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From CTD Opportunities to Northwestern: A Talent Development Story

Michigan senior who will attend Northwestern credits Center for helping lay the groundwork

By Ed Finkel

CTD math classes he took online in fourth and fifth grade were among the factors that set Michigan high school senior Cole Cahill on the path toward a top score of 36 on the ACT test, along with other academic achievements.

“Those were really good steppingstones,” says Cahill, who attends Portage Central High School in Portage, Michigan, and will matriculate at Northwestern this fall, of the pre-algebra classes he took. “I was able to start a fast-paced middle- and high-school schedule. For all the classes I’m taking now, everything that’s math-oriented, [CTD] set a foundation at a young age. It helped with everything from that point onward.”

Through the Academically Talented Youth Program (ATYP) at Western Michigan University in nearby Kalamazoo, Cahill took algebra 1 and 2, geometry and precalculus as a middle-school student during once-weekly, three-hour sessions. In high school, through the magnet Kalamazoo Math and Science Center, he’s taken AP Calculus, computer science and, as a senior, AP Statistics, as well as his science courses. Other students from Portage Central and around the county attend the magnet school for half of each day, he explains.

Cahill began taking both the ACT and SAT as a middle-school student and was invited to appear in person at CTD in eighth grade for a high-achievement awards ceremony—for scoring a 30 on the math section of the ACT—although he’d been on campus a couple years earlier when his older sister toured Northwestern. “That was really cool,” he says. “It helped me fall in love with Northwestern. Getting a medal always helps.”

"Cole Cahill"Taking the ACT that long ago—and for as many times as he has, probably three or four even before entering high school—helped to hone his methods and strategies, Cahill says. “The test became pre-wired in my brain,” he says. “That significantly helped make that process easier. Instead of studying for six months, I studied for one month, and I was locked in. It becomes second nature, almost, at that point, taking it for six years” before the recent attempt that resulted in the 36—a score achieved by about 1 in 400 students.

Beyond his coursework and test-taking prowess, Cahill has participated on the speech and debate team at Portage Central, and he has been part of a student cohort from Kalamazoo Math and Science Center that conducts independent research with college professors and PhD students, which, he says, “has been good experience for my future research endeavors.”

During his junior year, Cahill worked with a Michigan State University PhD student on an ecology project that examined how changes in the environment impact different agricultural weeds. This school year, the lifelong Detroit Lions fan worked with a Western Michigan professor on a project aimed to improve the design of football helmets from an engineering standpoint, adding inserts in certain spots to reduce the acceleration of impact and better protect the brain and skull.

This fall, Cahill will begin studies at the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, where he intends to major in biomedical engineering. “That’s the game plan right now,” he says. “Eventually, career-wise, I want to combine that background with something business-oriented to work in the biotech scene.” He adds the public speaking skills he’s developed on the debate team also should help lead to success. “I want to combine those two things, in whatever career that might look like,” he says.

Cahill applied to Northwestern early decision, sold on the school from an early age, although he says learning about research opportunities like the International Institute for Nanotechnology, in which he plans to get involved, augmented NU’s already strong appeal. “That had been the place since eighth grade,” he says, harkening back to the awards ceremony he attended. “From a young age, it’s felt like home.”

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