Hampton grad, RIT award winner, recognizes former high school teacher
When Nicholas Wilkins was named Outstanding Student Scholar at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. this past spring, he could think of no one better than his former Hampton High School mathematics teacher to thank.
Kathleen Dickensheets, who has been teaching math at Hampton for 31 years, made quite the impression on Wilkins, who graduated HHS in 2015.
The Hampton alum will be graduating RIT in 2019 with dual Master's of Science degrees in computer science and mathematics.
But it was the recognition as an outstanding scholar student that gave him the opportunity to thank the person who helped start it all.
“She really got me into studying math and motivated me,” said Wilkins, referring to when he first took Dickensheets' class as a sophomore. “I don't think she knew she had such an impact.”
RIT's outstanding scholar designation is awarded to less than the top 1 percent of students who have completed a minimum of 83 credit hours of study and have established a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.85 out of a possible 4.0 at the university, among other criteria, according to his mother, Dr. Joanne Yeh, of Hampton.
As part of the recognition, the student is permitted to choose a former educator to recognize. Dickensheets attended the ceremony with Wilkins.
“I was incredibly humbled when he chose to nominate me to receive an award for being a teacher who had a significant impact on his life,” she said.
Wilkins said while he didn't have the most positive math experiences in previous years, it was Dickensheets who recognized his interest and worked closely with him. He also noted that she is very humble and isn't afraid to acknowledge when she might have something wrong. Along with being a “fantastic communicator,” she truly is interested in doing what's best for her students, said Wilkins, 20.
She likewise has always been impressed by Wilkins. He would come into her classroom before school to work on solving “millennium math problems and made tremendous progress even before graduating high school,” she said.
“Nick's thinking and the questions he asked gave me the opportunity to extend my personal knowledge of mathematics, as well as to help Nick with his learning,” she said, adding his knowledge and work in the subject is “especially impressive.”
Wilkins is currently doing an internship in the Philadelphia area. He's interested in work involving artificial intelligence and dynamical systems. He was also part of a team that recently won first place in a Tiger Tank competition at his school on a proposed app “ASL to Text,” a real-time application that converts American Sign Language into texting on a device.
Wilkins has also been selected by the faculty of the School of Mathematical Sciences at RIT to receive the John Wiley Jones Award for Outstanding Students in Science, according to Yeh, who also has a younger son still in the district.
“Teachers can have immense, perennial influence on students in numerous ways. When a student is profoundly benefitted by the influence a talented and committed teacher such as Kathy Dickensheets has had on Nicholas, her efforts should be acknowledged,” said Yeh, who is an educator at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.
Wilkins said he plans on getting a doctorate as well.
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.