Swati Sureka might never have pursued science were it not for the influence of Jessica Justice, her high school chemistry teacher. Robert Sherman, an English teacher at Communications High School in New Jersey, “was the first teacher to show me how to really read literature,” said Kathleen Cruz. As a high school student in Los Angeles, Benjamin Dreier had “barely heard of” computer science before taking an advanced placement course taught by Jacob Hazard.
"From the first class, Mr. Hazard’s enthusiasm and clarity made me feel confident in my studies,” Dreier said.
Sureka, Cruz and Dreier are among 35 seniors named Class of 2015 Merrill Presidential Scholars. Highlighting the importance of teacher-mentors in the lives of students, the Merrill Presidential Scholars Program allows each student to recognize one high school teacher and one Cornell faculty member who has influenced them.
Merrill Scholars’ high school teachers and Cornell faculty members were recognized by President David Skorton and the college deans at a luncheon and ceremony at Willard Straight Hall May 20.
The late Philip Merrill ’55 created the two-day program in 1988, which has continued with the support of Merrill’s widow, Eleanor Merrill, and their three children, Douglas Merrill ’89, Catherine Merrill Williams ’91 and Nancy Merrill ’96.
The day also included announcement of Cornell’s STAR (Special Teachers are Recognized) Scholarships, which honor high school teachers who have contributed to the success of the Merrill Scholars. The one-time scholarships named in honor of the teachers will be awarded to Cornell students with financial need from the scholar’s high school or hometown. The late Donald Berens ’47 and his wife, Margaret Berens ’47, conceived of and sponsored the program starting in 1989.
Ranking among the top 1 percent of the Class of 2015, Merrill Scholars are chosen not only for their scholastic accomplishments but also their “remarkable intellectual drive, energetic leadership abilities and a propensity to contribute to the betterment of society.”
The May 20 event in Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room included remarks by Skorton and Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy, as well as introductions by the deans of each college. The students stood up one at a time, introducing their high school and Cornell mentors, and spoke briefly on the role each played in their academic careers. These influences were further detailed by essays in the event’s printed program.
Thalia Aoki said of Ludmilla Aristilde, assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering: “As a nervous sophomore, I knew nothing about soil chemistry and was scared to admit what I didn’t know. Under [Aristilde’s] guidance, I learned to ask questions and seek out answers. In striving to meet her expectations, I became a proactive, dedicated worker who could shape a story about my research. Through her example, Professor Aristilde showed me that I can succeed as a woman of color in engineering. Her mentorship gave me the skills to do so.”
Aspiring climate scientist Aaron Match recalled one Halloween when he and fellow atmospheric sciences classmates knocked on the door of Gang Chen, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences. “He and his wife welcomed us into their home to a bounty of oranges, maple cookies and aloe vera juice. Professor Chen is generous in myriad ways, and as my academic and research adviser, he guided me through seven semesters of research, two courses in geophysical fluid dynamics and virtual reams of MATLAB.”
Among this year’s Merrill Scholars, two, Aoki and Sang Min Han, are graduates of Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia.
Also this year, Gerald Feigenson, professor of molecular biology and genetics, was honored by two Merrill Scholars, Eve Bishop and Mary Ferranti. Charles Williamson, the Willis H. Carrier Professor of Engineering, was honored by a Merrill Scholar for the 16th time, this year by Ankith Harathi. Rosemary Avery, professor of policy analysis and management, was honored for the 14th time, this year by Maxwell Kellogg.
Among the high school teachers was Elizabeth Cissi ‘82, honored by her former student Aaron Wallace, of New Hartford Senior High School near Utica, New York.
The 2015 Merrill Presidential Scholars are listed below by college and hometown, followed by the names of the secondary school teachers and Cornell faculty members they selected.
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
- Kelly DeStefano of Annapolis, Maryland, honoring Richard Zmuda of Severn School and Jeff Niederdeppe of the Department of Communication.
- Mary Ferranti of Camillus, New York, honoring Kevin Misiano of West Genesee Senior High School and Gerald Feigenson of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics.
- Jordan Marzouk of Great Neck, New York, honoring Leonie Rubin of Great Neck South High School and Cindy van Es of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
- Aaron Match of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, honoring Mandy Cheskis of 21st Century Cyber Charter School and Gang Chen of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
- Michael Mongelli of Garden City, New York, honoring Lea Brunetti of Garden City High School and Nancy Lorr of the Department of Biomedical Sciences.
