McDermott Scholars Program Marks 20th Anniversary with Newest Class
18 Scholars Join UT Dallas, Hoping To Expand Impact of McDermott's Vision

As gifted as she is on her own merit, Sydney Sherman BS’19 credits the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program as an invaluable boon to her academic career at The University of Texas at Dallas and beyond.

“The McDermott program connected me with resources that allowed me to pursue academic goals and learning experiences that would have otherwise been out of reach,” said Sherman, who is now pursuing a PhD in medical engineering and medical physics at the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology.

Sherman, a National Merit Scholar who earned a biomedical engineering degree at UT Dallas, has received multiple prestigious scholarships — including an award from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the University’s first 1897 Fellow of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

That kind of recognition for both Sherman and UT Dallas is what the late Margaret McDermott envisioned when she provided a $32 million gift to launch the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program, which is marking its 20th anniversary this year.

McDermott Scholars 20th Anniversary

Class of 2001: Where Are They Now?

About McDermott Scholars

“We are so proud of what the scholars accomplish through their engagement — during and after college — in the University community and the world beyond UT Dallas. As they learn, lead and serve, the scholars powerfully extend the impact of Gene and Margaret’s vision,” said Reena Schellenberg, director of McDermott Student Programs.

McDermott was the wife of Eugene McDermott, one of the co-founders of Texas Instruments Inc. (TI), whose family had an established legacy of impacting education and the arts. Eugene McDermott and two TI co-founders, Cecil Green and J. Erik Jonsson, founded the research institution that became UT Dallas in 1969.

The McDermott Scholars Program provides students with UT Dallas’ rigorous and personalized education along with a four-year program of intensive extracurricular activities. Scholars have access to thousands of hours of leadership training, cultural enrichment and opportunities designed to equip them with the skills, experience and confidence to succeed as leaders in society’s many dimensions.

“We are so proud of what the scholars accomplish through their engagement — during and after college — in the University community and the world beyond UT Dallas. As they learn, lead and serve, the scholars powerfully extend the impact of Gene and Margaret’s vision.”

Reena Schellenberg, director of McDermott Student Programs at UT Dallas

The 2020 class is made up of 18 scholars — 16 of them recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation — with a collective average two-part SAT score of 1550. As with other University programs, McDermott Scholars programming, including cultural outings and leadership development excursions, will be online this year while COVID-19 restrictions are in place. The members of the 2020 class are:


Amulya Bhaskara

Paradise Valley High School, Phoenix

Amulya Bhaskara is a National Merit Scholar and a National AP Scholar. She enjoys volunteering at her local hospital and science museum. Bhaskara served as president of her school’s chapter of HOSA-Future Health Professionals and founded her high school’s chapter of Bring Change to Mind to raise awareness for mental illness. She also worked with the Arizona Board of Education and the local school board to promote mental health education. Bhaskara has interned at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University under Dr. Arvind Varsani, studying the transmission of plant viruses. She plays the guitar and piano, sings, and is conversational in Kannada. Bhaskara plans to study neuroscience as a pre-med student.

Thomas Pham

BASIS Tucson North, Tucson

Thomas Pham is a National Merit Scholar and a National AP Scholar. For the past four years, he has volunteered at his church as a teaching assistant for Vietnamese and catechism classes. He tutored students in economics and volunteered through his school’s chapter of the National Honor Society. Pham also was a member of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance and volleyball program, serving as a student manager for the women’s team and playing for the men’s team since his sophomore year. He has been dancing since eighth grade and was a captain for both his school’s dance team and Dia Clones, a hip-hop/urban dance crew at the University of Arizona. Pham is conversational in French and Vietnamese, and plans to major in healthcare studies.


Alejandro Barros

Heritage High School, Brentwood

Alejandro Barros is a National Merit Scholar, a National Hispanic Scholar and an AP Scholar with Honor. He volunteered at the Commons at Dallas Ranch Senior Homes and led some fundraising efforts of Shepherd’s Gate, a shelter for women and children. Barros was president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and parliamentarian in his chapter of HOSA-Future Health Professionals. He won multiple recognitions at the Lions Club student speakers contest. Barros also won a summer scholarship to study medical microbiology at Emory University, and he recently completed an internship with John Muir Health. Barros participated in cross country, track and field, and swimming. He is fluent in English and Spanish, and conversational in French. Barros will study biochemistry.

