National Merit Finalist signs with University

5/22/2009 - By: John Trent

The only thing missing was the Nevada hat.

And it only took a matter of a few seconds before classmates of Reed High School senior Christopher Salls began their chant in Reed’s library.

“Put it on! Put it on! Put it on!” they exhorted Salls.

“I want to see him put the hat on,” added Chris’ mother, Jenny, a longtime Washoe County School District mathematics teacher and University of Nevada, Reno graduate.

Salls, a National Merit Finalist who officially agreed during the Thursday morning ceremony to attend the University in the fall, plopped the white hat on his head and flashed a wide grin.

His classmates, who numbered more than two dozen, as well as a number of Reed High administrators and teachers, erupted with some of the loudest cheering the library at Reed has probably ever heard.

The sustained applause lasted a good 30 seconds.

And it was well-deserved, as Reed principal Mary Vesco noted during her opening remarks.

Vesco said that of the 1.5 million students who took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) as juniors last year, only about 16,000 had attained the highest-scoring participant level that Salls had reached, known as National Merit Scholarship Finalist. Salls’ scores are in the top 1 ½ percent in the nation.

“We’re so proud of Chris being a National Merit Finalist, but we’re even more proud that he’s going to UNR,” Vesco said. “It’s important that we keep the best minds in our state.

“Chris, you have a lot to be proud of.”

With Salls’ signing on Thursday, the University is expecting to welcome 10 National Merit Scholarship Finalists to campus next fall. The University currently has 18 National Merit Scholarship Finalists enrolled, the most in campus history.

During similar ceremonies at Reno High School and the Davidson Academy of Nevada, the University announced the signings of more National Merit Finalists. Signing day events have been scheduled by the University at local high schools this spring as a way of recognizing National Merit Scholarship Finalists and Presidential Scholars and to celebrate their choice to attend the University of Nevada, Reno in the fall.

The signings come following a University-wide push initiated by University President Milton Glick over the past two years to recruit more National Merit Scholars. Thanks to the efforts of many, Nevada has joined sponsor schools included as part of the recruitment materials sent to students across the country who are contending for National Merit Scholarships.

“We have a significant amount of National Merits coming to our university, and this is a very important thing for us,” said Provost Marc Johnson, who was also on hand for Salls’ signing ceremony. “The impact that Chris will have on our campus will be tremendous.”

Salls said he was a little nervous as he sat down to sign. Two local television crews were on hand to record the event, as was a local newspaper reporter.

“I was definitely a little nervous,” he said, “because there were all these people watching this little signing ceremony. It was actually pretty cool. It’s nice to get recognized and have a large crowd watching. It felt good.”

Both of Salls’ parents were justifiably proud of their son. His school and activity record includes:

  • Co-valedictorian at Reed with classmate Annalise Vine.
  • Scored first in the state in the American Mathematics Competition.
  • Member of the “We the People” Reed High team that placed first in the state and 20th in the nation in a competition that tests knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and government.
  • Accomplished alto saxophone player, participating in Reed’s jazz, marching and concert bands.
  • Eagle Scout.

“I think it’s neat,” Salls’ father, Mitch, also a Nevada graduate, said of the attention paid to his son. “He’s earned it … and he sure enjoys the limelight.”

Jenny Salls, who in a 32-year teaching career at Reno and Sparks High Schools has a well-deserved reputation as one of the Washoe County School District’s finest mathematics instructors, said she couldn’t help but notice that Thursday was a big day for Reed on two fronts. The Reno Gazette-Journal had an article about one of Salls’ classmates, softball pitching standout Chelsea Cohen, who will be attending University of Arkansas on a full athletic scholarship in the fall.

“I saw that in the paper today and I was thinking, ‘You know, on the academic side, having an event like today’s, this is good, too,” she said.

Salls said her son has always shown an aptitude for mathematics, even from an early age. She recalled how he first used to play with a calculator and point out to his mother, with a great sense of wonder, how adding one to a series of nines on the calculator could change everything.

“He would say, ‘Isn’t that interesting?’” she remembered with a smile. “He was playing at math from a very young age. He finds it interesting and he finds it challenging … but he’s a hard worker, too.”

Salls credited his mother for his love of the language of mathematics: “She’s probably the main reason why I’ve done as well as I have. She taught me tons, early on, and throughout my life.”
Salls said he is thinking of majoring in either mathematics or physics at Nevada.

“I’ve heard great things about the Physics Department, and I know some of the people in the Math Department,” he said. “The great thing about UNR is it’s a good school, and it’s so close.”

And like any college freshman-to-be, Salls seemed to be really relishing the prospect of designing his own academic agenda next year.

“I’m really looking forward to setting my own schedule next year,” he said.


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