I have a prize student. Some insane luck brought us together. I got assigned to teach a class no one else wanted to teach and decided to make the best of it. He happened to be in the class that first semester when I didn’t know what on earth it was I should be doing. Since I didn’t know what I should have them do, I threatened to make them do two final projects unless they came up with one of their own. I didn’t need threats on this one, to be honest, he had an idea for me. I remember looking at his project proposal, with the professional looking diagrams, and thinking, “Oh my gosh, look at this.”

Thus began a great run for both of us. I thought his work was pretty cool, so I asked him to submit it to the local journal of undergraduate research. He got that published. He made a video for my class that blew my mind, so I had him enter that in another contest. Won that one too.

I saw an advertisement for the undergraduate thesis program. He seemed interested in doing more with his project, so I asked him to apply. He did. Got in. Wrote an undergraduate thesis, and was named runner up for outstanding STEM thesis. He got the nomination for the Goldwater Scholarship and picked that up ($7500!) He went to MathFest this past summer, and walked away with another $150 award.

Now, my student is amazing, but the #1 reason he’s won all this stuff is that he’s had things he wanted to do, and when he was encouraged to apply for things he went out and did it, bringing all of his diligence and conscientiousness into play.

My job has been to stand behind him and cheer, see the opportunities, and apply the professorial push when needed.

He’s the nominee for the Marshall Scholarship, which is one of the 2 year fellowships to do graduate study in the UK. I was proud of that. Today I found out he’s also going to be the nominee for the Churchill Scholarship, which is similar to the Marshall, and maybe slightly better known. Why? Because the original nominee wasn’t working on the application materials, and he was.

So, lesson: Apply. And when you apply, be conscientious about it. Do the work in front of you. I don’t know if he’ll win either scholarship, but in my mind, he just improved his odds. And by doing nothing more than keeping on top of the things he needed to do.

I hope he knows how proud of him I am. Watching all this evolve is more than I ever thought I’d get to see as a teacher. I’m going to miss him when he graduates. What a ride, what a ride! these last 2 years have been.

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