Class of 2023

Bennett Berlin hails from Portland, Oregon and chose SMU for its location, study abroad programs, and undergraduate research opportunities. His intended major is Biochemistry and he also plans to study Spanish and Statistical Science—while also pursuing the pre-medical school track. Bennett graduated from Jesuit High School where he was in the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honors Society, and Model United Nations. He also served multiple years as a Jesuit Student Ambassador, Overnight Retreat Leader and Recruiter. He was a member of the Varsity Swim, Track and Field, and Cross-Country teams, volunteered at a local hospital emergency room, and worked as a camp counselor with adult and youth campers with severe disabilities for two years at the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp. Bennett also enjoyed working for multiple summers and holidays as a lifeguard. He is looking forward to exploring campus life, and watching football and soccer games. Bennett’s favorite book is Jason Padgett’s Struck by Genius.

Alyssa Bleyle graduated from Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona and decided to attend SMU after a campus visit. At this visit she had the chance to talk with several Dedman College Scholars, and heard many stories about their exciting experiences in and out of the classroom. The way SMU encourages studying multiple fields also really appealed to her. Alyssa is most excited about research and mentorship opportunities, and looks forward to SMU campus traditions such as boulevarding. She intends to pursue a double major in Public Policy and English with a specialization in Creative Writing. While in high school Alyssa was in the National Honor society, and was an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Commended Scholar, and a finalist in the Sister Cities International Young Artists and Authors Showcase. During her high school years she started and ran writing clubs for elementary-school students and wrote articles for a monthly community magazine, served as secretary of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was the captain and goalkeeper of her school soccer team, volunteer soccer coach, and a member of the Church Youth group. In her free time Alyssa likes to draw, paint, watch sports (especially baseball), listen to music, and hang out with friends. Her favorite book is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Alyssa’s lifetime goal is to become a best-selling author.

Isabel Finkbeiner comes to the Hilltop from Buffalo, NY where she graduated from Buffalo Seminary, one of the oldest all-girls high schools in the United States. She chose SMU because of the vibrant campus community, study abroad opportunities, and strong alumni network. She will pursue a double major in mathematics and history and also is interested in statistics. At Buffalo Seminary, she graduated Cum Laude and served as the Community Service Board chair for the student government association. Isabel was a member of the National Honor Society, co-edited the yearbook, and was chosen as a Buffalo Business First 2019 Community All-Star recipient. Outside of the classroom, she was a recruited coxswain and two-year captain of the varsity women’s rowing team, which she credits with teaching her grit and perseverance. In her free time she loves to cook, watch football (especially The Buffalo Bills), listen to music, and explore new restaurants with her friends. One of the most impactful books she has read is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Meghana Gadde comes to the hilltop from Frisco, Texas, but grew up in San Francisco. During her high school years, Meghana attended Independence High School, and graduated with Honors from the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. She was drawn to SMU’s close-knit community, as well as the numerous opportunities to explore her varied interests within the liberal arts curriculum. Meghana will pursue a Biology major on the Pre-Med track, while also furthering her studies in Political Science. While in high school, she engaged in undergraduate research about polyphasic sleep cycles and presented at the Sigma Xi International Research Symposium in 2018. She also had the privilege of planning her school’s prom and homecoming dances as part of the UNT Residence Hall Association. During her time at Independence High, she also paved her own pathway as the first girl on the school’s wrestling team, and continues to visit and cheer on the team in matches and tournaments. In her free time, Meghana enjoys practicing calligraphy, keeping up with current events, and listening to podcasts of all kinds. A huge true crime and mystery enthusiast, Meghana’s favorite book is A. Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, along with recent books such as One More Thing by B.J. Novak, Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train, and Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.

Amy Hermann decided to attend SMU after spending lots of time on our campus while in high school. During these visits she had the opportunity to see the positive atmosphere for both learning and fun that existed for the students. It felt like a place where she belonged. She is most excited about pursuing topics that she loves and meeting people who share the same passions. Amy will major in Physics, but is also considering minors in Spanish or Electrical Engineering. While in high school she was an IB Full Diploma candidate as well as an AP Scholar. In her free time Amy is a film maker, and especially loves video editing. She has shown her work in six film festivals and has won several awards. In addition, she regularly volunteers for the Girl Scouts, and has always enjoyed scouting a lot. In fact she loves the outdoors and takes every opportunity available to be outside. Her favorite book is Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

Jim Kays comes to the Hilltop from McKinney, Texas, where he graduated from McKinney North High School, and intends to double major in Economics and Finance, but also has interests in Statistical Science and Mathematics. Jim was drawn to SMU by the many opportunities available in Dallas, and the amazing faculty and campus. While he visited many other prestigious schools, SMU always felt the most like home. As he contemplates his college career, Jim is most excited about joining a vibrant community though intramural sports and various clubs—in addition to learning from a number of disciplines available at SMU. At McKinney North, Jim was a National Merit Scholar, a National AP scholar, and an Eagle Scout. He play also on the varsity football team and in the honors band. In his free time Jim enjoys watching movies, playing and watching sports, and helping his community through his church and scout troop. His favorite book is Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Looking to the future, Jim’s dream job is to be the general manager of a major professional sports franchise.

