The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Merit Scholars add prestige to campus, director says

Freshman National Merit Scholar Angela Gutsmiedl almost missed the deadline to take the Preliminary SAT in order to qualify for the scholarship.

“I found out about it late because I think it got lost in the papers at my school,” she said. “I was really fortunate I found out about it in time.”

Gutsmiedl is one of four freshman National Merit Scholars this fall, bringing the university’s total number of scholars to 27.
Honors Program Director Dr. Jeff Vahlbusch said that high-level academic, intellectual and scholarly achievement demonstrated by National Merit Scholars, is recognized as a benefit to the university.

“Such achievement enriches campus courses and campus life in countless ways,” he said. “We as an institution celebrate it whenever it occurs.”

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The selective process of becoming a Merit Scholar begins with students taking the PSAT/NMSQT. A student who scores high enough is considered a semi-finalist and must complete an application and essay, acquire teacher recommendations and take the SAT in order to qualify as a finalist.

Each UW-Eau Claire National Merit Scholar is awarded full in-state tuition for four years, which Gutsmiedl said she is very appreciative.

“I don’t want to graduate college having a big burden of debt, so I know that will really affect me,” she said. “Being able to go out into the workforce and not worry about student loans, I can just start working and be independent right away.”
Another advantage offered to Merit Scholars is automatic enrollment into the University Honors Program.

Vahlbusch has taught German at Eau Claire for 10 years. He became the director in July 2009 and said he is passionate about “adding serious value to students’ education.”

The Honors Program was founded in 1983, said Vahlbusch, as a way to approach general education differently. Students in the program take 26 credits of honors courses, which are small and discussion based.

Gutsmiedl will be taking Honors Intro to Greek Literature with Vahlbusch this semester and said she thought the books like the Illiad, which they are currently reading, would be “boring.” However, she said the discussion and involvement allow the students to “really get into it.”

Vahlbusch said the Honors Program will see some major revamping in the near future. One of his goals is to craft it as a “destination program … where student and faculty are equal.”

He said he is also striving to make the selection process far more inclusive, to cater to as many high achieving students as possible.

National Merit Scholar and junior Kurt Behlmer said he enjoys and benefits from the several Honors courses he has taken
“The program has provided my most unique, enjoyable, and rewarding classes,” he said. “The classes are deeper, not necessarily harder, which is a plus.”

Behlmer said he thinks graduating with Honors will help his plans to apply to dental school.

Similarly, because Gutsmiedl is a nursing major, she is also automatically admitted into the highly competitive nursing program.

She said she is humbled by and grateful for being awarded the prestigious National Merit Scholarship, calling it “quite an honor.”

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Merit Scholars add prestige to campus, director says