Isabella Palazuelos

Fillmore Senior High School, Fillmore

Valedictorian Isabella Palazuelos is a National Merit Scholar, a National Hispanic Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction. She volunteered with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County, the Fillmore High School Interact Club, the Fillmore Parks and Recreation Commission, and the Fillmore Library. Palazuelos was captain of her high school volleyball, water polo, swim, academic decathlon and mock trial teams. She played the alto and soprano saxophones for the marching, concert and jazz bands, and was the saxophone section leader. Palazuelos also held positions in various clubs, including MEChA, Early Academic Outreach Program, Band Club and Chess Club. Palazuelos is fluent in English and Spanish. She will study cognitive science.

Ann Elaine Rogers

Archbishop Mitty High School, San Jose

Ann Elaine Rogers is an AP Scholar. She volunteered with her church on a housing project initiative that constructs homes in Tijuana, Mexico, for the underprivileged. Rogers was captain of both her high school and club soccer teams, and she also participated in track and field. She interned at NASA Ames Research Center Aeromechanics and was president of her school’s computer science club. She participated in Model UN and worked part time at a local restaurant. She was also a recognized award recipient by the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Rogers is proficient in Spanish and will study computer science.


Angela Li

Peak to Peak Charter School, Lafayette

Angela Li, a National AP Scholar, is the founder and president of the Political Science Club, president of the Asian Student Union and vice president of the Science National Honor Society. She was captain of the state championship-winning cross country team as well as the speech and debate team. Li also tutored in her local community. She conducted research on molecular structure and physical property prediction at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and on collagen’s role in melanoma invasiveness at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is fluent in Chinese and conversational in Spanish. She will study biomedical engineering.


Tori Moore

The Kings Academy, West Palm Beach

Tori Moore is a valedictorian, a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar. She volunteered with Urban Youth Impact, her church, the Wellington Wolves Tutoring Program and her school. Moore played varsity soccer, and was a member of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and the Science National Honor Society. Moore was treasurer of her school’s Spanish National Honor Society, president and founder of the National Technical Honor Society, and president of the STEM Club. She also served on the school’s Prefect Council as the academic prefect, coordinating the tutoring programs on campus. Moore plays the violin and the ukulele, and has studied Spanish and Latin. She plans to study biomedical engineering.


Nigel Gray

Okemos High School, Okemos

Nigel Gray is a National Merit Finalist and an AP Scholar with Distinction. He volunteered at his church, through a 4-H club and for a congressional campaign, and hosted exchange students. Gray sang in school and community choirs, acted in plays and musicals, and danced with the Greater Lansing Ballet Company. He was World Language Club president and co-founded the Chess Club at his high school. Gray studied Russian in Kirov, Russia, through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program offered by the U.S. State Department. He studied both Spanish and Greek for five years. Gray plans to major in finance.

Nithya Jaisankar

Troy Athens High School, Troy

Nithya Jaisankar is a National Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction. She volunteered with the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, the Detroit Education Society and as a student ambassador for the American Cancer Society. She also volunteered as the assistant coach of a middle school Science Olympiad team in her community and was president of her high school team. Jaisankar was president of her school’s chapter of She’s the First, a nonprofit that fights against gender inequality through education, and co-captain of the tennis team. She was also a member of the National Honor Society and Hospital Heroes, which made over 100 cards and blankets to donate to a local hospital. She has been learning Indian classical dance, and speaks French and Tamil. Jaisankar is entering as an undeclared freshman.


Tyler Burkhardt

Davidson Academy, Reno

Tyler Burkhardt is a National Merit Scholar, a Coolidge Senator and AP Scholar with Distinction. He volunteered with the Community Foundation of Western Nevada and taught a military history class at his high school. Burkhardt presided over his school’s World Affairs and Science Bowl clubs, served as head delegate for the Model UN team, captained the Public Forum debate team, and was a Science Bowl and DECA state champion. He is considering studying some combination of mathematics, physics, political science and history.


Shreya Chauk

Uplift North Hills Preparatory, Irving

Valedictorian Shreya Chauk is a National Merit Finalist, National AP Scholar and International Baccalaureate graduate. She has volunteered at her local temple as a yoga instructor and served as a youth volunteer for the Cultural Association of Bridges. Chauk founded a Bollywood dance school at the age of 14 and continues to teach dance. In addition to tutoring young children at a Mathnasium learning center, she was president of the Mu Alpha Theta honor society, Spanish Honor Society and Hindu Student Organization. A National Honor Society member, Chauk tutored peers weekly at her school and holds a brown belt in karate. She is fluent in Hindi and conversational in Spanish. She plans to study computer science.

