[UTA Magazine]


Brain power surge
Scholarships combined with individualized attention attract National Merit Scholars

Some of the state’s brightest freshmen enrolled at UTA last fall, including National Merit Scholars Dave Nielsen and Kacie Landrum. And what was the University’s biggest draw for both students? Personal attention.

National Merit Scholars Kacie Landrum and Dave Nielsen have become friends since enrolling at UTA last fall. Both are members of the Honors College, which provides academic challenges as well as social opportunities.

National Merit Scholars Kacie Landrum and Dave Nielsen

“I chose UTA because they seemed most interested in me,” Nielsen said. “Everyone, especially the Honors College, really seemed interested. When my mailbox was filling up with college mailings, fairly often the letters from UTA actually had people’s names and signatures on them.”

“We want students who are bright, capable, serious. Those are the kind of students who push our faculty to be their best and who lead the way for other students.”
– Honors College Associate Dean Karl Petruso

Landrum agrees that the personal touch matters. “I had never really considered UTA until their offer of a scholarship came. And of course the school is close to home, and my parents both spent a couple of semesters here. So, now I’m here.”

The National Merit Scholarship is widely regarded as the country’s most prestigious award bestowed on graduating high school seniors. Every year more than 1.3 million juniors in 20,000 U.S. high schools enter the merit program by taking the preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship qualifying test. Only 8,000—a figure that last year included Nielsen and Landrum—actually win National Merit Scholarships.

Landrum, who scored 1480 on the SAT and graduated as salutatorian from Richardson High School, remembers the day she learned of her finalist status.

“They send the information to your school, so I was called to the office by the principal and the counselor. It scared me to death. I wondered what the principal wanted with me.”

The extended result of that interview was entirely positive. “I love it here at UTA,” she said. “College is great.”

Honors College Associate Dean Karl Petruso is thrilled with the latest additions to the University brain pool, and he has plans to attract more outstanding scholars.

Last fall, for the first time, the University held a Saturday event for students who scored well on the qualifying test. Sponsored by the Honors College, activities included presentations by current students and visits to colleges and schools across campus. More gatherings are planned.

“Then Carolyn [Barros, dean of the Honors College] dazzled them with the prospect of a $10,000-a-year scholarship should they become National Merit finalists and designate UTA as their top choice,” Dr. Petruso said.

“For these students, the real importance is finding a place that will challenge them and will also provide a good social atmosphere. The Honors College is a big part of that. It’s a small academic community within a larger community. Dr. Barros has done a terrific job of making it a special place.

“In fact, whether or not our guests are named finalists, they are outstanding students and will be great additions to the University.”

Still, more National Merit finalists like Nielsen and Landrum can only be a good thing. Once the University attracts a qualifying number of finalists (six students, two years in a row; four, three years in a row; or three, four years in a row), the school will qualify for National Merit Scholar Program funds and support—National Merit Institution status.

“Having high-achieving students here raises our visibility,” Dr. Petruso said. “We want students who are bright, capable, serious. Those are the kind of students who push our faculty to be their best and who lead the way for other students.”

Nielsen, who scored 1500 on the SAT and plans to study computer science, said his parents particularly appreciate him leading the way with his “free ride to college.” They even sent him off with a custom-built computer.

“They said if I got a decent scholarship they’d get me a computer. I built it with my dad. He thought I should know how.”

Nielsen, who graduated from Naaman Forest High School in Garland, is enjoying college so much that he’s encouraging friends to join him in Arlington.

Call it his way of passing along that same personal touch that attracted him to UTA.

– Sherry Wodraska Neaves


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