When Carisa (Triola) Steinberg ’97 was growing up, no one in her family had attended college. They didn’t expect her to, either. Her grandfather had college funds only for the boys in the family.
She applied to Cornell anyway and was accepted – with full funding.
“I cannot thank this institution enough for being need-blind,” she said. “If Cornell hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have been able to be a teacher. … There’s an infinite amount of gratitude I have for what they did for me.”
Now a biology teacher at Syosset High School on Long Island, Steinberg passed on her love of learning to her student Samantha Falchook ’18, who nominated Steinberg as her most influential high school teacher.
For their inspirational teaching, Steinberg and 31 other high school teachers and 32 Cornell faculty members were recognized May 23 at the 30th annual Merrill Presidential Scholars Convocation luncheon in Willard Straight Hall. Thirty-two Cornell seniors in the top 1 percent of their class, also honored at the event, each nominated a high school teacher and a faculty member who most inspired them as students and scholars.
Falchook, of Woodbury, New York, took Steinberg’s advanced placement biology class as a high school senior. “It was a very rigorous course, and that’s where I really developed my passion for learning,” Falchook said. “She created such a welcoming environment, where I felt I could participate and ask questions. That really made the difference.”
Since 1988, each group of Merrill scholars have been selected by their college deans for their intellectual drive, leadership abilities and potential to contribute to society.
Travis Cabbell ’18 of Chestnut Ridge, New York, honored his high school English literature teacher, Morose Leonard, who was unable to attend due to an injury. As Cabbell was applying to colleges, Leonard told him to avoid comparing himself to others. Rather, he said, the only person you can compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday; if you are better than that person, that’s called self-improvement.
“That’s a motto that I’ve used to carry myself, from applying to college to getting through Cornell as an institution,” Cabbell said. “He meant, if you’re looking at other people and what they’re doing and not focusing on your dreams and your desires … that’s what will lead to failure, because you’re not doing it for yourself.”
Each year before Commencement Weekend, nominated high school teachers are invited to Cornell, all expenses paid, for two days of events as guests of the university, culminating in the luncheon, where they are joined by the Cornell faculty members also chosen by the seniors. The program was created by the late Philip Merrill ’55 and is supported by the Merrill Family Foundation. This year, 28 teachers attended, traveling from 12 states and Singapore, the Netherlands, India and Canada.
Komal Sood traveled from New Delhi, India, where she is principal of the high school attended by Karun Singh ’18. Singh said Sood’s door was always open to students who had questions and suggestions; his often involved technology. “It was her open door that helped me find my passion for problem-solving using technology,” said Singh, who co-led the Cornell Design and Tech Initiative, which creates technology to solve problems on and around campus.
Ilana Kotliar ’18 of Brooklyn, New York, honored her high school chemistry teacher, Susan Katzoff. “She would always break down chemistry into ‘Chem Is Try,’” Kotliar said. “The idea was to throw your hat in the ring and go for it. That idea of trying and putting in the work to learn has really stuck with me.”
The scholars and their honored educators were recognized by Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and were introduced by the deans of the undergraduate colleges and schools.
“You can take pride in having influenced some of Cornell’s top graduating seniors – and in knowing that they continue to appreciate all you did for them,” Kotlikoff said. “… On behalf of the university, I want to thank all the secondary and university teachers here today, for your dedication to bringing out the very best in our students. Congratulations on being extraordinary teachers.”
Doug Merrill ’89, MBA ’91, the son of Philip and Eleanor Merrill, also thanked the educators for their hard work. “Listening to what these students have accomplished is staggering. You make a difference in their lives, and you make a difference in the world,” he said.
Highlights of this year’s event included two students who were chosen from the same high school, in Edina, Minnesota: Cara Sierks and Ken Shimizu. Rosemary Avery, professor of policy analysis and management, has been honored for the 16th time; Charles Williamson, the Willis H. Carrier Professor of Engineering, has been honored for the 18th time.
To further honor the high school teachers chosen by the Merrill Presidential Scholars, the Special Teachers Are Recognized (STAR) Scholarship was established in 1989 by the late Don Berens ’47 and his wife, Margi Berens ’47, and is supported through additional gifts from alumni and friends. These one-time, $4,000 scholarships are awarded in the teachers’ names to incoming Cornell freshmen or current students with financial need from the teacher’s high school or geographic area.
The 2017 Merrill Presidential Scholars are listed below by college and hometown, followed by the names of the secondary school teachers and Cornell faculty members the scholars selected.
College of Agriculture and Life Science
- Allison Bichoupan, Roslyn, New York; Alejandro Elena, Roslyn High School; Jerrie Gavalchin, Department of Animal Science.
