Local National Merit Scholars are Ivy League Bound

The area’s academic all-stars shared their secrets to success and future plans via Q & A .
David Cook

Scholar: David Cook

Hometown: Independence

High School: Orono High School

College: Dartmouth (Hanover, New Hampshire)

Probable Area of Study: Medicine (Chemistry major)


Q: Why did you want to go to Dartmouth? 

A: I liked the academic rigor of it. A study of Ivy League schools showed that it had the best undergraduate professors in teaching. They have a bigger focus on undergraduate instead of graduate research, and I wanted the focus to be on me while I was there studying on campus. Plus they have a ski hill on campus which was also a big draw for me. 


Q: What extracurricular activities do you hope to participate in while at college? 

A: I'd like to join a political club like the young democrats or the student government while I was there. I'll be pursuing medicine while I'm at Dartmouth and they also have a ski patrol. I really hope that I get to do that and then I can get EMT training while I'm on the ski hill. I also want to participate in some sort of intramural sports while I'm there just for the fun of it. 


Q: What was your favorite high school class at Orono High School? 

A: Can I pick two? 

I really liked my honors political science class because the teacher was able to relate what we were learning in class to the world around us. On Friday's he'd come in to class with the newspaper and read us stories and relate them to what we were learning in class. He also encouraged us to go home, watch the news and come back with our own stories the next day. 

The other is AP Chemistry. I'm planning on majoring in chemistry while I'm (at Dartmouth) and it was one of my favorite subjects, especially the labs in the classroom. 


Q: What class do you feel best prepared you for college? 

A: I think the one that helped the most was the political science class I mentioned. It was part of the College in Schools program and it was based on a (University of Minnesota) course. We were assigned 50, 60, 70 pages a week of reading and wrote a lot of extended essays. Plus we had a large assessment test and there was a lot of discussion. Since it was based upon college courses, it gave a sense of academic rigor to the class. 


Q: What will you miss most about high school? 

A: I really think I'll miss the idea of going back to school and hanging out with all my friends. I don't think you'll get that much free time in college to do that. So I'll really miss hanging out with a big group of people at school. 


Q: What enabled you to become a National Merit Scholar? 

A: I'm really good at taking tests, and I know part of that is because I'm smart. But I'm able to do stuff and take tests quickly. When it came to the essay writing portion of the test, I feel that I had been prepared really well for it because of all the admissions essays and applications I had written up. 


Scholar: Paimon PakzadPaimon Pakzad

Hometown: Wayzata

High School: The Blake School-Northrop Campus in Minneapolis

College: Princeton

Probable Career Field: Medicine

Notable Awards/Groups: Cum Laude Society, American Math Competition Participant, Best Science Fair Project Award.


Q: What are your plans after High School?

A: I’m going to Princeton. I’m heading there to study medicine to either be a medical doctor or researcher because it interests me a lot. I like math a lot and I’m seeing a narrowing of math and other science programs in the future.


Q: Why did you choose Princeton?

A: The school has a very good math program. I also feel that I would be able to mature the most out there. It would expose me to a lot of new things and I feel that I would create a more well-rounded person than other schools would, which would be a great thing.


Q: What extracurriculars do you hope to participate in during college?

A: I want to continue volunteering because I’ve been doing that for a couple of years now at North Memorial Hospital. I work as a volunteer in discharge, which essentially means I wheel people out to their cars when they check out. But now that I’m 18, I’m able to do more stuff with the patients. I especially enjoy interacting with the patients.

I also want to continue singing. I really love singing, and I want to try out for one of their groups out there. I’ve participated in Blake’s all-men’s a cappella group for a while. I know that at Princeton they participate at a really high level, but I’m going to try it though, so I’ll have to practice some more over the summer. Music for me is a great way to relax.


Q: What was your favorite high school class?

A: Research in math. I took this class just for fun. It was a new class last year and the administration wanted me to run it as a pilot since that’s what I’ve been researching since freshmen year. I liked it because it wasn’t as strict as other classes, where you learn what you need to know to pass a test and just keep going. We really got to talk in-depth into the issues of the day, find problems and discuss them. There were only six students in that class so we really got to talk about math and go deeper.


Q: What class do you think will help you most at Princeton?

A: I took AP Chemistry with Dr. Weiss. It wasn’t so much fun at the beginning, mainly because it moved faster than all my other classes and there wasn’t a lot of discussion in the classroom. It really forced us to go out and discuss with our classmates what we learned in order to understand it. It really taught me to learn and work as a team, which is really important.


Q: What will you miss about high school?

A: All of the people I’ve gotten to know in and out of school. I’ve met so many different people across all four grades and they all have a very different story that’s taught me about the world. So that will be something I will miss. But, at the same time, I’m very excited about getting a whole new spectrum of stories, and I hope to foster relationships with people who will change the course of my life in college.


Q: What do you believe enabled you to become a National Merit Scholar?

A: This is going to sound cheesy, but I feel my grandparents played a really big role in my success. They’re first generation immigrants and they really emphasize to all of us that we should do our best in everything. They always say that if you do spend time and put a lot of effort into something, that you’ll succeed. With their encouragement, I spent some time studying this summer and I always strive to go for what I can.


Scholar: Sahiba Singh

Hometown: Plymouth

High School: Wayzata High School

College: Princeton

Probable Career Field: Academia

Notable Awards: Competition Awards, Local Scholarship


Q: What are your plans after high school?

A: Attending college at Princeton University.


Q: Why did you choose Princeton?

A: I got in and I liked the attitude of the school towards academics.


Q: What area of study will you pursue in college? Why?

A: Probably psychology, perhaps some mix of it with economics or public policy. This is because I’m interested in cognitive biases—how and why we make certain mistakes—and their application to these fields.


Q: Do you know of any extracurricular activities you’d like to participate in while at college?

A: I think I’ll try out for the Bhangra team. I’ve done Bhangra (Punjabi folk dancing) in my Punjabi community, and I really enjoyed it. I’m also extremely interested in learning Mandarin, so I might do some cultural Chinese things.


Q: What was your favorite high school class?

A: It’s difficult to pick just one class, but I greatly enjoyed AP Chemistry, Psychology, AP European History, and AP Language and Composition.


Q: What will you miss most about high school and why?

A: The people. The most enjoyable thing about high school is undoubtedly the friends you make.


Q: What do you feel played the biggest part in your becoming a National Merit Scholar?

A: Doing well academically.


For more information on the National Merit Scholarship program and students, go to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation website.