Dreams were realized on Thursday morning in the Wooster High School Career Center, as the University of Nevada, Reno welcomed five top scholars in a Nevada Scholars Signing Day Ceremony.
University President Milt Glick, along with Provost Marc Johnson and representatives of the University’s Office of Prospective Students as well as key academic representatives such as College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources Dean Ron Pardini and College of Liberal Arts Associate Dean Kathy Boardman, were on hand for the ceremony.
Wooster Principal Debra Biersdorff told departing seniors Sara Beckman, Cayla Harvey, Noah McCoy, Isha Patel and Tim Sweet that “Wooster High School expects great things from you,” and that, “While you will always be a Colt (Wooster’s nickname) at heart, I know you’re ready to become part of the Pack.”
Glick agreed, noting that the five students would be “critical to our success, and to the state’s success.”
He added that the ceremony – the first of several the University will embark on in the next few days at local high schools as the campus’ record number of 25 National Merit Scholars currently enrolled will continue to climb for the fall semester – was the University’s way of celebrating the achievements of top local students who clearly deserve the limelight.
“We want to recognize these students the same we recognize people who are 6-8 with soft hands,” he said, noting that in every way, the five Wooster students were high school All-Americans just as a basketball player might be an All-American. “Our only disappointment is we don’t have 40 of these people coming to our University.”
Then Glick added with a smile to Biersdorff, “Next year, that’s what we’re going to expect from Wooster.”
All five students had achieved exceptional academic records during their time at Wooster, a southwest Reno high school that features a widely acclaimed International Baccalaureate (IB) college preparatory program.
Beckman, a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, said she chose Nevada over Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Although she has family in Chicago and lived part of her life in Illinois, she said the University’s offer of financial support was too much to pass up. Her National Merit Scholarship from the University will earn her $60,000 over her four years at Nevada.
“Instead of struggling to pay off debts, I’m going to be struggling with what to do with all that money,” she said with a smile. “I think that’s a nice problem to have. UNR is just so loyal to its locals. They’re helping me out so much, I thought it would be the wisest choice.”
Beckman said she hopes to major in either biochemistry or neuroscience, and would like one day to work as a forensic pathologist.
She said the blend of criminal justice and science would make an intriguing combination for her. Plus, she added, she’s not the squeamish type.
“In seventh grade, as we were doing things like frog dissections, I thought it was really cool,” she said. “I’d like to work for the government as a forensic pathologist. Working for the FBI would be amazing.”
She said her IB preparation at Wooster should serve her well at Nevada.
“You have to learn to complete all the work at a certain level of quality in a certain amount of time,” she said of her IB studies. “I’ve acquired a certain amount of life experience staying up late at night finishing assignments. IB is basically like normal high school … with a lot more work.”
Beckman good-naturedly downplayed her National Merit status: “I think the main reason why I’m a National Merit Scholar was that the test was so early in the morning and was so long. I think a lot of the kids just wanted to stay home and sleep. Just putting in that extra little effort can make you a lot of money.”
Noah McCoy, a Presidential Scholarship recipient, said he had originally taken a close look at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Yet the closer he looked at Nevada, the more he was impressed.
“UNR offers a wide variety of majors, whereas Embry-Riddle focuses mainly on aeronautical,” he said. “And the strictly engineering program at UNR is just as good, if not better, than Embry-Riddle.
“I figured I would be getting the same education, if not better, and I’d be near home, near family, and overall, I figured it would be a better choice. UNR is the much more logical choice.”
McCoy said he’s excited about entering Nevada in August as a freshman. The highlight will be how much his current commute will be compressed as he lives on campus.
“I actually live in Fernley, so I drive 80 miles a day,” he said of his weekday drives to Wooster. “It takes about 45 to 50 minutes to get to school. It’s going to be nice living five minutes away from my first class. I’m going to look forward to that the most.”
McCoy, who will major in engineering, said he was impressed by the school’s engineering expertise.
“UNR is the local school, and it just seems like it would be just another state college,” he said. “But it competes nationally in so many things. It has one of the best electrical engineering programs in the entire country. They were actually pioneering some of the classes where you make a device and get a patent on it. We were the first ones to do that. That made me realize that UNR isn’t just another state school – it’s a really good, competing school.”
McCoy said the signing ceremony was a nice way to cap his career at Wooster, though it was a little “strange” to be the center of attention of a press conference and signing attended by local media.