Rachel Manak chose SMU because of the attention given to individual students in a collaborative classroom setting, as well as the extensive opportunities to study abroad. The strong sense of community and alumni involvement also appealed to her. Rachel has interests in history, international studies, linguistics, and public policy, and is most looking forward to studying abroad and boulevarding. While at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Rachel was an IB Diploma candidate, graduated with high honors, was President of the National Honor Society, and was the VNA Nominee for the 2018 First Lady’s Rising Star Award. She also served on the Teen Board, devoted over 500 hours to the Meals on Wheels program, sang in the varsity choir, and rowed for the Varsity Rowing team. Her favorite books are Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey.

Tyler McCall graduated from Lakehill Preparatory School in Dallas, TX, where she was Student Council President and participated in Pan American Student Forum, National Honor Society, Ambassadors, and graduated as valedictorian. Tyler also was named a two-year captain on the basketball team, served as a cheer captain, while also playing volleyball and softball. SMU appealed to her because of the close working relationships with faculty and the strong sense of community on campus. She is double majoring in political science and business management, with minors in Spanish and law and legal reasoning. After graduation, she hopes to attend law school and become involved in environmental or immigration litigation. In addition to being a Dedman Scholar, she is a part of Mustang Heroes, Hegi Career Leaders, Alpha Chi Omega, and is an Honors Mentor. While she is at SMU, Tyler hopes to pursue research in constitutional law and study abroad in Spain or England.

Emory McDowell graduated from Plano West Senior High School in Plano, Texas, and currently pursues majors in English and music with minors in Spanish, history, and public policy and international relations. He chose to attend SMU because of the support that SMU offers to students interested in a variety of fields of study and the emphasis that SMU places on academic excellence and career preparation. While in high school, Emory participated avidly in his school’s various musical ensembles, including the Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Orchestra, and Wind Ensemble, and won a position in the 2019 TMEA All State Jazz Ensemble. He graduated as a National AP Scholar and a member of both Plano West’s NHS and Spanish Honors Society chapters. He also became involved with Seven Loaves, a local food pantry that serves underprivileged and/or immigrant families in the DFW area, an organization with which he continues to work today. As an English major, Emory reads indiscriminately; his interests range from the epic poetry of Homer, Ovid and Milton to modern classics like Viet Than Nguyen’s The Sympathizer and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Isabelle Mermilliod will major in biology and psychology on the pre-med track and is looking forward to participating in the Dedman College Scholars Program, as well as to meeting new people, and taking advantage of research and study abroad options. Isabelle graduated from Dominican High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was drawn to SMU by its size, beautiful campus, metropolitan location, challenging academics, and social opportunities. At Dominican High School she graduated Summa Cum Laude, and received the Community Service Award from completing over 500 service hours. She was also an intern for five years for the non-profit Eat Fit Nola that works to create healthy options for restaurants around New Orleans, volunteered for the New Orleans Women and Children’s Shelter, and the Animal Rescue shelter. Academically, she was part of the National English Honor Society, National Honor Society, and Mu Alpha Theta. She also served as historian for the school’s Junior Classical League. Her favorite book is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Avery Nesson chose SMU for its student research opportunities, strong sense of community among students and faculty, small class sizes, beautiful campus, and metropolitan location in Dallas. Avery graduated from x high school in Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, CA and will major in Biology and Health and Society on the pre-med track. She aspires to serve her community as an orthopedic surgeon. Avery graduated Valedictorian from Dana Hills High and was a USA Water Polo Academic Honors Award recipient. Outside of school, Avery earned the Music Teachers’ Association of California’s highest designation—a certificate of Merit Level 10 in piano performance and music theory. She has served as a volunteer in a number of institutions, and was an intern in the General Surgery and Dermatology departments at Kaiser Permanente Hospital. In her free time, Avery also enjoys swimming, traveling, music, photography, fashion and paddle-boarding. Lopez Lomong’s Running for My Life is her favorite book, as it taught her about the value of perseverance and faith.

