Meriting a Change

High caliber students push peers, faculty to new heights

9/2/2008 - By: Jane Tors

Attracting the best and brightest students makes an important statement about a university and has a positive ripple effect for all faculty and students.

“Really bright students lift the level of the educational experience for everyone,” said University President Milton Glick. “As you achieve a critical mass of these students, teachers begin to teach differently. This — and the fact that students learn from one another — leads to a more engaging and dynamic educational environment.”

When Glick joined the University in 2006, he issued a challenge to recruit more National Merit Scholars. Now, only two years later, Nevada has met the college sponsorship requirements of the National Merit Scholarship Program.

To be named a sponsor school, the University enrolled a minimum of six National Merit finalists for two consecutive years, and those students selected the University as their first choice. The benefit is that Nevada will join the list of sponsor schools included as part of recruitment materials sent to students across the country who are contending for National Merit Scholarships.

This fall, it is anticipated the University’s student body will include 17 National Merit Scholars, as well as 90 Presidential Scholars, which is a University of Nevada program established in the 1980s. Both programs set a high achievement standard for grade point average and performance on college entrance exams. To participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program, high school students must take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT).

For University sophomore Tyler Aas, the path to becoming a National Merit Scholar was set by his counselors and teachers at Reno High School.

“I took the PSAT — it was strongly pushed, especially by the English and math teachers who pushed it for students that performed well,” said Aas, a mechanical engineering major.

The National Merit scholarship kept Aas on his path to Nevada.

National Merit Scholars receive a $15,000 annual scholarship and Presidential Scholars received a $5,000 annual scholarship. As a clear indication of the University’s commitment to elevate the academic experience, these scholarships are funded through the University’s financial aid and scholarship budget.

However, because many other universities offer scholarships, it takes more than financial commitment to recruit and enroll these students.

“We knew that if we could get these students on our campus and have them meet our faculty, we would have a very good chance of them choosing us,” said Suzanne Bach, scholarship coordinator at Nevada. “They see our campus and our facilities, and they are impressed. We have them meet with professors in their area of interest and they see that our faculty members are genuinely interested in them as an individual.”

National Merit Scholars are automatically enrolled in Nevada’s Honors Program.

“We have about 500 students enrolled in the program, which includes about 140 welcomed to the program this fall,” said Tamara Valentine, Honors Program director.

The program is one of about 1,000 across the country and, according to Valentine, “it is designed to allow students to explore and push the limits of their learning.”

Honors sections are offered for many classes and honors students are introduced to undergraduate research, for which research awards are available. The program also offers an Honors Residential Scholars Program.

“It was nice being in the same community with other honors students,” said Aas, who last year lived in the Argenta Hall wing dedicated to honors students. “We had similar classes and could consult each other. Just going into classes, we already knew other people.”

“After spending a year in that community, I find it hard to see myself anywhere else without that program,” said Aas.

National Merit Scholar Ray Hooft also lived in Argenta last year, in what is often called the honors “living, learning community.”

“It was definitely helpful,” said Hooft, a civil engineering major. “It was nice to interact with other honors students. Our lounge was always busy with people hanging out.”

This academic year, the Honors Residential Scholars Program has been expanded to include a wing in Nye Hall.
To be part of the Honors Residential Scholars Program, students must enroll in a minimum of two honors classes each semester. However, Aas appreciated that faculty equally challenged students in his non-honors classes.
“The professors are just as enthusiastic,” he said.

For these two National Merit Scholars, their first-year experience at the University left them looking forward to the year ahead. Both Aas and Hooft will live in the residence halls this year, although not as part of the Honors Residential Scholars Program.

Said Hooft: “This is most I’ve looked forward to starting school at any time of my life.”


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