“Normally, you don’t get a whole lot of recognition for academic success,” said McCoy, who hopes to build airplanes and “build things, do things that haven’t been done before.”
“You’re normally not the one up there being singled out,” he said. “Today it was pretty cool to be recognized by the University for academic purposes.”
Cayla Harvey, a Presidential Scholarship recipient, said she was “excited” about entering the University. She added, though, that her parents were probably a bit more nervous about it than she is.
“I think I’m more excited than nervous to start my new schedule and learn about some things that I’m really interested in,” said Harvey, who grew up in the area and transferred from Reed High School in Sparks to Wooster her junior year. “My parents are excited to see me go off to college, but I think they’re more nervous than I am.
She said she was “surprised” by the Signing Day ceremony.
“I thought it was exciting to sign the letter of intent,” she said. “I didn’t expect that. It was nice to meet all the representatives from UNR.”
Harvey plans on having a dual major in international affairs and economics. She said she will live at home for her first two years of college, then make use of the University’s University Studies Abroad program and study overseas her third year of college.
She said she was struck by Nevada’s campus.
“I think it’s a beautiful campus, with tons of beautiful buildings,” she said. “A great place to be.”
Isha Patel, a Presidential Scholarship recipient, chose Nevada over Boston University, Penn State and UC-San Diego.
Ultimately, she said, her decision boiled down to staying close to home, saving money and still receiving a quality education.
“I’ve never had a job, and I’ve never really been away from home,” she said. “And my parents are extremely protective. Graduating at 17, going off to a big city like Boston and not knowing anyone, it would be a really big change. So I thought, ‘UNR is a really good campus, with scholarship opportunities, the tuition’s a lot less. Moving out in Reno would be a good middle ground. I’d get that independence from home but at the same time, I’d know the town.’ It’s a great campus, too. It’s an absolutely gorgeous campus, and I love the buildings.”
Patel said she will major in neuroscience, with the hope of one day becoming an oncologist. She said she is equally excited about her minor: dance.
“I danced when I was younger, and I played volleyball, too,” she said. “I’m a big basketball fan, and thought I could play basketball. It turned out I wasn’t built for basketball. I hurt my knee. I haven’t been able to run.
“I would like to take up dance again. It broke my heart to give it up, so thought I would take it up again and hope that my knee will hold up.”
Like her classmates, she said she was honored to be part of Thursday’s ceremony.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be this big of a deal,” she said, as a mixture of University representatives, Wooster staff and administration, media and parents mingled afterward. “I didn’t know what to expect at first. It was very cool.”
Tim Sweet, a Presidential Scholarship recipient, called Nevada “the perfect choice.”
“They have a great engineering college,” he said. “UNR was exactly what I was looking for.”
Sweet, who plans on majoring in computer science and engineering, said his sister, Jennifer, will graduate from Nevada in December with a degree in international business. He said her experience at Nevada – “She’s loved it” – also helped him decide to enroll at Nevada.
He said he has loved his time at Wooster, which has one of the more diverse student bodies in the Washoe County School District. He said he’s hoping for more of the same at Nevada, which last week graduated its most diverse senior class ever.
“I’ve been to a lot of other campuses in town, and I can tell that Wooster is just so much more diverse,” he said. “The thing about Wooster that we always say is we don’t have cliques here. You don’t see groups of particular demographic together. You’ll see all types of people hanging out together. People who come to campus always comment on that. That’s been a great experience for me.
“Coming here, I’ve seen all the different cultures and experienced all the different ideas and thoughts from my friends.”
Sweet said he plans on living his first year at Nye Hall – “on the Honors Floor.”
“I want to live on campus to have that campus experience … unless I get a job offer for $100,000,” he said, with a grin.
Sweet, showing an enterprising side before Thursday’s ceremony, took the occasion to seek out information regarding the University’s Student Ambassador program from Director of Admissions Steve Maples, who attended Thursday’s ceremony.
Maples encouraged Sweet to apply, and afterward, it was clear why.
“I’ve always said that if I don’t get a job in computer science, then I can get a job as a museum tour guide, because my favorite thing is talking … so I hear that the Student Ambassadors get to do a lot of that,” Sweet said. “I just like knowing what’s going on, and the Student Ambassador program seems like a good way to know what’s going on, on campus and letting other people know about it.”
Then Sweet smiled again. With one dream down – entrance to college – there were obviously many more to be realized, in the coming days and weeks leading up to the start of the fall semester in August.
“I can’t wait,” Sweet said.