Signing smarts

Newest National Merits like the University's bottom line

5/30/2012 | By: John Trent  |

National Merit Scholars

Shay Daylami loves history, loves reading history, and soon will be creating her own history at the University of Nevada, Reno.

On Tuesday, May 29, the Wooster High School senior, in a ceremony in the Wooster Career Center, joined a group of 15 National Merit Scholars who will be enrolling in August.

The ceremony was one of several sponsored by the University and held throughout the state over the past few days. The "signing days," as they've come to be called, attract local media and give excellent students bound for the University the kind of attention normally reserved for four-star athletes.

Such special attention to talented students is paying off. During the 2011-2012 academic year, the University had 46 National Merit students on campus - a record.

And when Daylami and four Presidential Scholars from Wooster signed their names to letters of commitment to attend the University - with families, friends, school administrators and University officials on hand - it became quickly apparent why the University has increasingly become a destination school for the state's best and brightest high school students.

Daylami said even when she first received news that the dizzying process of becoming a National Merit Scholar had begun, her focus was always on attending the University.

"I always felt that I was going to go to UNR because it's in town and it's one of the best schools in the country," said Daylami, who will major in history and English and also will participate in ROTC. "I like the location, and it's just a good school.

"I don't know why I would go anywhere else."

Daylami, who will be joined at the University by Wooster classmates and Presidential Scholars Logan Falk, Victoria Larson, Caitlin Oleson and Kyla Sweeney, said her only major concern about attending the University will be the fact that she loves history so much, "I'm kind of afraid (majoring in it) might not make it as fun anymore."

That probably won't be too much of a problem, however.

The University's Department of History is known for its excellent teaching faculty, chief among them Scott Casper, a nationally renowned teacher, lecturer and researcher in American History who was in attendance on Tuesday. Casper, currently serving as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, was just like a good coach with a prize recruit following Tuesday's ceremony: He was already talking with Daylami about what to expect come this fall.

Daylami said her ultimate goal is to become a commissioned Army officer through the University's ROTC program. Ever since she came upon the term "ROTC" in a book she was reading while in seventh grade - she immediately looked it up in a dictionary - Daylami has wanted to be a part of the military.

"I was really involved in JROTC in high school," she said. "The instructors have been great. And everybody I've ever met in the military has been great. It seems like a great place to go."

Daylami said she also plans to major in English while at the University because, "I want to improve in English."

Though she is soft-spoken, humble and polite, it's hard to imagine that Daylami would have a great deal of difficulty with English - particularly given the fact that her test scores place her among the nation's top 15,000 out of more than 1.5 million National Merit entrants.

"I can string a sentence together," said Daylami with a smile, noting that her favorite books are the "Lord of the Rings" works by J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as Sherlock Holmes mysteries from Arthur Conan Doyle.

According to Wooster principal Leah Keuscher, the students honored Tuesday were all International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma candidates at the school. The IB program is a rigorous course of study designed to prepare students for a quality university education.

"And what's exciting is what these students are going to pursue," she said. "Many of these recipients are math and science majors."

Indeed, all four of the Presidential Scholars from Wooster attending the University in August will have some sort of math or science major focus: Falk (engineering and music); Larson (physics); Oleson (civil engineering); Sweeney (nutrition).

Joe Cline, the University's vice provost for undergraduate education who was also in attendance on Tuesday, noted that having such excellent incoming students "changes the way professors teach, and the way students learn."

"When we achieve a critical mass of students like these," Cline said, "things change."

Things change, and for a young person preparing to graduate from high school, things, in the short-term, anyway, can also remain the same.

Daylami said her plans this summer are what many other recent high school graduates hope to do: "This summer I plan on getting a job and reading a lot. Maybe run some, so I can get to be a faster runner (for ROTC) and get stronger."

Once she's done with the summer, however, things will, as Cline said, change.

Once she arrives on campus in late August, Daylami, and all the other National Merits in her class, will be embarking on the first steps of what should be lives of achievement and excitement.

Asked where she plans to be and what she plans on doing in 10 years, Daylami smiled.

"Ideally, I'd be in the Army with a decent amount of power ... not too much, but I'd be getting things done, doing as much as I could and I'd be seeing the world," she said.

There's no reason why that isn't an attainable goal.

After all, as Shay Daylami would attest, the University has become the place where people "don't know why" they would go anywhere else.


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

Get Nevada Today in your Inbox!