University Welcomes Newest Class of McDermott Scholars This Fall

scholars together at reflecting pools on campus

The 2018 McDermott Scholars

The Eugene McDermott Scholars Program at The University of Texas at Dallas has selected 16 students to make up its 2018 incoming class.

The program provides these select students with UT Dallas’ rigorous and personalized education, along with a four-year program of intensive extracurricular activities. McDermott Scholars have access to leadership training, cultural enrichment and opportunities designed to equip them with the skills, experience and confidence to succeed as leaders in society’s many dimensions.

The year's entering cohort, the program’s 18th class, includes seven students from Texas, and the nine from eight other states, including California and New York.

“The recent passing of our benefactor, Margaret McDermott, brings her legacy into new focus,” said Reena Schellenberg, who became program director after Molly Seeligson retired in 2017. “We feel fortunate to be the stewards of Mrs. McDermott’s vision, and we’re eager to help these outstanding individuals fulfill it during their time at the institution she loved and throughout their future careers.”

Collectively, this class has an average two-part SAT score of 1560. Twelve of them have been recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program. Three were high school valedictorians and one was a salutatorian.

The incoming group will join the 74 scholars already at UT Dallas. The program has 247 alumni.

The program was made possible by a $32 million gift from Margaret McDermott, who was the wife of Eugene McDermott, one of the co-founders of Texas Instruments (TI). Eugene 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 2018 class are:


Jake Munch

Valhalla High School, El Cajon

Salutatorian Jake Munch is an AP Scholar and a California Scholarship Federation honor student. He was the captain of the varsity swim team for three years, a school record-holder and a two-time San Diego Union-Tribune All-Academic Team selection as a scholar-athlete. Munch has been competing for his club team, Heartland Swim Association, for nearly 10 years, and was president and founder of a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club. He also is a summer league coach and volunteers at his local church, 7SD. Munch enjoys bodysurfing and playing cards with his siblings. He plans to study biochemistry and pursue a career in medical research.


Annika Russell

La Cañada High School, La Cañada Flintridge

Annika Russell is a National Merit Commended Scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction. She volunteered as a counselor, blogger and peer tutor for the Girl Scout Cadettes. Russell has earned the rank of distinction from the National Speech and Debate Association as one of the top five impromptu speakers in California, and was speech team captain for three years. She also was World Affairs Club president and Junior State of America Club vice president at her high school. She plans to study cognitive science.



Anna Straughan

Ralston Valley High School, Arvada

Valedictorian Anna Straughan is a recipient of the AP International Diploma and the academic achievement award for her age group in National American Miss pageant. She volunteered at her church as a Sunday school teacher, at Sierra Elementary School as an art camp counselor and at her high school as a freshman mentor and tutor. Straughan also worked as an intern for Lutheran Medical Center. She was secretary for National Honor Society, president for La Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica and founded the pre-med club at her school. Straughan sings in her church choir and played the violin in her high school’s chamber orchestra. She is conversational in Spanish and plans to study molecular biology as a pre-health student.



Ben Wise

Marist School, Decatur

Ben Wise is a National Merit Scholar and AP Scholar with distinction. He is a tutor for LaAmistad Afterschool and a volunteer coach for multiple Atlanta volleyball teams. Wise has competed in nine national academic quiz team tournaments, captained the Georgia All-Star Team, and is individually ranked in the top 50 nationally. He is a tap dancer and a performing aerialist, specializing in trapeze. Wise also led the tenor sections of the Marist Singers and Atlanta Young Singers, and has performed on NPR’s “From the Top” and in Georgia’s All-State Chorus Sight Reading Ensemble. He is a Spanish National Honor Society officer and conversational in Spanish. Wise plans to major in visual and performing arts with a concentration in art history.



Patrick Nnoromele

Model Laboratory School, Richmond

Valedictorian Patrick Nnoromele is a National Merit Scholar, a Kentucky Governor’s Scholar and member of the National Honor Society. He received the gold President’s Volunteer Service Award for his work with food pantries in central Kentucky and his mentoring of special-needs individuals in his community. For four years, Nnoromele served as head coach for middle and high school future problem-solving teams at his school, leading them to district, regional and state competitions. At his high school, he founded the Diversity Union, which is dedicated to increasing cultural awareness through community involvement and volunteer service. Nnoromele is proficient in Spanish and plays a variety of musical instruments. He will major in molecular biology as a pre-health student.


New York

Zach Neiger

Sanford H. Calhoun High School, Merrick

Zach Neiger is an AP Scholar who has spent the past six years volunteering at his local temple as a teacher and advisor to the youth group. He has participated in his local math and science clubs. As a performer and as master electrician of lighting and sound, Neiger has worked closely with the magnet theater program at his school, which produces over 10 shows a year. He is a player and collector of board games, and owns more than 400. Neiger plans to combine two of his passions as a software engineering major studying the applications of engineering in theater.


North Carolina

Anja Sheppard

North Carolina School of Science and Math, Chapel Hill

Anja Sheppard is a National Merit Scholar, AP Scholar and four-time National French Exam Award recipient. She is a Girl Scout who earned her Gold Award as a volunteer at an orphanage in Haiti. Sheppard was the programming lead on her FIRST Robotics team and captain of her school’s rocketry team. During her senior year, she conducted independent research on robotic path planning at North Carolina State University. Sheppard is fluent in German and conversational in French. She plans to study computer science.



