Two Mercer Island students accepted in UW Academy program

Each fall, only 35 students are accepted into the University of Washington’s Academy Program, a group of young, gifted academics. Two are from Mercer Island this year.

These students go straight from their sophomore year of high school into the UW, as freshmen. No worries that they don’t get an official high school diploma or GED; this is better.

“UW is everything I had in high school times 10,” said 17-year-old Nikolas Midttun.

Viraj Parikh, 16, was also accepted into the program. He joked that they are “intellectual dropouts” from high school.

Both young men attended Mercer Island High School their freshman and sophomore years. The UW sent both a letter after seeing their 4.0 GPAs, inviting them to come to an informational meeting at the high school. Midttun said he didn’t get caught up in it immediately, but then warmed to the idea.

“You still have to go through the whole application process,” he said.

Out of over 100 applicants from “all over,” Midttun and Parikh were accepted.

“I was both surprised and honored,” Parikh said. He said he had no prior knowledge of the program until he got the letter.

Midttun and his mother, Lori Midttun, have lived on the Island for eight years. He said he didn’t move on campus because “her cooking is so good.” Parikh and his family moved to the Island in 2000. Echoing Midttun, Parikh is still living at home and also appreciates his mom’s cooking.

Midttun said it’s a huge shift, going from sophomore year in high school into the “shark tank.”

“The workload is very heavy,” he said. “I’m nerdy, I’m an academic — especially at UW, but I enjoy it.”

Carrying 17 credits this fall, he is impressed with his professors, who he calls “experts in their fields.” He said most of his professors don’t know he is in the academy program.

This fall he is taking calculus, which he loves.

“I’m hoping to become a mechanical engineer,” Midttun said.

He is attracted to mechanical engineering because it covers a variety of engineering disciplines, he said.

Parikh hasn’t settled on his major yet, but he is leaning toward pre-med. He volunteers at Swedish Hospital now in its orthopedic institute. He’s carrying 18 credits this fall, hoping to get all of his required classes behind him as soon as possible.

Both Midttun and Parikh take a bio-ethics course which looks at the ethics and morality of subjects such as stem-cell research and cloning. The class is linked to an English course where they write about what they are studying in the bio-ethics class.

Parikh said the two professors (bio-ethics and English) work well together encouraging great discussion. He is also taking an advanced calculus class. He credits his excellence at math not only to MIHS but to the Kumon Center, where he has been studying since the first grade. He said Kumon encourages independent study, while holding their students’ feet to the fire.

Midttun said he did receive a small scholarship from the UW, but the rest is up to him; he said an engineering degree will most likely take five years. Parikh is working to secure some scholarships, but like Midttun, is paying tuition.

Both said they miss friends and old teachers at MIHS, but do not regret their decision.

“It was a hard decision,” Parikh said. “MIHS is such a good school, but I wanted the academic challenge. I’ve only been there a week, but I don’t regret my decision. UW has a great sense of community, just like Mercer Island.”


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