Justin Patty graduated from Little Rock Christian Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas and plans to major in Chemistry and Biology with a minor in Spanish. When he first visited the Hilltop, Justin was attracted by the natural and architectural beauty of the campus, the close proximity to Dallas, and the university’s science programs and esteemed faculty. He is most excited about becoming an active member of the campus community and looks forward to attending football and soccer games, participating in intramural sports, and building friendships with other students in his classes and the residential commons. As a high school student, Justin was a National Merit Scholar, National Chemistry Olympiad Finalist, and recipient of the National Spanish Examination Bronze Medal. He also received his Little Rock Christian’s highest award in science and was captain of the state champion and four-time regional champion quiz bowl team. He has also served as a volunteer for Access, a school for children with special needs, and the Centers for Youth and Families, an organization that serves at-risk youth. Justin’s hobbies include tennis, club soccer, running, and reading. His favorite book is George Orwell’s 1984 because of the thought-provoking and timeless questions the book continues to raise sixty years after it was first published.

Nushah Rahman decided to attend SMU for its many research opportunities, study abroad programs, small class sizes, and welcoming environment. She intends to double-major in Psychology and Health and Society on the pre-med track, as well as a minor in Spanish. Throughout her years at the Hockaday School in Dallas, Nushah won the National Spanish Exam Gold medal each year, and was an AP Scholar and a National Merit Commended Scholar. She also was a member of the school debate team, was a member of the Academic Council, and worked as a Summer Research Assistant and Chemistry Department Assistant, and served on the leadership team of the Hockaday’s makerspace. She also served as President of the Muslim Student Association and Secretary of the Red Cross Club. When she can find free time, Nushah enjoys volunteering and tutoring in local Dallas elementary schools, playing the piano, reading, and taking Buzzfeed quizzes. Nushah is very excited about exploring the city of Dallas with new friends from SMU and the Dedman College Scholars Program.

Chloe Richter graduated from Skyview High School in Vancouver, Washington and intends to major in Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering on the pre-med track. When making her final college decision, she was drawn to SMU because of the small class sizes, individual attention from faculty, and the beautiful campus. While in high school Chloe’s honors included, National Honor Society President, National Merit Commended Scholar, and AP Scholar with Distinction. She has studied the violin for 13 years and has played for the All-Northwest Orchestra. She also teaches violin and founded the AP music theory club at Skyview High. In her free time Chloe loves to tailor, listen to music, and watch documentaries. Her favorite book is Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Julia Savage is a native of Austin, Texas will major in Biochemistry on the pre-med track. She was drawn to SMU because of its sense of community, faculty connections and the campus’ balance of academic and social life. Julia most looks forward to meeting other students and faculty members and intends to rush for a sorority in the spring. She also looks forward to study abroad and internship opportunities. While at Westlake High School, Julia was part of the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, General Council, and the Volleyball all-District Academic Team. In fact, she participated in volleyball throughout middle and high school. During her senior year, Julia where she shadowed at a local hospital each day, where she had the chance to observe many different specialties. In her free time, she has also volunteered at the Austin Animal Shelter, and the Central Texas food Bank. Her favorite book is Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One.

Raiya Shah graduated from Hebron High School in Lewisville, Texas and intends to major in Biology, while also planning to explore her interest in graphic design. She decided to attend SMU because of the strong sense of community, the beautiful campus, and the flexibility offered in pursuing multiple academic interests. As she looks forward to college life, Raiya is most excited about getting to know new friends and professors. While in high school she received the Girl Scouts Gold Award, AP Scholar with Distinction, President’s Gold Volunteer Service Award, and the Scholastic Silver Key Award for drawing. In addition, she was involved in the visual arts, Girl Scouts, and volunteering at the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. One of Raiya’s favorite books is Jetsun Pema’s Tibet: My Story. In her free time Raiya enjoys traveling, so she really looks forward to studying abroad while at SMU.

Amber Siddiqui grew up in Dallas and decided to attend SMU after her sister brought her along to many university events from the time she was twelve years old. A graduate of Duncanville High School, Amber intends to major in Biochemistry and hopes to study Human Rights as well. She looks forward to learning the different SMU traditions such as boulevarding, attending sports events, and participating in the many clubs available. At Duncanville, Amber was the Salutatorian of her class of almost 1,000 students, Senior Class Treasurer, Drum Major for the marching band, the recipient of the Distinguished Delegate award at the Youth and Government State Conference, and served as a student Representative for the Duncanville Independent School District. In her spare time Amber loves to dance and travel with her family. Her favorite book is The Kite Runner by Khalid Housseini—it makes her cry every time she reads it. She has always loved music, and hopes at SMU that it will continue to be a central part of her life. Although born and raised in Texas, Amber loves her Pakistani culture and remains strongly connected to her roots.

