Students earn full rides to Saint Vincent College
Ligonier Valley High School seniors Andrew Klein and Wade Rashilla plan to apply their skills in calculus in two different fields — physics and accounting, respectively.
In addition to calculus homework, the pair have something else in common. Both will attend Saint Vincent College with all four years of their tuition covered by a Wimmer Scholarship.
Called to their school's guidance office Monday morning, the Ligonier teens were greeted by their parents and by the college's dean of admission, Steve Neitz, who surprised the students with the news of their awards. Klein will receive more than $178,000, including room and board, for placing first on a written exam administered in November to 257 area high school students who vied for one of four Wimmer scholarships.
Rashilla, who placed second, will receive an award of more than $134,000 — as will Alan Lazar, a senior at Hempfield Area Senior High, and Christopher Risnear, a senior at Penn-Trafford High School.
"It was a very big surprise. I didn't anticipate it whatsoever," Klein said after learning of his top award and its importance to him and his parents, Ken and Tina. "It means that there's a lot less stress over financial concerns of college and, hopefully, that we can just sleep a little better at night knowing we're not going to worry about loans, interest rates or any of that stuff."
Rashilla, the son of Matthew and Pamela, was floored by the good news. "I was not expecting it because, taking the test, after I finished it, I was, 'Wow, that was difficult.' I'm incredibly surprised, and I'm very happy," he said.
It's the first time in the scholarship program's 37 years that two students from the same high school have won awards.
"It's really unprecedented to have both the quality of applicants from one school but also having one and two on the exam," Neitz said. "The exam is put together by the faculty of Saint Vincent. They create the exam and they score the exam, which includes essay as well as multiple choice questions."
In addition to taking the exam, students must have a minimum 3.5 grade point average and 1080 SAT score to be considered for a Wimmer award. The scholarship, which recognizes high school students with outstanding academic abilities, is named for Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, who founded the Unity campus in 1846 as the first Benedictine college in the United States.
The Kleins expressed pride in their son's accomplishments. "He's done so well and worked so hard," his father said. "I've told him his whole life that I'll be proud of him so long as he's kind to others, and he's so far surpassed all of our expectations."
Planning to major in physics at Saint Vincent, Andrew Klein has focused his high school studies on that subject. He is a member of the Science Club, maintains a presence on the school Honor Roll and tutors fellow students.
"I'm taking all the physics classes available at the high school, in addition to calculus," he said. ""I'm trying to keep my course load under control but still challenge myself a little bit. I keep up with my math and take chemistry."
He wouldn't mind working for NASA someday, and that doesn't surprise his mother. "Since he was the age of 2, he was always interested in the planets," she said. "He could name all the planets in the solar system. Whatever he does, I know he'll do it with passion."
Rashilla has taken many business courses at Ligonier Valley, as well as calculus and accounting. "I fell in love with accounting, so that's why I'm hoping to major in accounting," he said. "I hope to become eventually, after many years, a partner at one of the large accounting firms."
His mother also was an accounting major at Saint Vincent, graduating in 1989, and worked in the field before switching her focus to raising a family. "I guess I can say that my son is following in my footsteps to some degree, except for the fact I was a stay-at-home mom for the last 20 years," she said.
"He has worked very hard all his life with academics. We're really proud of him," his father said.
Rashilla finished in first place in a recent regional Future Business Leaders of America accounting competition, qualifying for a state competition. He also won an American Legion essay contest.
A member of the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society, he is a semifinalist in the National Merit Scholarship Competition, with finalists to be revealed this spring.
He is a member of his school's math and varsity track teams and is co-captain of the varsity basketball squad, having earned an all-conference academic selection in the latter sport.
Lazar, the son of Alan and Sheri, of Greensburg, also received a four-year, full-tuition scholarship valued at over $134,000.
The Hempfield Area High School senior said he's "more relieved than surprised" at receiving the award, given that he typically does not start his day with a trip to the principal's office.
He is a National Merit Scholarship Program Commended Student and plays the trumpet in several Hempfield Area music groups, such as the band. Lazar was also a member of the tennis and cross country teams and has participated on the speech and debate team, as well as the Department of Energy Science Bowl Team.
Lazar is interested in majoring in philosophy and politics but counts math and STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — among his favorite subjects.
"Whatever he decides to do, he's going to be really great at it," said Principal Kathleen Charlton, describing Lazar as a brilliant student and a quick learner who is enthusiastic about anything he pursues.
"He's a natural sponge. He just soaks up knowledge," Charlton said.
Risnear, 18, of Penn Township, represented Penn-Trafford in the scholarship competition.
"Hopefully, this helps with your college decision," said Neitz.
"It does," Risnear said, flashing a big smile.
Flanked by his parents, Steve and Lynda Risnear, the varsity wrestler soaked in the news Monday as he juggled an oversized check, balloons and a bouquet of flowers.
"I'm pretty surprised. I thought I did pretty terrible on the test, so I guess it made it all the sweeter," he said. "It shows me that my hard work does pay off, and it definitely influences my decision where to go."
Risnear, who also has been considering Grove City College, plans to attend medical school and was recently approved by LECOM's early acceptance program. He has been accepted by Saint Vincent's Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing to study biology.
"I see that I have all these good teachers that have led me to this point, and I'm thankful for that," he said.
Risnear has a brother, Michael, who is studying civil engineering at Penn State.
Staff writers Jamie Martines and Stephen Huba contributed.