Campus to Welcome Newest McDermott Scholars This Fall
June 25, 2014
10th Class Graduates
The Eugene McDermott Scholars Program hit a milestone this spring with the graduation of its 10th class of McDermott Scholars.
The 17 2010 McDermott Scholars, who graduated in May, represent the academic excellence of the program with a number of accolades. They include one Fulbright award, one Goldwater award, one Udall Foundation honorable mention, five Bill Archer Fellowships, one National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, one Boren Fellowship alternate, one Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. Department of State, one Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship and 13 inductees into Phi Kappa Phi.
Some graduates will continue their academic journeys at institutions including Dartmouth, the University of Michigan and Princeton, while others take jobs at Capital One Bank and J.P. Morgan.
The UT Dallas McDermott Scholars Program has selected 25 students to make up the 2014 incoming class.
The entering cohort, the program’s 14th class, was selected from nearly 1,600 high school students from 36 states and four countries who had initially expressed interest in the program. Fifty-nine applicants were invited to the annual finalists weekend from which the scholars were selected.
The incoming class includes 14 students from Texas. Eleven others come from 10 states, from California to New Jersey. Collectively, this class has an average two-part SAT score of 1545. Nine of them achieved perfect scores on the SAT or ACT. Twenty-two have been recognized by the National Merit Scholarship program, 10 were high school valedictorians and three were salutatorians.
“UT Dallas is growing in exciting directions, and the McDermott Scholars Program’s development mirrors that trend of success,” said Molly Seeligson, director of the program. “We are attracting more and more top-quality applicants to our school with each passing year, and I am excited to see what our newest class is capable of in the classroom, on campus and out in the community.”
The McDermott Scholars will have their educational expenses — including tuition and fees, stipends for living expenses and books, travel and post-graduation preparation — covered for the next four years and will participate in a variety of cultural and educational enrichment experiences in the Dallas area and beyond.
The McDermott Scholars Program is designed to incorporate experiential learning:
- Freshman year includes an orientation trip to Santa Fe, N.M., 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 64 scholars already at UT Dallas. The program has 159 alumni.
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. McDermott and two TI co-founders, Cecil Green and J. Erik Jonsson, founded the research institution that in 1969 became UT Dallas.
Those selected as McDermott Scholars for the 2014 entering class are:
Gretchen Whitney High School, Cerritos
Rebecca Tjahja is a National Merit commended student and an AP Scholar with honor. She is the founder of Truly Absolute Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to social, educational and artistic programming for low-income children. She is also co-founder and chief financial officer of the startup firm NC Designs. Tjahja founded a chapter of Future Business Leaders of America and served as chapter president and vice president of the southern section of California. At her church, she was a worship and student leader, and performed as a drummer and pianist. Tjahja is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia and semi-fluent in Spanish and Chinese. She will study finance and management information systems.
Mira Loma High School, Rancho Cordova
Valedictorian Samuel Vallejo is a National Merit commended student, a National Hispanic Recognition Scholar and a National AP Scholar. He holds an International Baccalaureate diploma. He volunteered with Key Club and Mira Loma Conflict Management, where he helped fellow students settle peer-to-peer disputes, and at Putian Shengxing Hospital. Vallejo was secretary of his speech and debate team, and participated in the Mira Loma High School Creek Study Program. He also competed in Moot Court, Science Olympiad, cross country, and track and field. Vallejo is fluent in Chinese. He will study biomedical engineering.
James “Scotty” Ballard
River Ridge High School, New Port Richey
Scotty Ballard is an AP Scholar with distinction. Ballard spent most of his secondary education career at Williams High School and Plano East Senior High School before he moved to Florida before his senior year. Without an International Baccalaureate program at River Ridge, he took five AP classes his senior year. Ballard was senior patrol leader for his Boy Scout troop, helping to plan regular meetings and annual trips. As an intern with Empower Network in St. Petersburg, Fla., he developed a presentation for the company’s new blogging platform that was showcased in Denver. Ballard was a trumpet section leader and competed on Jeopardy! He will study software engineering.
