High-achieving teen earns top Duke scholarship

Perfect SAT on list of accomplishments

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When North Allegheny High School senior Connor Phillips was in elementary school, he received a piece of advice that he took to heart and made his personal philosophy.

Hosack Elementary principal Craig Slaubaugh told him, "when you put your name on a piece of paper, and you turn that in, make sure that is the best representation of yourself."

That advice throughout elementary, middle and high school has paid great dividends to the McCandless teen.

Connor, 18, is one of eight students nationwide to receive the Angier B. Duke Memorial Scholarship, an undergraduate merit award to attend Duke University in Durham, N.C.

The scholarship will cover full tuition, room and board and fees for four years, as well as six weeks of study at the University of Oxford in England. Scholars are also offered up to $5,000 for research or other educational enrichment programs.

The scholarships are awarded to outstanding students who show promise of being intellectual leaders.

That Connor won such a prestigious award came as no surprise to his North Allegheny teachers and principals.

"There are top students who have mastered the grading game, but there is a much smaller group of high achievers who stand atop the class because they are genuine intellectuals. Connor is decidedly of the latter group," said David Morris, the advanced placement English teacher at the senior high school.

"Even amid those brilliant kids, Connor is an outlier. He's a terrific writer and a voracious reader, but especially notable is his factual recall."

Mr. Morris remembers an occasion last year, when Connor answered an obscure question so quickly that one of his classmates said, "He's faster than Google."

Connor is the son of Russell James Phillips, an EEG technologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and Jana Halloran Phillips, a former attorney who stopped practicing law to stay home with her sons. He has a younger brother, Keegan, who is a high school freshman.

Connor's two-page resume lists perfect scores on advanced placement tests, as well as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, Preliminary SAT and American College Test. He achieved a perfect score the first time he took each test.

He also earned a perfect score on the 2012 AP Microeconomics Exam. Connor was one of 12 students in the world to do so out of more than 62,000 fellow exam takers.

Connor said he considers that honor one of his favorite accomplishments, along with being named individual academic champion at the Junior Classical League convention two years ago and the perfect SAT score.

Last year, he was accepted into the Telluride Association Summer Program at the University of Michigan, a program that allows high-achieving high school juniors to do college-level seminars. He was one of 64 students out of 1,350 applicants to be accepted.

In 2011, he was one of only 10 students selected to participate in the University of Pittsburgh Gene Team, a four-week paid internship in biological research.

He attributes his success to having a passion for learning and a strong work ethic.

"Ever since I was little, I've been a voracious reader. I've enjoyed the process of learning."

He said his work ethic has gotten him through his numerous commitments -- the 12 advanced placement classes taken the past two years and his extracurricular activities.

Connor is president of the North Allegheny chapter of the Junior Classical League and is on the executive board of the speech and debate team. Until this year, he also played violin in the orchestra and with the Golden Strolling Strings.

Debate is his passion. His favorite high school memory is last year's state tournament at Susquehanna University, where the North Allegheny team took second place.

Sharon Volpe, his speech and debate coach and AP calculus teacher, said Connor "is one of the most extraordinary students a teacher could ever have in class. ... I was lucky enough to see him grow on the team. His energy spilled over to the younger students as he trained them while continuing to improve his own intellect and speaking skills. He can talk about politics and current events with an understanding that most adults never have."

Connor said that he doesn't have any regrets about his education so far.

"I think that I've definitely gotten what I wanted to do out of my high school experience and I made the best college choice I could possibly have."

He will major in public policy at Duke. "I know I want to go to graduate school, possibly even law school. Beyond that, I'm not sure; maybe foreign relations or academia," he said.

Even though it has been seven years since he moved on from Hosack Elementary, Mr. Slaubaugh said teachers there are proud of Connor's accomplishments. And he is proud that Connor was able to do so much by taking his advice to heart.

"It was a pleasure, really, to watch him learn and grow," he said. "We knew that he had the aptitude, and he was able to do a lot with it while he was here. Then it was a matter of him taking his abilities and capitalizing on them."


Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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