Seniors win nominations for national scholarships

By Nicki Resnikoff

Brendan Kutler ’10 received the school’s nomination for the Morehead-Cain scholarship; Hana Al-Henaid ’10 and Christine Byun ’10 received the nominations for the Jefferson scholarship, while Austin Park ’10, Ilica Mahajan ’10, Ava Kofman ’10, Jacob Witten ’10 and Al-Henaid are the school’s nominees for the Robertson scholarship.

Scholarship nominees are selected by deans, and other faculty depending on the scholarship, based completely on accomplishments, and not whether a student has shown an interest in a particular school.

“The schools don’t want us to consider what schools the students are looking at,” Dean Sharon Cuseo said. “They want to be able to educate the nominees about the school.”

The Morehead-Cain scholarship is awarded by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Jefferson scholarship is awarded by the University of Virginia, and the Robertson scholarship is awarded for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University.

Kutler was informed of his nomination by Head of Upper School Jeanne Huybrechts near the end of the last school year.

“I really didn’t know what to expect going into that meeting, and the fact that I was nominated came as a complete surprise,” Kutler said. “I literally dropped what I was carrying when I heard the news.”

The Morehead-Cain scholarship, modeled after the Rhodes Scholarship, covers tuition, books, room and board, a laptop computer, and Discovery Fund Grants.

Additionally, each summer, scholars participate in summer enrichment programs designed for scholars to receive “hands-on experience” in Outdoor Leadership, Public Service, International Research and Private Enterprise, according to the Morehead-Cain Scholarship website.

“I don’t consider myself the kind of student that usually gets these prestigious awards,” Kutler said. “There are literally hundreds of qualified students at Harvard-Westlake, so being nominated was a huge honor.”

The Morehead-Cain scholarship is awarded solely on the basis of merit. Specific characteristics which must be demonstrated to receive the award are moral force of character, scholarship, leadership, and physical vigor.

Kutler has played varsity tennis for the past three years, and led the team in doubles last year.

Although Kutler did not initially intend to apply to UNC, he researched the school after receiving the nomination and now considers UNC a definite option for college, he said.

High school seniors from across the United States, Great Britain, and Canada are eligible for the scholarship.

From the three nations, only 150 applicants make it to finals weekend, and 60 applicants remain as the newest class of Morehead-Cain scholars, according to their website.

In October, 40 to 50 of the out-of-state nominees will join about 70 North Carolina finalists to interview with the Central Selection Committee in Chapel Hill before the selection committee offers the scholarship to approximately 60 candidates.

The school’s Morehead-Cain scholarship nominee is chosen at a meeting at which deans, athletic directors, and heads of school are present.

Recent alumni winners of the Morehead-Cain scholarship include Spencer Rascoff ’93, Valerie Alter ’98, Shonu Ghandhi ’99, Philip Song ’01, Samuel Kang ’02 and Zach Goren ’03.

Last week Al-Henaid and Byun were told about their nominations by their deans Rose-Ellen Racanelli and Vanna Cairns, respectively.

“I was speechless,” Al-Henaid said. “All I could say was ‘Thank you.’ I didn’t really believe her when she first said it. I knew the Jefferson Scholarship was prestigious and extremely competitive, so I was humbled that my dean thought I could compete for it. I never really considered myself someone who would be selected as a nominee.”

“I feel honored to be the nominee from Harvard-Westlake and that the deans see in me the potential to be a Jefferson Scholar,” Byun said.

The Jefferson Scholarship has been in place since 1981 and covers tuition, room and board, fees, books, supplies and personal expenses.

Prior to finding out about her nomination, Al-Henaid had briefly looked into applying to UVA.

“I have a good friend who is currently a senior there, and we’ve spoken about how all the amazing things he’s been able to do there,” she said. “After learning even more about it, I would be happy to go there, whether or not I get the scholarship.”

Byun, on the other hand, was neither planning to apply to UVA, nor had she ever heard of the Jefferson Scholarship. In fact, she was already applying early decision to another school.

“Problem is,” she said, “since any early binding applications automatically preclude a nomination from continuing in the running for the scholarship, I’m now debating withdrawing an early decision agreement to another school in order to pursue the scholarship.”

The Jefferson scholarship, like the Morehead-Cain scholarship, is based solely on merit, and is given to candidates, who according the Jefferson Scholars Foundation’s website, have “undergone a rigorous selection process.”

Al-Henaid is an Editor-in-Chief of The Chronicle and Byun plays the flute in orchestra.

“It’s a pretty competitive scholarship,” said Byun. “Only 24 kids in the world demonstrating leadership in their communities get chosen to receive the scholarship.”

About 100 candidates who were made regional nominees are chosen in the Jefferson Scholars Selection Weekend at the UVA campus.

During this weekend, candidates attend lectures by university presidents, take exams, and have personal interviews.

After this weekend, the selection committee chooses which of the perspective scholars will actually receive the scholarship.

As of now, both of the school’s nominees are interested in pursuing the process to winning the scholarship.

 ”I’m doing supplemental applications that are specific to the scholarship now,” Al-Henaid said. “I’ve done a lot of research into it. It’s a really great opportunity and I’d be more than lucky if I was actually awarded it.”

Challenge Discovery, an outdoors weekend to promote trust and ties between scholars, a two week long Institute for Leadership and Citizenship, a five week Travel Study the summer before junior year, and an Alumni Internship Program the summer before the last year of school, are all also part of the Jefferson Scholars Program.

“The scholarship would offer me the support of a thorough enrichment program dedicated to help Jefferson Scholars grow, which is part of the reason I want to pursue this scholarship,” Byun said.

The nominees are chosen by deans. Hannah Moody ’07, won the Jefferson scholarship and is currently at UVA.

The Robertson Scholars Program was created in 2000 and provides recipients of the scholarship with funds to cover full tuition and fees at UNC or Duke, as well as up to two semesters of studying abroad and three summers.

In September, the nominees received a letter informing them about the scholarship from the Robertson Scholars Program.

The deans chose the nominees earlier because the scholarship is less-known than many other scholarships and they wanted to give nominees a longer time to learn about it.

“We’re really trying to encourage people to look at it,” Cuseo said. “It’s a really great scholarship; at UNC, not only do they cover costs, students get a living stipend. You can actually make money just by going to college.”

Mahajan, who is the captain of the school Science Bowl team, initially viewed the letter as just another piece of mail from colleges to perspective students.

“I wasn’t really sure what it was,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was a big thing, or how I should feel.”

Mahajan had been considering applying to Duke, but she is still not sure whether she will apply to the university and for the scholarship.

In addition to being nominated for the Jefferson scholarship, Al-Henaid was also nominated for the Robertson scholarship.

“I am surprised I was nominated for one, let alone two,” she said.

Robertson scholars work with a program staff member to create a portfolio that reflects on their experience at the school as well as participating in opportunities for personal development.

During the week before the fall semester begins, there is a five-day leadership retreat in Bryson City, NC to promote bonding between the incoming scholars.

Community between scholars at different schools is reinforced by monthly dinners which all scholars of the same year attend, taking cross-campus courses, and a semester long campus-switch.

The Robertson Scholars Program, is not only a merit-based scholarship, but also a “comprehensive, long-term investment in [the] scholars’ futures,” according to the program’s official website.

Although the school has never sent a student to Duke or UNC as part of the Robertson scholarship program, Sean Kesluk ’09 was named a finalist in the program last year.