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UT Dallas Welcomes New Class of McDermott Scholars
July 6, 2017
The UT Dallas McDermott Scholars Program has selected 23 students to make up the 2017 incoming class.
The entering cohort, the program’s 17th class, was selected from over 1,700 high school students who expressed interest in the program from 48 states, Washington D.C., and four countries. Sixty-eight applicants were invited to the annual finalists’ weekend from which the scholars were selected.
The incoming class includes 10 students from Texas. Thirteen others come from 11 states — from California to Maryland. This year’s cohort was chosen from the largest pool of applicants the program has ever seen, said Molly Seeligson, director of the program.
“It is always a joy to announce a new class of McDermott Scholars. We are certain that this diverse, highly qualified group of individuals will benefit UT Dallas, just as the University will give them a solid stepping stone to reach their loftiest aspirations,” Seeligson said.
Collectively, this class has the highest average two-part SAT score in the history of the program at 1563. Five of them achieved perfect scores on the SAT or ACT. Twenty have been recognized by the National Merit Scholarship program, six were high school valedictorians and two were salutatorians.
The McDermott Scholars Program is designed to incorporate experiential learning:
- Freshman year includes an orientation trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, weekly leadership development seminars and a trip to Washington, D.C., for an immersion in government operations.
- During their sophomore year, scholars take leading roles on campus, and experience state and local government during a trip to the Capitol in Austin.
- Junior year is focused on study abroad and/or internships.
- Senior year centers on final preparations for the next phase of scholars’ lives and includes traditions such as a class retreat, capstone service projects and the passing of the McDermott Scholars Program torch in the “Lighting the Legacy” ceremony.
The incoming group will join the 77 scholars already at UT Dallas. The program has 222 alumni.
The 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 TI co-founders, Cecil Green and J. Erik Jonsson, founded the research institution that became UT Dallas in 1969.
Those selected as McDermott Scholars for the 2017 class are:
Chandler Preparatory Academy, Gilbert
Valedictorian Bethany Kasprzyk is a National Merit Scholar and recipient of the National Latin Exam’s Oxford Classical Dictionary Award. She volunteers with Arizona’s public libraries and the town of Gilbert. Kasprzyk is president of her school’s blood drive committee, and serves as a mentor and a student ambassador. She is a youth civic leader with her town's Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee and was designated an alumni mentor her second year with the committee. Kasprzyk was also a research intern at St. Joseph’s Hospital, studying the effects of exercise on mobility after spinal cord injury. She studied Latin and Ancient Greek for seven years, and plans to study mechanical engineering.
Hamilton High School, Chandler
Rohit Shenoy is a National Merit Scholar and a National AP Scholar. He moved from India his sophomore year. Besides volunteering in India, Shenoy volunteered with Feed My Starving Children and Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, organized STEM classes for elementary kids at the local library, and helped develop the local museum’s website. He co-founded his school’s chess club and team, which has won numerous awards at the state level, and is vice president of the math club. Shenoy started a one-on-one tutoring business, is captain of his science bowl team, and placed fourth in the National Young World Quiz in India. He is fluent in Hindi and Konkani, and conversational in French and Malayalam. Shenoy plans to study mechanical engineering.
Culver City High School, Culver City
Zachary Greenberg is a National Merit commended scholar, AP Honors Scholar and California Scholastic Federation Honor Student. He graduated from Ryman Arts and completed a Colorado Outward Bound rafting course. Greenberg volunteered as a swim instructor, teaching disabled children water safety and swimming, and worked on sustainable garden and water conservation projects. He was captain of the varsity water polo and varsity swim teams, and earned the Desire, Dedication, Determination, and Discipline Award. Greenberg was a mechanic and a member of the drive team on his FIRST Robotics team. He is a lifeguard and swim instructor at the YMCA. Greenberg is a black belt in taekwondo, competes in jujitsu, plays guitar and surfs. Greenberg plans to study physics with an interest in aerospace engineering.