Julia LaFond

Smithson Valley High School, Spring Branch

Julia LaFond is an AP Scholar with distinction who received AP with WE Service recognition for her volunteer efforts. She volunteered with her local public library, the Hope Center Food Bank, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and the community garden. LaFond played flute in the varsity concert band and was the quartermaster for the marching band. She was captain of the extemporaneous debate team, competed in University Interscholastic League Academics in history and current events, and coached novice debate. LaFond also served as president of the environmental club and led a campus recycling program. She is active in the local deaf community and is conversational in American Sign Language. LaFond plans to study speech-language pathology and audiology.


Solvay Linde

School for Talented and Gifted, Dallas

Solvay Linde, a member of five national honor societies, is a National Merit Scholar, a National AP Scholar and a Presidential Scholarship candidate. An active Girl Scout, she is working to complete her Gold Award. Linde volunteered at her high school as a student ambassador, and performed with her choir at hospitals on the holidays. She was the first two-term choir president of the Townview Choir, singing in the large ensemble as well as a cappella choir, and competing in group and solo events. Linde also was a varsity rower for White Rock Rowing, and a member of yearbook, the student literary magazine and Geek Girls, an organization that promotes women in computer science. She is an avid reader and artist who draws, paints and embroiders in her free time. Linde is conversational in German. She plans to double-major in computer science and arts, technology, and emerging communication, with a focus in animation.


Snipta Mallick

Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, Plano

Snipta Mallick is a National Merit Commended Scholar, University of North Texas President’s List scholar and member of the National Honor Society. As a Gold Cord recipient for community service, she tutored students at UNT and the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, was a debate instructor and volunteered at Texas Health Dallas. Mallick was recognized for her research at the Texas Junior Academy of Science, Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and Texas Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. She also served as a teaching assistant at the Summer Mathematics Institute. Mallick was founder of the TAMS Psychology Association, president of the TAMS Medical Society and TAMS Model United Nations, a senior mentor and a passionate Bhangra member. She was a Wall of Honor recipient, drum major and oboist in the Williams High School band. Mallick is conversational in Oriya, Hindi and Spanish, and will major in cognitive science.


Evan Meade

Keystone School, San Antonio

Valedictorian Evan Meade is a National Merit Scholar, an AP Scholar with distinction and a Regeneron Science Talent Search semifinalist. He has volunteered at local organizations as a robotics mentor, a Mathcounts coach and a tutor for students of all ages. Meade also was treasurer of his National Honor Society chapter. He was dedicated to science fair, where he received numerous accolades at local, state, national and international levels. Meade was captain of his school’s National Science Bowl team and lead programmer of his FIRST Robotics team. He also is an amateur guitarist. He will major in physics with a concentration in quantum information science.


Navnit Mohan

Plano Senior High School, Plano

Navnit Mohan is a National Merit Commended Scholar and AP Scholar. As a freshman, he co-founded the Imagine Beyond Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization raising funds and awareness for people with autism spectrum disorder. Mohan spearheaded efforts to raise over $25,000 for the Autism Treatment Center of Dallas and helped coordinate a free autism screening. He also volunteered at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center for three years. As vice president of the speech/debate team, Mohan was involved in congressional debate, frequently placing top three at local tournaments and top eight at state. He made it to semifinals at Glenbrooks and quarterfinals at Harvard for speech and debate. Mohan speaks Malayalam and French, and plans to major in neuroscience.


Kannan Sharma

St. Mark’s School of Texas, Dallas

Kannan Sharma is an AP Scholar, a National Merit Commended Scholar and an Eagle Scout. He has conducted research at Southern Methodist University and also developed an art program to teach the elderly how to draw. He conducted research to show that art can enhance the quality of life for elderly individuals, and his work was presented at a national geriatrics conference. Sharma was secretary of his class, chair of the fine arts board, captain of the swim team and an active drummer in his school band. He is fluent in Spanish and will major in biology.


Safiyah Zaidi

McNeil High School, Austin

Safiyah Zaidi is a National Merit commended scholar and an AP Scholar with distinction. She was a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and the Science National Honor Society. She volunteered at the Islamic Center of Brushy Creek, the Round Rock Area Serving Center and St. David’s Medical Center. Zaidi was president of the Student Leadership Advisory Committee and the Muslim Students Association, and established an annual interfaith dinner at her high school to promote dialogue. She is conversational in Spanish and Urdu, and can read and write in Arabic. She plans to major in neuroscience and ultimately pursue a career in neuropathology.



Michelle Patten

The Bear Creek School, Sammamish

Michelle Patten is a National Merit Commended Scholar, National Hispanic Scholar, National AP Scholar and a Presidential Scholar candidate. She volunteered every summer with Classical Conversations Practicum and was the head of the Academic Success Committee at her high school. Patten played soccer and softball at her high school, and played softball year-round on a travel club team. She was an active member of many theater productions after taking her first drama class in 2015. Patten enjoys mathematics and solving Rubik’s Cubes. She is conversational in Spanish and plans to study biomedical engineering, with an interest in chemistry and mathematics.



Patricia Mathu

Whitefish Bay High School, Whitefish Bay

Patricia Mathu is a National Merit Scholar, an AP Scholar with honors and an Elks Most Valuable Student national semifinalist. In high school, she was president of Student Council, design editor of the yearbook, captain of the cross country team, an editor of the school newspaper, an officer of Model United Nations and president of Bay Girls Code, a club focused on empowering females in coding. Mathu also competed nationally on her forensics team. She is an active Girl Scout member and a volunteer at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Mathu plays cello and piano, and teaches piano to local students. She is conversational in French and will enter college as an undeclared freshman.

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