller was as an active member of Amnesty International. She also performed with her high school concert band’s wind ensemble and marching band color guard. Miller plans to major in biochemistry, then will pursue a career in biofuel and bioengineering research.

Tabitha Terrell
Plano East Senior High School, Plano

Terrell was class representative, parliamentarian and student relations committee chair on the Plano East High School student senate. She also was a National Honor Society and Student Congress member. Terrell volunteered at Plano’s Heritage Farmstead Museum, a living history site interpreting the Texas black-land prairie region in North Texas. Terrell played volleyball throughout her high school career. Being captain of her varsity volleyball and club teams, she says, strengthened her leadership skills. She will continue to play volleyball as a Comet in the fall. Terrell plans to major in biology.


Matthew Westbrook
Rowlett High School, Rowlett

Westbrook was an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors, and a member of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta. He was a UIL district qualifier in science, computer science and literary criticism, and was a senator in Mock Texas State Government. Westbrook competed in varsity tennis in singles and mixed doubles throughout school and was in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He led worship at his church; participated with groups such as Relay for Life and offered hurricane relief to residents of Moss Bluff, La. Most recently, Westbrook broke the world record for longest-running kickball marathon (50 hours), benefitting the Mercy Project. He will join the UT Dallas community early this summer by conducting research with the Science and Engineering Education Center, where he also will assist with the center’s Contact Science project as it rotates among area libraries. He plans to major in mechanical engineering.


Prathyusha Gaddam
Tom C. Clark High School, San Antonio

Gaddam was vice president of student council, senior class representative of Interact – Rotary International, officer of the Spanish Honor Society and a member of the National Honor Society. She interned in the Young Engineers and Scientists Program at the Southwest Research Institute in her hometown. Gaddam was a member of Telugu Cultural Committee, where she planned and organized cultural events and art fairs. She volunteered at University Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, the Salvation Army and Locke Hill Elementary School. Gaddam is fluent in Telugu, a language spoken in Southeast India, and speaks Spanish. She intends to major in neuroscience to then pursue a career in medicine.

Weston Hearne
San Marcos High School, San Marcos

Hearne was an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors and a member of National Honor Society. He participated in Lincoln-Douglas-style debate and was part of Junior State of America student government group. He interned as a research assistant at Texas State University’s department of biology. Weston was a section leader of San Marcos High School’s Marching Band and a concert band member. He competed on the tennis team all four years of his high school career, making the all-district tennis team.  Hearne tutored peers in calculus and physics. Like Westbrook, Hearne will join the UT Dallas community early this summer by conducting research with the Science and Engineering Education Center, where he also will assist with the center’s Contact Science project as it rotates among area libraries. He plans to major in electrical engineering.

Irene Morse
San Marcos High School, San Marcos

Morse graduated salutatorian of her class and is a National Merit Scholar.  She was secretary of the National Honor Society and has served as secretary, activism director and state director of debate for Junior State of America.  She also won two Universal Interscholastic League state championships in persuasive speaking and has placed in all ten Academic Decathlon events.  She sang with the local mixed chamber and ladies’ advanced choirs, raised funds for American Red Cross Haiti earthquake relief efforts and helped film a promotional video for the 2010 Census.  Morse will start at UT Dallas this summer, assisting with research for a political biography. She plans to major in mathematics.

Jonathan Shasteen
Spring High School, Spring

Shasteen graduated as salutatorian of his class.  He was a member of National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, French club, Spanish club, Future Business Leaders of America and team captain of multiple Universal Interscholastic League academic teams, including math, spelling, accounting and computer science. Shasteen was drum captain and tenor drum section leader of the Spring High School Marching Band. He also played in the wind and percussion ensembles.  Shasteen shared his love of music by teaching music lessons to middle school percussionists and by leading group music sessions for middle school and high school percussionists. He also tutored peers in math and is active in his church. Shasteen speaks Spanish and is considering majoring in engineering.



Colton Lutterloh
Tacoma Baptist High School, Tacoma

Lutterloh was valedictorian of his class at Tacoma Baptist High School.  He was elected class vice president and was a member of National Honor Society.  Lutterloh was selected as a Washington Aerospace Scholar to complete a series on space exploration and focused research about water on Mars, and participated in a summer residency program at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Lutterloh was captain of his track and field and cross country teams. He was a national qualifier for club track, played junior varsity basketball and performed at Lincoln Center with his school choir. He worked with the international aid community through the Gateway Medical Alliance, an organization which aids Moroccan health care workers and those they serve. He also volunteered through his church. Lutterloh speaks Italian and is considering the mechanical engineering major.

 Jessica D’SouzaVisitation Academy, St. Louis Prathyusha GaddamTom C. Clark High School, San Antonio


 Weston HearneSan Marcos High School, San Marcos Jessica HigginsFontainebleau High School, Mandeville, La.


 Charles HolmanFlower Mound High School, Flower Mound Kayla KleinCedar Park High School, Cedar Park


 Colton LutterlohTacoma Baptist High School, Tacoma Marissa MillerPlano East Senior High School, Plano


 Husain MogriBahrain School, Manama Irene MorseSan Marcos High School, San Marcos


 Mitchell OwensNorth Carolina School of Science/Math, Durham Abhishek RajHebron High School, Carrollton


  Sagar ShahAllen High School, Allen Jonathan ShasteenSpring High School, Spring


 Tabitha TerrellPlano East Senior High School, Plano Lauren WeittenhillerLafayette Senior High School, Lexington, Ky.


 Matthew WestbrookRowlett High School, Rowlett Lye-Yeng WongSouth Anchorage High School, Anchorage

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].