Legacy High School, Broomfield
Alexander Polednik is a National Merit commended scholar and an AP Scholar with honors. He has volunteered in his church as a youth group leader and in his community through his work training teachers to bring programming into classrooms. Polednik is a customer service representative for a major insurance company, and an intern for an investment firm. He was captain of his award-winning FIRST Robotics team, co-president of the National German Honor Society, and is a member of both Class Leadership and National Honor Society. Polednik speaks basic German and plans to major in computer engineering.
Largo High School, Seminole
Christian Kondor is a National Merit commended scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction, as well as an International Baccalaureate program graduate. For the past three years, Kondor has been an assistant track coach with 727 Youth Track and Field Club, and participates in cross country, track and elite road running with Kennedy Law Racing. He was the founding secretary of the Junior State of Largo High School, and is the secretary of Mu Alpha Theta and a member of the Mathletics team. Kondor also is a calligrapher, an independently published novelist and a pianist. He is proficient in Spanish, and plans to study physics for a career in high school education.
Eastside High School, Gainesville
Taylor Kyes is a National Hispanic Scholar, National Merit commended scholar, AP Scholar with honors, and an International Baccalaureate graduate. She volunteered with A21, an organization fighting human trafficking. Kyes also volunteered as a middle school lacrosse coach and with her local animal shelter. She participated in National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, Ultimate Frisbee and her school's environmental club. Kyes was an active member of her choir and International Thespian Honor Society as an actress, singer and costume designer. She worked as a marketing intern at Sportody and West Designs, was a guest blogger at Broadway World and has her own blog. Kyes intends to major in marketing.
Illinois Math and Science Academy, Round Lake
Evan Sun is a National Merit Scholar who hopes to pursue entrepreneurship as a career. He volunteers at his school's makerspace, where he teaches students how to use technology such as 3-D printers. Sun also is a facilitator for the eleMENT program, a student-led entrepreneurship course, and works with faculty to develop new curriculum for biology courses. Over the past two summers, he has volunteered in microfluidics labs at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of California, Irvine. Sun also has interned at MATTER, a health care startup incubator in Chicago. He plans to study biomedical engineering and hopes to research the biomedical applications of 3-D printing.
Linn-Mar High School, Aurora
Jennifer Jenks is a National Merit Scholar, an AP Scholar, a Presidential Scholar candidate and a member of National Honor Society. A recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award, Jenks founded the Mercy Storytellers, a therapy-based writing program at Mercy Medical Center, Cedar Rapids, and was student director of her high school’s writing center for two years. She also coached a youth multisport team, participated in Model United Nations and was a tutor. Jenks was a varsity member of her high school’s swim team in 2013 and 2014, receiving multiple all-state honors, and swam year-round as part of a local club team. Last summer, she conducted biochemistry research at the University of Iowa. Jenks plans to study neuroscience.
Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School, North Potomac
Roma Venkateswaran is a National Merit Scholar, Presidential Scholar candidate and AP Scholar with distinction. She has volunteered at her religious education center, at theater companies at her school and in the community, and received the Maryland Certificate of Meritorious Service. Venkateswaran was president of a curricular a cappella group, and served on the executive board of her school’s ambassador program. She was sound designer for her school theater program and also serves on the board of directors for a community theater company. Venkateswaran speaks Hindi and English, and teaches children Hindi in religious education. She plans to study art and performance, with a focus on theater, in pursuit of a technical theater career.
International Academy, Bloomfield Township
Valedictorian Elizabeth Helfrich is a National Merit commended scholar and International Baccalaureate Diploma recipient. She is an officer of German Honor Society and Christian Student Association, as well as a member of National Honor Society and Tri-M Music Honor Society. Helfrich sings, plays the viola and composes orchestral music. She also swims competitively, plays water polo and acts/assists with technology for theater. Helfrich works as a PADI Divemaster and has helped certify over 200 scuba diving students. She speaks English, German and conversational Spanish. Helfrich plans to major in health care studies.