- Samuel Chauvin, Painted Post, New York; Ray Lawson, Corning-Painted Post High School; Jim Blankenship, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics.
- Danielle Clark, Fayetteville, New York; Paul Muench, Fayetteville Manlius High School; Poppy McLeod, Department of Communication.
- Kathleen Donnelly Moran, Reading, Massachusetts; Karina Baum, Buckingham Browne & Nichols School; Sarah Giroux, Department of Development Sociology.
- Nicolas Glynos, Kansas City, Montana; Mirabai McCarthy, Flathead Valley Community College; Karl Niklas, School of Integrative Plant Science.
- Martha Ormanoski, Pittsford, New York; Richard Hendrick, Our Lady of Mercy High School; Mark Sarvary, Investigative Biology Teaching Laboratories.
- Danielle Rutkowski, Scranton, Pennsylvania; Christopher Evans, West Scranton High School; Jennifer Thaler, Department of Entomology.
College of Architecture, Art and Planning
- Justin Foo, Rivershire, Singapore; Chia Wei Hou, Raffles Institution; Andrea Simitch, Department of Architecture.
College of Arts and Sciences
- Christopher Chang, Richmond Hill, Ontario; Sandeep Sanghera, University of Toronto Schools; Sara Pritchard, Department of Science and Technology Studies.
- Ming Zhe Choong, Singapore; Hui Chun Loy, Hwa Chong Institution; Anna Haskins, Department of Sociology.
- Emily Jones, Basking Ridge, New Jersey; Jennifer Raphaels, Ridge High School; Katherine Kinzler, Department of Psychology.
- Ilana Kotliar, Brooklyn, New York; Susan Katzoff, Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences; Thomas Ruttledge, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
- Harris Liou, Rowland Heights, California; Jerry Knox, Walnut High School; Eloy Rodriguez, Department of Plant Biology.
- Salma Shitia, Prospect, Connecticut; Loren Luddy, Woodland Regional High School; Ross Brann, Department of Near Eastern Studies.
- Caroline Sierks, Edina, Minnesota; Daniel Baron, Edina High School; Suzanne Mettler, Department of Government.
- Solveig van der Vegt, the Netherlands; Fleur Zijp, Utrechts Stedelijk Gymnasium; Stephen Ellner, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
- Robin Wang, Oak Park, Illinois; Kristen Finkbeiner, Oak Park and River Forest High School; Sean Nicholson, Department of Policy Analysis and Management.
College of Engineering
- Cristian Alonso, Miami; Iliana Gonzalez, Coral Gables Senior High; Charles Williamson, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
- Emily Lederman, Ossining, New York; Albert Reid, Yorktown High School; Hadas Kress-Gazit, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
- Ken Shimizu, Edina, Minnesota; Jodi Ramirez, Edina High School; Ken Hover, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
- Karun Singh, New Delhi, India; Komal Sood, The Shri Ram School; Robert Kleinberg, Department of Computer Science.
- Wan Qing Tan, Singapore; Kok Hwee Derek Tan, Raffles Institution; John March, Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering.
- Qiuwei Yang, Hopkinton, Massachusetts; Steven Yavarow, Hopkinton High School; Carol Edelman Warrior, Department of English.
- Xitang Zhao, Staten Island, New York; Sara Spiegel, James Madison High School; Tracey Brant, Engineering Undergraduate Programs.
School of Hotel Administration
- Christie Choy, Richmond, British Columbia; Margaret Willis, Crofton House School; Daniel Lebret, Real Estate Finance.
- Alexa Perrucci, Wood-Ridge, New Jersey; John Branda, Bergen County Academies-Academy for Culinary Arts and Hospitality Administration; Mark McCarthy, Information Systems.
College of Human Ecology
- Daniel Rosenfeld, Great Neck, New York; Tara Rosenthal, Great Neck South High School; Anthony Burrow, Department of Human Development.
- Amira Samiy, Silver Spring, Maryland; Howard Carey, The French International School, Lycee Rochambeau; Rhonda Gilmore, Department of Design and Environmental Analysis.
- Mara Schein, Baltimore, Maryland; Julie Bierman, The Park School of Baltimore; Rosemary Avery, Department of Policy Analysis and Management.
School of Industrial and Labor Relations
- Travis Cabbell, Chestnut Ridge, New York; Morose Leonard, Spring Valley High School; Risa Lieberwitz, Department of Labor Relations, Law and History.
- Samantha Falchook, Woodbury, New York; Carisa Steinberg ’97, Syosset High School; Pamela Moulton, School of Hotel Administration – Finance.
- Joshua Klein, Scarsdale, New York; Larry Brown, Scarsdale High School; Allison Weiner Heinemann, Department of Labor Relations, Law and History.
This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.