A&S Merrill scholars honor teachers

Jason Lefkovitz invited his high school history teacher, David Miles, to join him at the 28th annual Merrill Presidential Scholars Convocation luncheon.

He also invited Ronald Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics, as each of the 33 Merrill scholars was asked to bring to the event two teachers who have made a great impact on their lives, academic and otherwise. Nine of the scholars are Arts & Sciences students.

In most cases, the Merrill scholar would likely have had to introduce their high school teacher to their Cornell instructor, but not in Lefkovitz’s case. That first meeting occurred more than 30 years ago, when Miles ’84 first sat in Ehrenberg’s class in the ILR School.


“It’s a small world,” Lefkovitz said of his two influential instructors’ long-standing academic relationship. “That shows just how much of a constant Professor Ehrenberg has been in ILR. In my opinion, if you’re going to construct a Mount Rushmore of ILR teachers, he would make his way onto that edifice.”

Merrill scholars and their cherished educators were recognized by Provost Michael Kotlikoff and the deans of the university’s seven undergraduate colleges at a luncheon May 25 in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room.

“You can take pride in having influenced Cornell’s top students and knowing that they continue to appreciate all that you’ve done for them,” Kotlikoff said.

The late Philip Merrill ’55 created the program in 1988. It has continued with the support of Merrill’s widow, Eleanor Merrill, and their three children – Douglas Merrill ’89, Catherine Merrill Williams ’91 and Nancy Merrill ’96. Nancy represented the family at the event.

Making up approximately 1 percent of the Class of 2016, Merrill scholars are chosen not only for their scholastic accomplishments but also their “remarkable intellectual drive, energetic leadership abilities and a propensity to contribute to the betterment of society.”

Kotlikoff also announced Cornell’s STAR (Special Teachers Are Recognized) Scholarships, which honor the high school teachers recognized by the Merrill scholars. The one-time scholarships named in honor of the teachers will be awarded to Cornell students with financial need from the scholars’ high schools or hometowns. The late Donald Berens ’47 and his wife, Margaret Berens ’47, conceived of and sponsored the program, which started in 1989.

Of the visiting teachers chosen by the scholars, traveling the farthest was Benjamin Chan, who teaches at the Anglo-Chinese School of Singapore. He was the guest of engineering student Carolyn Soo, who came to Cornell with an interest in writing and theater.

But as Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, related to the more than 100 in attendance, she “unexpectedly discovered a passion for models, algorithms, statistics and optimization” in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering (ORIE). “That’s a natural progression,” he quipped.

“The fact that [Chan] came all the way from the other side of the world is pretty symbolic, because he’s always gone the extra mile,” Soo said. “I remember him for saying, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.’ I think everyone finds it very hard to say, ‘I don’t know,’ but he taught me not only that it’s OK to not know, but also to pursue until I did know. He always came back to me with the answers, even if it was two weeks later.”

Soo also invited Leslie Trotter, professor and associate dean for undergraduate programs in ORIE.

Catherine Fernan of Dumfries, Virginia, invited Rosemary Avery, professor and chair of the Department of Policy Analysis and Management. This year marked the 14th time Avery has been honored by a Merrill scholar. Fernan said: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in her lab since my freshman year. I remember that year, a senior in the lab said to me, ‘I owe everything to [Avery]. At that moment, it was hard for me to understand how one professor could mean that much, but now looking back, I can’t imagine Cornell without her.”


Emily Foster of Washington, D.C., is planning to pursue her master’s in education at Stanford University. Her guests included Kate Foy Cornell, her instructor for eight years at the British International School of Washington, who sparked her interest in English and education. “She was my first really inspirational English teacher,” Foster said. “Now I’m off to be an English teacher, too, and I want to be just like her.”

Foy Cornell recently married into the Cornell family; her father-in-law, John Cornell of Chicago, is a direct descendant of a cousin of university founder Ezra Cornell.

The 2016 Merrill Presidential Scholars in Arts & Sciences are listed below by college and hometown, followed by the names of the secondary school teachers and Cornell faculty members they selected.

  • Andy Alfonso of Miami; Rosany Alvarez of Miami Dade Community College; Shawn McDaniel, Department of Romance Studies.
  • Peter Csernica of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania; Angela Gockley of Lewisburg Area High School; James McKone, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
  • Isabel Feldman of New York; Bill McCartney of the Town School; Mary Katzenstein, Department of History.
  • Sarah Forcier of Cleveland Heights, Ohio; Crystal Miller of Hathaway Brown; Steve Marschner, Department of Chemistry.
  • Emily Foster of Washington, D.C.; Kate Foy Cornell of the British International School of Washington; Stuart Davis, Department of English.
  • Tianwang Lu of Shandong Province, China; Qinggui Zhang of No. 1 Middle School of Linshu; Robert Masson, Department of Economics.
  • Jessica Matalon of Maplewood, New Jersey; Emmanuel Arguelles of Columbia High School; Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Department of History.
  • Ashin Shah of Mumbai, India; Don Gardner of B.D. Somani International School; Michael Stillman, Department of Mathematics.
  • Ian Sigal of Locust Valley, New York; Peter Neiss of Phillips Academy Andover; Eric Nelson, Department of Biological Sciences

This story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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