Cornell Scholar Pays Tribute To High School Chem Teacher

When Ilana Kotliar received a prestigious honor at Cornell University, she decided to share the accolade with the high school chemistry teacher who had inspired her.

Kotliar, who hails from Sheepshead Bay, was named a Merrill Presidential Scholar at Cornell University. She recently graduated from the university’s College of Arts and Sciences in the top one percent of the Class of 2018. She was one of 32 graduating seniors to earn the title of Merrill Presidential Scholar.

Cornell administrators invited the Merrill scholars to include a favorite teacher from their years in high school to share their big moment.

Kotliar asked Susan Katzoff, her chemistry teacher at Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences, to attend the awards luncheon. The high school is located on the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach.

Each year as part of the Merrill Presidential Scholarship program, high school teachers recommended by the student-scholars are invited to visit Cornell University for an all expenses paid, two-day trip to take part in a series of events that culminate in the awards luncheon.

This year, 28 high school teachers came from all over the U.S. and countries like Canada, Singapore, India and the Netherlands.

Kotliar said she chose Katzoff to share her big moment because she had a major impact her life and outlook.

The most important thing Katzoff  taught her was always to put her best effort into chemistry, never to give up, she said. “She would always break down chemistry into ‘Chem Is Try.’ The idea was to throw your hat in the ring and go for it. That idea of trying and putting in the work to learn has really stuck with me,” Kotliar said in a statement.

Kotliar and Katzoff, along with Thomas Ruttledge of Cornell’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, whom Kotliar also named as a big influence on her, were guests at the luncheon at Willard Straight Hall on campus.

Cornell University Provost Michael Kotlikoff told the high school teachers that they had performed an important job.

“You can take pride in having influenced some of Cornell’s top graduating seniors and in knowing that they continue to appreciate all you did for them,” Kotlikoff told teachers, according to a statement on Cornell’s website. “On behalf of the university, I want to thank all the secondary and university teachers here today, for your dedication to bringing out the very best in our students. Congratulations on being extraordinary teachers.”

The Merrill Presidential Scholars program was created by the late Philip Merrill, a 1955 Cornell graduate. The program continues to be supported by the Merrill Family Foundation.

Merrill scholars are selected by the deans of their respective colleges at Cornell and are chosen on the basis of their intellectual drive, leadership abilities and potential to contribute to society

Kotliar was one of nine students from the College of Arts and Sciences to receive the honor.

High school teachers have been honored as part of the Merrill program since 1989. A separate scholarship program called the Special Teachers Are Recognized (STAR) Scholarship was established in 1989 by the late Don Berens, Cornell Class of 1947 and his wife, Margi Berens, also Class of 1947.

Under the program, $4,000 scholarships are awarded in the teachers’ names to incoming Cornell freshmen with financial need who hail from the teacher’s high school or geographic area.

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