Kara Curtis

Gunter High School, Gunter

Valedictorian Kara Curtis is a National Merit Commended Student and a Gold Award Girl Scout. She volunteered with AFS Intercultural Programs performing community service in Panama, worked with various dog rescue organizations and started a nonprofit called Opera Teens. Curtis was in the Texas Music Educators Association’s All-State Choir, captain of the varsity golf team, founded and led several academic University Interscholastic League teams, and worked with Spanish-speaking English as a Second Language students. She was also the historian of her school’s chapter of HOSA-Future Health Professionals and is training to become a licensed pharmacy technician. Curtis is proficient in Spanish and plans to study international political economy.

Anisha Holla

Centennial High School, Frisco

Valedictorian Anisha Holla is a National Merit Scholar, a National AP Scholar and a Coca-Cola Scholar. She is a volunteer piano teacher for underprivileged children, a peer tutor in her high school, and she started an initiative to teach students ways to combat stress. Holla was a member of the DECA and HOSA-Future Health Professionals chapters, through which she developed a mobile application to address substance use disorders. She was founder and president of the Key Club chapter and plays piano, flute and guitar. Holla is fluent in Spanish, Hindi and Kannada, and conversational in Mandarin. She plans to study neuroscience and pursue a career in neurosurgery.  

Michael Ji

Klein High School, Klein

Valedictorian Michael Ji is a National Merit Commended Scholar and a National AP Scholar. He has volunteered as a math tutor at his local middle school and as a residential counselor at the University of Houston summer business institute. Ji is founder of Laboratory Activities Based in STEM, a club that hosts hands-on science demonstrations and creates visual media for science outreach. He also served as president of his school’s Science National Honor Society and vice president of Bearkat Mentors. Ji is a two-time recipient of the Honors award in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad and has conducted research on organic thin films and fluorescent metal complexes. He is conversational in Mandarin and will study biochemistry.

Sana Khan

Westwood High School, Austin

Sana Khan is a National AP Scholar, a National Merit Commended Scholar and a member of the National Honor Society. She volunteered at an Alzheimer’s care facility and was involved with researching music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. Khan also served as a volunteer in the cardiology department at St. David’s Medical Center. She was president of her school’s chapter of HOSA-Future Health Professionals and won first place at the International HOSA Leadership Conference. Khan was also a Health Science Academy ambassador and an officer for Outreach, a community service organization. She is fluent in Urdu and Pashto, conversational in Spanish, and can read and write Arabic. Khan plans to major in biology as a pre-med student.

Jeffrey Vancil

John B. Connally High School, Austin

Jeffrey Vancil is an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Commended Scholar, an AP Capstone Diploma recipient and a National Hispanic Scholar. He completed 24 AP/Honors classes. Vancil interned at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and was committee chair of the Austin Youth Council. He has volunteered with the Texas Military Forces Museum, Senior Access and Rotary Club. Vancil also lobbied Congress as a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby to promote House bill HR 763. He founded his school’s chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, was secretary of Student Democratic Alliance, served on the Wells Branch Library council, was a student class representative, and was an officer of the robotics team and Rotary Club. Vancil enjoys playing guitar and weightlifting. He speaks basic Spanish and Russian, and plans to study public policy.


Lexis Khetsavanh

Centennial High School, Franklin

Valedictorian Lexis Khetsavanh is a National Merit Scholar, a National AP Scholar and a Presidential Scholar semifinalist. She volunteered as a guest ambassador at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and received the Governor’s Volunteer Star Award for her work as an elementary school tutor. Khetsavanh was a member of three honors societies, vice president of Habitat for Humanity and Science Olympiad, and president of Interact. She also founded RICE, a club that promotes cultural appreciation through food. Khetsavanh plays tennis and received the “most passionate player” award. She attended the Tennessee Governor’s School for Integrating Statistical and Biological Sciences and was elected her city’s mayor at Volunteer Girls State. Khetsavanh is conversational in French and understands some Lao. She is entering undeclared and plans to pursue pre-med.


Olivia DiAcetis

Cedarcrest High School, Duvall

Valedictorian Olivia DiAcetis is an AP Scholar and a National Merit Commended Scholar. She has volunteered with a middle school FIRST Robotics team, Girl Scouts and the local art center. DiAcetis plays clarinet, tenor saxophone and other woodwind instruments. She has played in state and regional honor ensembles, and conducted her high school marching band. DiAcetis was president of her school’s Tri-M Music Honor Society chapter, secretary of the environmental club and a member of National Honor Society, International Thespian Society and Science Olympiad. She placed first at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair and earned the Walton Sustainability Solutions Award. DiAcetis plans to enter undeclared with intentions to pursue mathematics and related fields.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].