Blue Valley Southwest High School, Overland Park
Matara Hitchcock is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction, and was a member of the National Honor Society and National French Honor Society. She earned more than 20 medals in Academic Decathlon and was top scorer at her school for two years. Hitchcock sings in two a cappella groups, Kansas City A Cappella Sound Proof and The Unwritten. She also has performed in theater productions as well as her school’s chorale and was part of the Choir Leadership Team. Hitchcock received top ratings for her vocal solos at regional and state. She will enter UT Dallas as an undeclared freshman.
Ladue Horton Watkins High School, St. Louis
Elyse Mack is an AP Scholar with honor who earned her school’s Ram Pride Award for exceptional character and the Dad’s Club Award, the school’s most prestigious recognition. She was president of Elements, a club that organizes recycling and composting efforts, and the Hunger Outreach Project. Mack led the fundraising for her school’s dance marathon to benefit the St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Children’s Miracle Network. She was photo editor for the school newspaper and won numerous awards, including first, second and third place in the National Park Service’s Arch Photo Contest. Mack also plays alto saxophone and sings in choir. She will enter UT Dallas as an undeclared freshman.
High Technology High School, Ocean Grove
Stephen Badger is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction. He conducted research on pesticides with Partners in Science at Rutgers University, and interned in research and development at International Flavors & Fragrances. Badger has made presentations at the New Jersey Academy of Science, the Jersey Shore Science Fair and the Delaware Valley Science Fair. He was captain of the tennis team, a co-captain of his school’s academic team, and a member of the chess team and National Honor Society. Badger plays violin with the New Jersey Symphony Youth Orchestra and at his church. He will study electrical engineering.
Leesville Road High School, Raleigh
Sahana Venkatesh is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar. She won the President’s Award for Educational Excellence and finished seventh in the state on the National French Exam. Venkatesh initiated an annual book drive for children in developing countries and volunteered with free clinics in other countries. She also tutored students in several academic subjects and SAT prep. Venkatesh participated in service projects with the National Honor Society, Key Club and Environmental Club. She also was treasurer of the French National Honor Society. Venkatesh plays the piano and is fluent in French and Tamil. She will study biomedical engineering.
Alexandra “Ali” Peterkort
St. Mary’s Academy, Newberg
Alexandra “Ali” Peterkort is an AP Scholar and a member of National Honor Society. An accomplished cellist, she performed with the Portland Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. Peterkort also participated in her school’s performing arts programs, taking roles in plays, musicals, acting conferences and the Thespians Club. She performed in more than 30 shows a year with the Marian Singers. Peterkort also fostered kittens for her local animal shelter and cared for a homebound person with Alzheimer’s disease. Peterkort is conversational in Spanish and fluent in French. She will enter UT Dallas as an undeclared freshman.
Maryville High School, Maryville
Salutatorian Preston Butler is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction. Butler was president of National Honor Society and Key Club, vice president of his class and Mu Alpha Theta and a Student Council representative. He competed in Model United Nations, Scholars Bowl and Science Bowl. Butler was drum major for his marching band, and played in his school’s wind ensemble and chamber orchestras as well as for Knoxville Youth Jazz and Symphony orchestras. He attended the Tennessee Governor’s School for International Studies and was a delegate for Tennessee Boys State where he received the Best in Band Award. Butler volunteered at a local food pantry and a nursing home, and was a tutor and mentor. He will study biomedical engineering.
Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, Denton
Hans Ajieren is a National Merit Scholar, a National Achievement Scholar and a Siemens Competition semifinalist. A Houston native, he was on track to be the valedictorian of his Clear Brook High School class before he transferred to TAMS. A recurring member of the University of North Texas’ President’s List, Ajieren worked for two years in The Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling at UNT. He also achieved a Degree of Excellence as a debater from the National Forensics League. At Clear Brook, Ajieren placed first in math and second in economics in the Academic Octathlon, and helped his team win first in the regional Super Quiz. He also competed in track and field, most notably in the 4x800 relay. He will study biochemistry.
Liberty High School, Frisco
Valedictorian Anishka Kappalayil is a National Merit commended student and a National AP Scholar. She was president of Health Occupations Students of America, and her team for DECA, a business organization, placed in finals at the international level. Kappalayil was president of the Junior World Affairs Council and helped organize fundraisers to tackle global poverty. She became a certified nursing assistant and volunteered at Children’s Medical Center, Parkland Memorial Hospital and Centennial Medical Center. Kappalayil also was chairwoman and board member of the Junior Leadership Board of Trustees of Children’s Medical Center and Frisco Mayor’s Youth Council. She trained for nearly a decade in classical Carnatic music. She will major in biology.
