Elmhurst resident Garrett Mulcahy is getting a full, academic ‘ride’
to Purdue University, valued at more than $200,000, this coming fall.
Fenwick High School senior student Garrett Mulcahy is the proud recipient of a Beering Scholarship from Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. The 18-year-old, who resides in Elmhurst and attended Bryan Middle School, plans to study mathematics in the fall of 2017. Garrett’s father, Patrick, is head of the Theology Department at Fenwick.
The generous Beering Scholarship will pay for all of Mulcahy’s educational expenses, including undergraduate tuition, room and board, and extends beyond his bachelor’s degree to cover graduate-school expenses: either a master’s degree or MBA as well as one doctoral degree or medical school degree (the latter through Indiana University). Is this opportunity too good to be true? No, but it is highly selective: Each year, only eight students from around the country are chosen to receive the honor, based on their high school credentials and leadership skills, explains Catharine Patrone, student services director in Purdue’s Honors College. Even young-but-savvy Mulcahy admits, “When I first received the email encouraging me to apply [for the scholarship], I thought it was a scam.”
But Diane Facinelli, Ph.D., assistant dean for recruitment and admissions at Purdue, reassures that the Beering award is quite real. “Garrett Mulcahy truly is an interdisciplinary student who loves everything from literature and languages, to science and math, and looks forward to reading French existentialist thinkers in their own tongue,” praises Facinelli, who also is a clinical professor in the university’s Honors College. “His plan at this stage in his life is to eventually obtain a Ph.D. in mathematics, but currently he is looking forward to absorbing as much of Purdue’s rich academic and extracurricular culture as possible as a member of the Purdue Honors College’s class of 2022.
“We chose Garrett because he is not only a good student, but also a good person,” Facinelli continues. “He embodies the ideals and values portrayed by Purdue’s ninth president, Dr. Steven C. Beering,” who created this scholarship program by raising private funds for the endowment, which approaches $200,000 annually for the eight students selected.
Well-rounded Early On
To whom does Mulcahy attribute his varied academic interests? “My parents wanted well-read children,” he says matter-of-factly. “My Dad majored in philosophy, and my Mom [Teri] majored in international studies” as undergraduate students. While their son adds that he always has enjoyed studying English and French, Garrett really gravitated toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Math, especially, is a forte for him. In the recent American Mathematics Competitions, Mulcahy received the top Junior-Senior score of 100.5, which qualified him for the super-challenging American Invitational Math Exam.
At Concordia University (River Forest) in February, he was among 32 students representing Fenwick’s State Math Team, which won the regional competition and qualified for the state math finals next month in Champaign. Fenwick won seven of 10 events. Individual first-place awards were won by Mulcahy in Pre-Calculus, sophomore Spencer Gallagher in Geometry, and juniors Jacob Mazur and Jamie Heneghan in Algebra 2. Led by esteemed mathematics instructor Roger Finnell, this marks the 24th consecutive year that the Fenwick Math Team is headed downstate to compete. The team also won the Chicago Archdiocese Math Contest for the 15th time in the last 20 years; Mulcahy placed first. “Mr. Finnell has been a strong influence [on me] and has introduced me to a lot of math,” Mulcahy says. “I’m excited to study more at Purdue!”
Two years ago, Mulcahy won a $5,000 scholarship from the American Chemical Society in the 55th annual Chicago Section Scholarship Exam in Chemistry. He was the only student of a private Catholic school to receive a scholarship. Even as a 14-year-old freshman at Fenwick, Mulcahy showed high potential, placing second in the state of Illinois in the Biology category at the Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE) competition. “I was nervous but also excited to be on the varsity team as a freshman,” Mulcahy recalls. He has received a lot of encouragement from math teacher Finnell and two other Fenwick faculty members: Ramzi Farran (chemistry) and David Kleinhans (physics).
“I remember Mr. Farran stopping outside my locker freshman year to say how impressed he was with my practice test performances and telling me I could do well,” Mulcahy recalls. “I had his class my sophomore year and learned that he educates the whole person. He truly helped to shape my world view.
“Junior year I had Mr. Kleinhans, who absolutely loves physics,” he continues. “He does a really good job pushing people” to give their best effort. Kleinhans tells his students not to get down on themselves, that poor test scores every now and then are to be expected. “We learn life lessons about how to bounce back from adversity,” Mulcahy notes. “My mindset changed from being so results-oriented to being more growth-oriented. Kind and caring teachers like them are what make Fenwick so special,” Mulcahy concludes.
Kleinhans offers high praise for the scholarly young man: “In addition to performing at the highest levels in class, Garrett looks for all additional STEM enrichment opportunities. He was a valuable member of our WYSE team, which finished first in the Illinois state competition in the 2015-2016 academic year. Garrett was a key contributor and has earned a top-three individual medal in each of his prior years.” Last year as a junior, he placed second in chemistry. For this year’s WYSE team, which scored a perfect 500 and won its sectional at North Central College (Naperville), he placed first in chemistry and mathematics. The team travels to the state competition in Champaign on April 20.
Excelling in the classroom and laboratory is only part of Mulcahy’s dossier. Athletically, he demonstrates his versatility in Fenwick’s storied swimming pool. A four-year letterman on the Friars’ swim team, Garrett specializes in the butterfly stroke and went to the state sectional meet as a sophomore. He was named a team captain this past season.
A True Team Effort
Garrett and his dad say they are grateful for the support and encouragement of the Fenwick community. Mulcahy is one of 7,000 students mentored by aforementioned chemistry instructor Farran, who taught at Fenwick for 35 years before retiring in 2016. During Farran’s tenure, the school witnessed an increase in chemistry enrollment from some 20 percent to nearly 90 percent.
In addition to Farran, the elder Mulcahy also acknowledges another science teacher: Kevin Roche, who leads Fenwick’s TEAMS competition. (TEAMS is an acronym for Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science, an annual competition for high school students designed to help them discover their potential for engineering.) And of his colleague Kleinhans, Mulcahy explains he truly goes above and beyond for Fenwick’s students. “Dave even set up a mock interview to help Garrett prepare for a half-hour Skype interview,” the appreciative parent recalls, in which the boy participated as part of Purdue’s selection process.
Also instrumental in the young Mulcahy’s collegiate quest, according to his father, is Richard Borsch, Fenwick’s longtime associate principal and director of student services. Colleagues in the English Department stepped up as well, he says. Teachers Laura Gallinari and Mary Marcotte helped Garrett to craft his application essays, “presenting him holistically.”
About Fenwick High School
Fenwick High School, founded in 1929, is a Dominican college preparatory secondary institution with a co-educational enrollment of approximately 1,200 students. Guided by its Dominican Catholic values, its mission is to inspire excellence and educate each student to lead, achieve and serve. Today, Fenwick has four Golden Apple teachers on its faculty — more than any other Catholic school in Illinois — and an alumni list that includes an astronaut, Rhodes Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners and other leaders making a positive impact locally and internationally.