Sage Ridge School, Reno
Carla Ramazan is a National Merit commended student and a National AP Scholar. She served as vice president of her school’s debate team, won the State Debate Championship twice, placed 13th at the National Tournament, and coached her school’s novice teams in policy debate. Ramazan also received national recognition from the Scholastic Writing foundation for her poetry. She was president of the Math Club, interned with a STEM outreach program and won her school’s Director’s Award for her volunteerism within the school community. Ramazan volunteered to teach a middle school math club and also worked with children with special needs as a part of a respite program. She is fluent in Romanian and conversational in Spanish. Ramazan will enter college as an undeclared freshman.
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Strongsville
Salutatorian Anna Schaeffer is a National Merit Scholar and AP Scholar with honors. Along with running cross country and competing as a varsity member and co-captain of the Heartbeats Jump Rope Team, Schaeffer performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and celebrated a national championship with her team. She volunteered as head coach for an elementary school jump rope club and served in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Junior Leadership Akron and National Honor Society. Schaeffer studies French, participates in speech and writing contests, and loves to read. She plans to enter college as an undeclared freshman and will be a member of the women’s cross country team.
Union High School, Tulsa
Stephanie Royer is a valedictorian, National Merit Scholar and AP Scholar with distinction. She is a recipient of the President's Volunteer Service Award, Governor's Commendation and State House of Representatives Citation as a Youth Volunteer Distinguished Finalist. Royer is the founder and director of Music & Me, a nonprofit outreach introducing violin and piano to underprivileged and special needs children. She is the concert mistress of Tulsa Honors Orchestra, president of her school's Mu Alpha Theta honor society and Tulsa Union Medical Society, and first bag on her school's state-championship winning golf team. Royer was born in Turkey and speaks Turkish and Korean. She plans to study neuroscience, economics and music.
Greenhill School, Dallas
Priyanka (Priya) Agrawal is a National Merit Scholar and AP Scholar. She volunteers at the North Dallas Shared Ministries Medical Clinic, Children’s Hospital and the Legacy Retirement Home, and has tutored at Gooch Elementary School. Agrawal received the Presidential Service Award for three years. A proponent of a healthy lifestyle, she founded Nobesity, a project that spreads awareness and ways to combat childhood obesity. Agrawal was in the chamber orchestra and on the debate team, and helped start a research course at her school. She plays the piano and violin, performs ballet and tap, and speaks fluent Hindi and basic French and Italian. Agrawal would like to travel to every country in the world. She will study biology and comparative literature.
Harmony School of Political Science, Austin
Valedictorian Ruqiya Barreh is an AP Scholar with distinction and a National Merit Scholarship commended student. She was founder and president of the Japanese Culture Appreciation Club, co-founder of the Girls Impact the World club, and was a member of National Honor Society. Barreh won We Speak Turkish, a competition for non-native Turkish speakers, twice in a row. She volunteered at a hospital in Burao, Somalia, and also helped start a nonprofit organization to help hospitals in Somalia. Barreh also volunteered at the St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center and shadowed doctors at Regional One Health. She is semi-fluent in Arabic, Turkish and Somali. Barreh will major in neuroscience with plans to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist.
St. Mark’s School of Texas, Dallas
Cameron Bossalini is a National Merit Scholar. He has volunteered at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, has taught in the Bio Lab and helped with other local service projects. Passionate about the arts, Bossalini served as director of his school’s a cappella choir, founded his school’s fine arts website and produced a SXSW-recognized film. He plays piano, guitar and harmonica. He pursues engineering by competing in hackathons and working on side projects. Bossalini will study electrical engineering.
Round Rock High School, Round Rock
John Davis is a National Merit commended student, an AP Scholar with distinction, with memberships in National Honor Society, National Hispanic Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, International Thespian Society and Tri-M Music Honor Society. He has served as president of the National Tutoring League of America and president of the Leo Club, working closely with Lions Club International by volunteering within his community. Davis is captain of his school's physics team and show choir, and lead ambassador of Academy Ambassadors. He plays cello and piano, and has competed in UIL orchestra, computer science, choral and theater events; Davis received the all-star cast award for his role as Oedipus. He will major in biology as a pre-med student.