Billy Ryan High School, Denton
Valedictorian Reilly Martinez is a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar, an AP Scholar and a Denton ISD Top 10 Graduate. Martinez was president of his school’s National Honor Society. As a fullback on the football team, he also earned District 5-5A honors and Denton’s Jim Bateman Award. Martinez volunteered with the after-school program Tutoring by Ten, the Green Heart Program, National Honor Society and Keep Denton Beautiful. He participated in University Interscholastic League, Destination Imagination, Texas Boys State and GT/EXPO programs. Martinez is fluent in Spanish and was voted “smartest” in his senior class by students. He will study electrical engineering.
Coram Deo Academy, Flower Mound
Grace McClure is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar. Originally from Plano, she attended Coram Deo Academy and received the Distinguished High School Student Award as a junior. McClure helped establish a student governance system at her school and was elected president in the newly organized House of Luther. She was events coordinator for her campus, planning school dance functions and her class’ senior trip. McClure has interned at the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Neurology and Lloyd's of London. She also participated in Duke University’s Talent Identification Program in the field of neuroscience. McClure is active in her church and interns with the adoption advocacy organization BraveLove. She will study cognitive science.
Robert E. Lee High School, Tyler
Valedictorian Dhruv Narayanan is a National Merit commended student and a National AP Scholar. He was president of National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta, and the founder and president of the Robotics Club. Narayanan received the President’s Volunteer Service Award. He interned with NASA, earned second place in the NASA INSPIRE Website Design Challenge and was a finalist in the NASA Space Habitat Challenge. Narayanan is chief financial officer of Crion Computers, which he started with several classmates. He also is a violinist in the Chamber Orchestra and was recognized three times as a Texas Music Scholar. Narayanan is a third-degree, fourth-level black belt in taekwondo and is certified to instruct classes. He will study mechanical engineering.
Lake Travis High School, Austin
Valedictorian Derrick Ngo is a National Merit Scholar, a National AP Scholar and a Presidential Scholar nominee. He was president of Student Council for three years and vice president of National Honor Society. Ngo also was captain of his school’s science team in the University Interscholastic League and the bowl team in Health Occupations Students of America. He has volunteered with Seton Hall Medical Center, Meals on Wheels and the Lake Travis Community Library, and tutored students in math and science. Ngo competed in swimming and football, and also played saxophone in the symphonic band, wind ensemble and marching band. He was recognized as a TFMC All-State Musician for piano solo. He will major in biomedical engineering.
R.L. Turner High School, Coppell
Valedictorian Christy Purnadi is a National Merit Scholar and a National AP Scholar. She took courses at her school’s Biomedical Academy and worked as a research assistant at UT Southwestern Medical Center. A pianist and a writer, she has won the Gülen Institute Youth Platform and Young Spur Competition. Purnadi was president of Key Club and National Honor Society and the vice president of Give, Enlighten and Repeat, dedicated to works of service. She volunteered with the Baylor Health Care System, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and her church. She is fluent in Indonesian and speaks some Mandarin. She will major in neuroscience and global business.
Science Academy of South Texas, Harlingen
Valedictorian Raja Reddy is a National Merit Scholar, a National AP Scholar and a Presidential Scholar semifinalist. He was president of Student Council and a member of Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society, Drama Club and the Pan American Student Forum. Reddy also was a member of the Science Bowl and Masterminds teams, and competed as a state and national delegate in the Model Organization of American States. He was president of the Science Academy Community Service Club and has volunteered at Valley Baptist Medical Center. He also led summer programs at Harlingen Public Library and helped prepare taxes with the United Way. Reddy has done biological and chemical research in university laboratories. He will study biology and business administration.
McNeil High School, Austin
Salutatorian Pooshan Shah is a National Merit commended student and an AP Scholar with honor. He was president of his class, captain of the tennis team, vice president of the engineering club and president of the prom committee. Shah was the webmaster for Health Occupations Students of America, secretary of National Honor Society and a member of Mu Alpha Theta. He also participated in the Student Leaders Advisory Committee and the Superintendent Student Advisory Board. Shah mentored autistic students, volunteered at Caritas soup kitchen, taught Sunday school at Shrimad Rajchandra and participated in charity walks. He also competed in Bollywood dancing and earned awards for his artwork. Shah is fluent in Gujarati. He will study biomedical engineering.
