By SRIRAM SRINIVASAN, sophomore
After being invited to be a candidate in the Presidential Scholar Program, senior Dennis Aldea did not expect to be selected as a semifinalist, much less win the award itself. However, after being selected as a semifinalist in mid-April, he became more confident in his chances of winning the prestigious award. Within a month, Dennis received an email informing him that he had been selected as a Presidential Scholar.
The Presidential Scholars Program is a very selective recognition program where students can apply only by invitation. These candidates are invited based on their exceptional performance on either the SAT or the ACT. Being a student who has always done well on standardized tests, Dennis was invited to apply for this award for receiving a high score on the SAT. However, he believes that his strong academic record did not set him apart from other candidates; instead, he thinks that his experience as a volunteer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway and as a summer intern in a lab at UC San Diego contributed much more to his application than his academic success did.
The most important parts of Dennis’s high school experience were the honest advice and support of his friends, family, and JP Stevens community, which enabled him to succeed in his endeavors. Throughout his application, Dennis focused on how his cultural background and his involvement in a plant genome sequencing project run by Mr. Jones have helped him grow. At certain points during the application process, Dennis did not believe he would be selected for the award, stating, “My mental dialogue with myself was that out of the 4,000 candidates applying for the award, at least 100 had to be more qualified than I was. Because I didn’t expect to even be named as a semifinalist, winning the award was a great surprise.” Soon afterwards, Dennis received news that, after the review committee had evaluated 4,000 candidates based on their academic achievements, personal characteristics, leadership and service qualities, and essays, he had been selected as 1 of the 800 semifinalists.
In early May, Dennis was notified that he had been selected as 1 of 161 Presidential Scholars across the nation. Dennis will be traveling to Washington D.C. in June to commemorate this achievement. He commented, “I’m very excited to meet President Obama. However, besides meeting the President, I’m looking forward to visiting all of the historical monuments, since I’ve never before visited DC.” During this trip, Dennis will have the opportunity to meet with many important national and international figures, as well as forge friendships with other Presidential Scholars who are as motivated as him.
Though this experience as a whole has and will shape Dennis’s character, it hasn’t had a major impact on his college and career plans. In September, Dennis will be studying biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University followed by MD/PhD programs to begin his career as a medical researcher. Nevertheless, the Presidential Scholars program has taught Dennis that self-confidence and motivation come from talking with friends who can support him and give valuable advice at the same time. He says, “Since I was a fairly shy student in middle school, I cherish my friends much more than any award I have or will receive,” leading him to believe that his greatest success at JP has been meeting wonderful and supportive people, a success the Presidential Scholar award has taught him to treasure.