Obateniola “Teni” Fayiga
Obateniola “Teni” Fayiga
Home School, Frisco
Obateniola Fayiga is a National Merit commended scholar and a member of the academic fraternity Phi Theta Kappa. He has volunteered at a Special Olympics competition for youth, participated in social outreach through Gateway Church of Frisco, and served the community through Dallas Baptist University’s ServantU camp and Summit Ministries. Fayiga runs track as a member of the Home School Athletic Association. He has qualified for regionals three times in the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association, and formed the club charter for the cultural group Jola and Jumoke as its first elected vice-president. Fayiga plays piano, designs computer games and programs, and studies character design in his free time. He plans to study computer science or arts and technology.
St. Mark’s School of Texas, Dallas
Chirag Gokani is an AP Scholar and an Eagle Scout. He volunteered last summer as an intern for Dr. Mary Urquhart, assistant professor of science education and physics and member of the William B. Hanson Center for Space Sciences at UT Dallas, studying the potentially habitable exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. As the bassist and leader of a community service blues band, Gokani frequently performed at the Austin Street Center homeless shelter. He was also the bassist for the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra's advanced jazz combo and played at local venues and festivals. Trained to operate his school’s planetarium, Gokani enjoys sharing his passion for astronomy, and has programmed and presented several shows to large audiences. He speaks Gujarati and Spanish, and will major in physics.
Vandegrift High School, Austin
Yilong Peng is a National Merit Scholar, an AP Scholar and a Presidential Scholar finalist. He has volunteered every summer at the Children's Association for Maximum Potential, a nonprofit organization that provides children with disabilities an enriching summer camp experience. Peng is fluent in Mandarin and is active in promoting cultural diversity, teaching Chinese culture at elementary schools and hosting traditional holiday celebrations. He was vice president of his school's chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, captain of the UIL Ready Writing Team, and a drill instructor in his high school band, where he played flute and piano. Peng has also pursued research and shadowing opportunities at UT Austin and the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. Peng plans to study biology and psychology.
Coppell High School, Coppell
Nikitha Vicas is a National Merit Scholar, National AP Scholar, Presidential Scholar semifinalist and third in her class of 810. A three-time recipient of the Gold President's Volunteer Service Award, she volunteers at hospitals, teaches dance and works with various nonprofits. Vicas was a student ambassador, Junior World Affairs Council secretary, and Latin Honor Society president. She received gold on the National Latin III-IV exam and regularly placed at competitions for Business Professionals of America, University Interscholastic League and Texas State Junior Classical League. Vicas has won several awards in the U.S. and internationally for art forms Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Veena, Carnatic music and piano. She helped organize a two-day arts festival in 2014 and 2016, raising $30,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Vicas speaks Malayalam, and has visited more than 20 countries. She plans to major in neuroscience
Prosper High School, Prosper
Valedictorian Alexis Vu is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction. She has volunteered locally, including coordinating Relay for Life events, peer tutoring, and mentoring novice debate tournaments. Vu was captain of the debate team, captain of the cheerleading squad, president of the Mental Health Awareness and Psychology Club, and vice president of National Honor Society. She was also involved with the University Interscholastic League Academic Team, Mu Alpha Theta and Science National Honor Society. Vu advanced to elimination rounds at the National Speech & Debate Association National Tournament in policy debate and medaled bronze at the UIL State Ready Writing Competition. She is proficient in Spanish and Vietnamese, and is planning to study computer science.
McKinney Boyd High School, McKinney
Austin Williams is a National Merit Scholar and AP Scholar with distinction. He mentors middle school robotics and elementary students for STEM competitions, and has been Academic UIL team captain, communications officer for the National Honor Society chapter, and co-founder of the Boyd Engineering Club, as well as lead structural engineer on the Living Roof Project. Williams is conversational in Spanish, plays multiple musical instruments and is currently working toward a National Master title in chess. He will study mechanical engineering in pursuit of a graduate degree in materials science and engineering.
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