Plano Senior High School, Plano
Sanaa Tejani is a National Merit commended student and an AP Scholar with distinction. Tejani was co-founder and president of the National Art Honor Society and president of Key Club. She also participated in Future Business Leaders of America, Health Occupations Students of America and Student Congress. Tejani has taught children Montessori-style learning techniques at the Early Childhood Development Center in Dallas and volunteered at the Methodist Richardson Medical Center. She also trained and supervised youths with the North Texas Volunteer Corps, and received the Presidential Volunteer Service Gold Award. Tejani is fluent in Spanish. She will study biology.
Lewisville High School, Lewisville
Valedictorian Alexander Tomkovich is a National Merit Scholar, a Presidential Scholar nominee and an AP Scholar with distinction. He received the Principal’s Excellence Award and the outstanding English and history student award. As a musician, he specialized in the euphonium and played with the North Texas Euphonium Company and Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra Wind Symphony. Tomkovich was the wind captain for the marching and concert band, and achieved outstanding soloist at University Interscholastic League competition three years in a row. Tomkovich earned first chair in the state of Texas for 5A symphonic band. He also participated in Texas Boys State. Tomkovich is conversational in Spanish. He will study computer engineering.
Hallsville High School, Hallsville
Valedictorian Aaron Weittenhiller is a National Merit commended student and an AP Scholar with distinction. He was president of his freshman class, the Beta Club and marching band. He received the Ronald Reagan Student Leadership Award and has been recognized as a Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership representative. Weittenhiller was active in National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and University Interscholastic League competition. He organized a tutoring club to help students prepare for college entrance exams, volunteered at local food shelters and taught drum lessons to junior high students. He will study biomedical engineering.
Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School, Austin
Ximone Willis is a National Merit Scholar, an AP Scholar with distinction, a Presidential Scholar nominee and a NCWIT Aspirations in Computing awardee. Her FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics team competed in the organization’s world championship, and took first place in computer science at the UIL’s Hendrickson competition. She was president and co-founder of CISters, a girls computer programming club, a founding member of the Austin chapter of YMCA Global Teens, and has volunteered through National Honor Society. She also was a mentor to incoming freshmen at her school. She competed in volleyball, basketball, golf, and track and field. Willis has studied Latin. She will major in biomedical engineering.
McKinney North High School, McKinney
Salutatorian Ben Wroblewski is a National Merit commended student and an AP Scholar with distinction. Wroblewski was a member of National Honor Society, student council and technical theater. He also was the executive council president of Health Occupations Students of America for Texas Area 5 and was recognized by Rotary International for his academic honors. Wroblewski volunteered with World Changers to provide disaster relief after severe tornadoes struck Oklahoma and the McKinney Housing Authority to provide translation services for Spanish-speaking residents. He served as an after-school caregiver for two years for a child with autism and also competed in golf. Wroblewski is fluent in Spanish. He will study biomedical engineering.
Grafton High School, Grafton
Matthew Salm is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction. He was captain and MVP of the varsity soccer team and captain of the club soccer team for five years. He also competed in swimming team and track, where he won a state title as part of 4x400 relay. Salm has hiked to the summit of Mount Whitney and Mount Elbert, the two highest peaks in the continental U.S. He also was co-founder of the physics club and competed with the Grafton Math Hawks team, where he was ranked sixth in the state. He will study mathematics.
Ocean Lakes High School, Virginia Beach
Valedictorian John Will is a National Merit commended student, an AP Scholar with distinction and a Presidential Scholar nominee. He also was a semifinalist for the President’s Award for Educational Excellence. Will volunteered with the Army Corps of Engineers and Nauticus Maritime Center, and earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award. He completed the Stanford High School Introduction to Mathematical Thinking course and is developing a publication to simplify complex proofs for aspiring mathematicians. An avid cyclist, Will also was captain of the cross country and track teams, and was named Virginia High School League regional athlete of the year. Will is working this summer for Analytical Mechanics Associates, a NASA contractor. He will study biomedical engineering.