- Donald Muir of Winchester, Massachusetts, honoring Judith Hession of Winchester High School and Richard Geddes of the College of Human Ecology Program of Infrastructure Policy.
- Joice Pranata of Permata Hijau, Jakarta, Indonesia, honoring David Phippen of Shoreline Community College and David Barbano of the Department of Food Science.
- Steven Tsai of North Bellmore, New York, honoring William Leacock of Wellington C. Mepham High School and Dan Luo of the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering.
- Tao Wu of Minneapolis, Minnesota, honoring Martha Rush of Mounds View High School and Edith Liu of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
College of Architecture, Art and Planning.
- Danni Shen of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, honoring Rachel Michaud of East Lyme High School and Michael Ashkin of the Department of Art
College of Arts and Sciences
- Eve Bishop of Andover, Massachusetts, honoring Eva Holm-Andersen of Andover High School and Gerald Feigenson of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics.
- Daniel Brenner of Montville, New Jersey, honoring Mary Gormley of Montville Township High School and Derk Pereboom of the Department of Philosophy.
- Kathleen Cruz of Middletown, New Jersey, honoring Robert Sherman of Communications High School and Frederick Ahl of the Department of Classics.
- Nathan Floro of Canal Fulton, Ohio, honoring Laura Taucher of Northwest High School and Abby Cohn of the Department of Linguistics.
- Devon McMahon of New York, New York, honoring Dominique Padurano of Horace Mann High School and Kathryn March of the Department of Anthropology.
- Thomas Schultz of Mora, Minnesota, honoring Julia Blenkush of Mora High School and Elke Siegel of the Department of German
- Alessandra Shuster of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, honoring Christoph Stutts of Carrboro High School and Ernesto Bassi of the Department of History
- Swati Sureka of Jacksonville, Florida, honoring Jessica Justice of Stanton College Preparatory School and David Zax of the Department of Chemistry
- Artem Talanov of Ellicott City, Maryland honoring Chris Omasits of North Allegheny High School and John Reppy of the Department of Physics
- Aaron Wallace of Utica, New York, honoring Elizabeth Cissi ’82 of New Hartford Senior High School and Andrew Yen of the Department of Biomedical Sciences
College of Engineering
- Thalia Aoki of McLean, Virginia, honoring Aaron Sacks of Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology and Ludmilla Aristilde of the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering
- Eric Ching of Edison, New Jersey, honoring Laura Unger of John P. Stevens High School and C. Thomas Avedisian of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
- Benjamin Dreier of Los Angeles, California, honoring Jacob Hazard of Harvard-Westlake School and Rupert Spies of the School of Hotel Administration
- Sang Min Han of Fairfax, Virginia honoring Dennis McFaden of Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology and Bruce Land of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Ankith Harathi of Portland, Oregon, honoring Paul Hogan of Jesuit High School and Charles Williamson of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
- Li Wang of Haining, Zhejiang, China, honoring Huiping Xie of Hangzhou Foreign Language School and Peter Frazier of the Department of Operations Research and Information Engineering
- Alexa Wnorowski of Manasquan, New Jersey, honoring Julie Nowicki of Biotechnology High School and Jonathan Butcher of the Department of Biomedical Engineering
School of Hotel Administration
- Brittney Ackerman of New Milford, New Jersey, honoring Alfred Noto of Bergen County Academy of Business and Finance and Jan Katz of the Department of Management and Organizational Behavior
- Alexander Fulmer of New York, New York, honoring William Fisher of The Dalton School and Helen Chun of the Department of Services Marketing
College of Human Ecology
- Jeanie Gribben of North Woodmere, New York, honoring Patricia Nardi of G.W. Hewlett High School and Charles Brainerd of the Department of Human Development
- Maxwell Kellogg of Cocoa Beach, Florida, honoring Georgann Savage of Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High School and Rosemary Avery of the Department of Policy Analysis and Management
- Stephen Marcott of New York, New York, honoring Ross Lipsky of Valley Stream South High School and Sam Beck of the Department of Human Development and the New York City Urban Semester Program
- Rachel Harmon of Champaign, Illinois, honoring Bill Sutton of University Laboratory High School and Ronald Applegate of the Department of Labor Relations, Law and History
- Andrew Stawasz of Corning, New York, honoring Eric Griffin of Corning-Painted Post High School and Lee Adler of the Department of Labor Relations, Law and History
- Jessica Stewart of Ithaca, New York, honoring Mary Katzenstein of the Department of Government and American Studies and Louis Hyman of the Department of Labor Relations, Law and History