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June 16, 2011
By John Trent
It wasn't a large step that National Merit Scholar Paige dePolo took when she recently committed to attending the University of Nevada, Reno.
In fact, for dePolo, who said she had "grown up" on the University campus thanks to spending time with her parents, who work at the University, familiarity with the University wasn't necessarily the issue.
"I never ventured into the business or engineering buildings because my parents weren't there," said dePolo, whose father, Craig, is a research geologist and whose mother, Diane, is a network seismologist in the Nevada Seismological Laboratory. "Otherwise, I do know the campus well."
And it wasn't even proximity - "My mom will be only five minutes away" while dePolo lives on campus - that led dePolo to the University, though that factor certainly helped.
Ultimately, dePolo, who plans on becoming a paleontologist one day, said the University was the right place for her to begin the journey of "playing in the dirt" for the rest of her professional life.
"In a lot of different ways, it was the best decision," said dePolo, a senior at Bishop Manogue High School in Reno. "When we weighed everything, the University was the best."
DePolo isn't alone.
For many of the state's top scholars, weighing the University's merits has led them to the Silver State's oldest campus.
In 2010, the University had 38 National Merit Scholars on campus - a record for the institution. The University's recent high school "signing days," held at several northern and southern Nevada high schools, indicate that the number is likely to increase in the fall. At the University's "signing day" ceremonies, National Merit and Presidential Scholars sign letters of commitment to attend the institution.
It is estimated that the University will have more than 40 and close to 50 National Merit Scholars in August when fall semester classes begin. The figure is testament to the campus-wide effort championed five years ago by the late President Milt Glick and continued by current President Marc Johnson to attract Nevada's best students.
According to Johnson, the best students help improve the diversity and potential for accomplishment for the overall student body.
"These students, when they come to our campus, affect our learning environment in very special ways," he said. "They are bright young people who have applied themselves early in life. They're leaders, and they are motived to excel in the classroom. When they demand more of themselves, they help raise the expectations of all of the students in our classes, as well as all of our professors. That is why the reputation of the University of Nevada, Reno continues to climb."
The "signing day" approach hasn't been lost on the students. Almost all "signing days" garnered television and print media attention. In tone and in participation, they are very similar to the popular national signing day events often held for high school athletes.
"It's a ceremony for what I like to call the 'academic all-stars,'" Johnson said with a smile.
For the signing ceremony held on May 31 in the chapel at Bishop Manogue, scores of family, friends, teachers and Bishop Manogue Principal Tim Jaureguito were on hand.
"Personally, I thought the ceremony was really nice," said Presidential Scholar Corey Croasdell, a Manogue senior who plans on becoming a doctor one day. "I was a little nervous, and a few of my friends were making faces at me. Still, it was a really nice ceremony to be a part of."
Croasdell, who has already been part of a sports medicine internship class, said the "people and atmosphere" at the University helped with his decision.
"I love it there," he said, adding that the new facilities on campus are a huge selling point. "The first time I went into the Knowledge Center, I was really impressed with how student friendly it is."
Alex Arnold, a Manogue senior and Presidential Scholar who plans on majoring in mathematics at the University, said the signing ceremony was "my first television experience." He said the ceremony was a "nice bonus."
"I was already going to go the University anyway, but it was nice to be acknowledged in this way," he said.
Arnold, who one day hopes to become a college mathematics professor, said he is looking forward concentrating on theoretical mathematics while at the University. He said he's always loved math: "It's the only subject that never gave me grief."
More seriously, he said many of the personal touches that are part of the University's recruiting effort impressed him.
"It seems like a really great place," he said of the University. "(College of Science's Coordinator of Advising, Recruitment and Retention) Christina Cho is a very personable woman who's so helpful. She helped me figure out my schedule, and everybody in the college seems very nice.
"The University is a quality school and I'm glad to be going there."
Likewise for dePolo, who will be part of the University's WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) living-learning community. The program includes residence in Argenta Hall with all of the other members - more than 30 in all -of WISE.
She expects the University to be an even busier time for her, which is remarkable given her usual routine at Manogue.
DePolo was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper at Manogue, served as captain of Manogue's academic team, was a member of the swimming and water polo teams, and earned recognition as one of northern Nevada's National Merit Scholars.
"School comes easy to me," she said. Then with a good-natured nod and a smile, she added, clearly relishing the challenge, "But I expect that to change in college."