Ellen Taylor was raised in Flower Mound, Texas where she was home schooled. Her plan is to major in Statistical Sciences with minors in Arabic, Economics, and possibly Cognitive Science. Ellen’s ultimate goal is to pursue a career in biostatistics. She decided to attend SMU because of its many opportunities, and its ability to personalize her education to fit her many diverse interests. Ellen also keenly appreciated the sense of community she felt on campus. During her schooling, she competed in speech and debate for six years, and finished in second place in the Team Policy Debate at the NCFCA National Championship in 2018. She also won first place in the Senior Achievements Auditions for piano this spring. Finally, Ellen has also been an AP Scholar with Distinction, and served as chapter President of the Eta Sigma Alpha Delta Kappa Honor society. As a result of her involvement in debate, Ellen became an avid follower of current events, and last year she started Current Kids—a nonprofit dedicated to helping students better understand and think critically about the events shaping our world. In her free time Ellen enjoys playing the piano, reading, and being an active member of her church choir. Ellen’s favorite book is Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini.

Seth Villa was drawn to SMU because of the small class sizes, the flexibility to explore a variety of topics, and opportunities for a personalized education. While still undecided about a major, Seth’s academic interests are focused on Biology or Chemistry, English, and Art. Whichever path he pursues for his major, Seth plans to study abroad. Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas he was home schooled—and during this time he was named a Questbridge Finalist and a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar. He also served as secretary for the Chi Mu Chapter of the National Homeschool Honor Society. In his spare time, Seth loves to read and listen to audiobooks. With his varied interests, he is also an amateur entomologist and enjoys birdwatching, and is drawn to art, and enjoys painting and drawing. For some years he has been involved in his community through volunteering at the local food bank and helping the local public library with art classes and summer reading programs. Some of his most memorable experiences have been participating in the Cowtown BEST Robotics competition, as well as acting in various theater productions. Characteristically, Seth cannot name a favorite book—it would be like choosing a favorite child. Some of the books that are at the top of his list however are C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out, and G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. With these many interests and hobbies, Seth always remains grounded by his deep commitment to his Christian faith.
Muaz Wahid is from Allen, Texas and attended the Parish Episcopal School in Dallas. He intends to major in Biology on the pre-med track with a minor in neuroscience. During his senior year Muaz worked on a research capstone study addressing the problem of malnutrition in Karachi, Pakistan. Accordingly, he was looking for a university that had a mission to help students impact global change—and SMU seemed to be exactly the right place. He looks forward to collaborating with students at SMU and internationally to create change through scientific research. Beyond academics, it was the mosaic-like atmosphere of the university that intrigued him--the 200+ clubs and diversity from all over the world jumped out at him. Some of his academic distinctions in high school include being named Salutatorian of his class, receipt of the Yale Book Award, joining Mu Alpha Theta, the National Honor Society, and the National English and Spanish Honors Societies, and winning the Community Service Presidential Award, Upper School World Languages Award for Arabic, AP Scholar Award, and the Senior Science Award. Muaz has also participated in the QuarkNet Program at SMU, served as Treasurer of the Honor Council and on the Student Diversity Leadership Council, and organized and promoted Middle Eastern/South Asian affinity meetings. He has also participated in the First Tech Challenge Robotics competition and volunteered at Baylor University Medical Center, Medical City Hospital, and local elementary schools. When he has time, Muaz loves to watch basketball and cricket. His favorite book is If the Oceans Were Ink by Carla Power.

 Rafay Wahid graduated from Dallas’s Parish Episcopal School and will major in biology at SMU. As a Texas Muslim who attended a Christian high school, Rafay wanted to find a university that would value diversity—so, SMU is just the right place. Since his most memorable moment in high school is of conducting research on Pakistan’s water and sanitation crisis, he is looking forward to participating in studying toward the goal of becoming a physician and beginning to conduct scientific research through the Dedman College Scholars Program. Rafay’s honors in high school included: National Honor Society, The President’s Volunteer Service Award, Spanish Honor Society, High Honor Roll, Upper School World Languages Award for Arabic, Student Government, Honor Council, Student Diversity Leadership Council, Parish MedScie, the Robotics First Technology Challenge, and the Investing Club. He also was selected to participate in a four-year research intensive program that combined course work, a thesis, and a capstone. His favorite book is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.