University of Oklahoma President David Boren has hooked the Sooner Schooner to some of the brightest minds in the country.
In this age of college debt, the National Merit Scholarship at OU has become a much sought-after reward for high school academic achievement.
At the same time, the Scholars become a reputation-builder for the university as a place to be "So Much More."
OU's National Merit Scholars are Boren's pride and joy.
“The University of Oklahoma is number one in the nation for the number of National Merit Scholars enrolled at a public university,” Boren said.
He's always talking about them.
“OU ranks number one among public universities in the nation in the number of National Merit Scholars enrolled per capita,” he said.
They drive his goal to build OU as an academic power that also happens to field a football team.
“OU is number one in the nation in the number of National Merit Scholars enrolled at a public university,” Boren said.
Because they drive his goal to build OU as an academic power that also happens to field a football team.
Boren said, “You talk about national rankings, ok, who's number one? We're number one, and we ought to say so, and it's number one in an area of academic excellence.”
The more than 750 National Merit Scholars at OU help Boren attract students, and professors, from around the world.
He goes after the Scholars and the Scholars, in turn, have helped turn OU from a regional draw to an international one.
“These students sell themselves,” Boren said. “Number one in National Merit Scholars, they read that before they come and they say, 'Well, maybe I ought to go take a look at Oklahoma.' It's a recruitment tool for bringing outstanding faculty, and for bringing outstanding students, because other students want to go to school with other outstanding students.”
Students like Sean Christiansen, a freshman, from a senior class of 50 in Dothan, Alabama.
“Among the reach schools I applied to Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, Princeton, Duke, Mississippi State, University of Kentucky, University of Alabama, University of Alabama-Birmingham and University of Oklahoma, of course,” Christiansen said.
He applied to eleven schools and was accepted at eight of them.
He chose OU and is a member of the record-breaking freshman class of 311 National Merits from 39 states and several countries.
“When I came to visit OU and saw the opportunities here, I didn't really see that great a difference, at least not a $250,000 difference,” Christiansen said.
His friends back home didn't know much about Oklahoma, except for the beat-down they got from the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl.
“But when you tell them about the scholarship, and the opportunities and the other awesome benefits of campus, people start to understand, ‘Oh, that's why,' because, at the same time, if I'd said I'm going to Harvard, you would get, ‘Oh, that's awesome, but that's a lot of money,'” he said.
National Merit Scholars are determined by their score on the PSAT test, which is taken in the junior year of high school.
Right now, OU offers in-state students a five-year scholarship worth $66,000. Out-of-state students are offered a five-year package worth $120,000, which reflects higher out-of-state tuition costs.
All of them are given a host of other benefits, from early class enrollment and technology stipends to admission to the Honors College, advising, housing and travel opportunities.
Auston Steifer is another freshman National Merit, from Lawton/Eisenhower High School. He applied to 13 universities and was accepted at all of them.
“I know I really wanted the experience of a public university but it's also really cool to have the research opportunities, and having the very intense academic mindset that's here at OU,” he said.
Steifer wants to be a doctor and already has a spot waiting in OU's Medical School - which is why he has to think about college debt.
“I could not have the average medical school student loan debt of about a $250,000 loan, and I could get mine down to about $100,000 maybe even $80,000, which is crazy. I'm extremely excited about that and that's possible because of the National Merit program here,” he said.
The National Merits befriend one another, mentor each other and push each other.
“That's kind of the best, that's the best part of the community aspect of being a National Merit Scholar,” Steifer said.
And so, understand the dedication it takes to be counted as one.
“And it's just exciting to see so much success around you and it inspires you to do better,” Christiansen said.
This understanding and dedication keeps Boren out front as the public face of a constant push to be “So Much More.”
“People have an image of OU, ‘Oh, it's a barren, God-forsaken place. Oh, they couldn't possibly appreciate art, and culture and the finer things of life. Oh, they couldn't possibly be this highly ranked, in Oklahoma? That highly ranked as a university, academically?' So I think you want to hit 'em right in the nose and say, ‘Wake up, this isn't what you think about when you think about Oklahoma, this is really Oklahoma, this is Oklahoma excellence,'” Boren said.
You can learn more about the National Merit program at the University of Oklahoma online.
If you know someone making Oklahoma "So Much More," send an email to email@example.com.