The 2019 WOW Sylvester Scholars: Dedicated to Scholarship and Altruism

Monday, April 29 saw WOW honor its latest impressive class of WOW Sylvester Scholars.

The five Westchase residents were selected from an impressive group of applicants for their commitment to both scholarship and community service. Toasted at the annual WOW Sylvester Scholars Dinner at the Westchase Golf Club were Fords resident Allison Dil, the daughter of Barbara and Rene Dil; Fords resident Katherine Eichler, the daughter of Debbie and Brian Eichler; Fords resident Michael McGaha, the son of Chris and Karen McGaha; Glencliff resident Alexandria Ramos, the daughter of Kathrin and Jeremy Ramos Bridges Resident Alexandra Takagishi, the daughter of Jennifer and Curtis Takagishi.

The WOW Sylvester Scholars annually recognizes Westchase high school seniors who have shown a dedication to community service and academic excellence. WOW also considers an applicant’s need as part of the selection process. The scholarship is named in memory of former WOW Board Member Ernie Sylvester, a longtime community volunteer who worked to enhance local schools.

Honoring the students were WOW Board Members Jeff Seligsohn, Carolyn Reynolds and Joe Odda and WOW staff members Chris Barrett, Leslie Blaze and Stephanie Montini. Briefly speaking to the group, Westchase Community Association (WCA) Director Keith Heinemann, who serves as the liaison between the WCA Board and WOW, praised the group for their impressive dedication to their studies and helping others and stating they represented the best of Westchase.

Announcing the selected scholars, WOW President Jonathan Stein stated, “This year’s Sylvester Scholars are best in class. Each has demonstrated a strong commitment to both community service and academics. I have no doubt that each of our scholars will continue to provide strong examples to their peers and others as they transition from high school to college and beyond, and we look forward to hearing about their continuing achievements.” Stein concluded, “Congratulations to each of our scholars, and best of luck in your future endeavors.”

Allison Dil graduated from Berkeley Preparatory School with an unweighted 3.8 GPA. Her transcript was replete with numerous honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. While still undecided where she will attend college next year, she hopes to double major in biology and chemistry with a pre-med focus. Over the course of four years, she volunteered in numerous service settings, completing over 520 service hours at Mease Countryside Hospital alone. She stated at the dinner, “My volunteer work at the hospital provided me with an opportunity to interact with people of diverse backgrounds and has made me confident to lead during stressful situations even outside the walls of the hospital.”

Asked to cite the teacher that had the greatest impact on her, she stated it was Ms. Lisa Raab, her fifth grade AGP teacher at Westchase Elementary. “Mrs. Raab consistently encouraged and motivated students to strive to apply learned knowledge to the world around us. I will never forget her unfailing optimism and willingness to uplift each student for success.”

“Her dedication to others and the beautiful way she manages hard situations are the qualities that most jump out about her,” wrote Berkeley’s Allyson Diljohn. “She has rightfully earned several prominent positions within our community.”

Diljohn concluded, “She is a young person who asks little of those around her but goes out of her way to improve the lives of others.”

Katherine Eichler graduated from Alonso High School with a weighted 6.67 GPA. She will be studying Biochemistry and pre-veterinary studies at the University of Florida. Katie completed 300 hours of community service at diverse places through Harmony Vet Clinic and through Alonso’s Anchor Club (which organizes community service projects) and Joshua House, a foster home.

Eichler cited her flute teacher, Mrs. Rini, as the teacher that has most impacted her. “She’s encouraged and supported me for the past three years and really helped me become the best musician I can be. She provided me with many opportunities I never thought would be possible.”

Alonso’s AP World History teacher Kate Tancrell stated of Eichler, “Katherine is an outstanding student and one of the hardest workers I know.” She added, “Intelligence, positivity, work ethic and determination are the qualities that set her apart from many of hear peers.”

Michael McGaha graduated from Sickles High School with an astronomical 8.24 weighted GPA. He plans to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Florida. Over the course of high school, Michael McGaha completed over 400 community service hours, with the bulk spent assisting others at Mease Countryside Hospital.

At the dinner, McGaha cited Carol Wittel, Sickles AP Computer Science teacher, as the teacher that had the most profound impact on him. “As a teacher, she opened my eyes to a new field of study that I was not originally considering as a future career and helped me refine my logical reasoning skills.” He added of her mentorship through Sickles’ chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America. “Through this club I’ve developed strong public speaking skills and now find it much easier to start and take lead of new initiatives.”

Describing McGaha as an excellent role model for his peers and touting his studious and resourceful nature, Wittel in turn stated, “Michael is mature, responsible and carried himself with the utmost respect for his family and values. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in Michael’s life, even if only in a small way. I can’t wait to see what heights he will reach in the future.”

Alexandria Ramos graduated from Middleton High School with an impressive 8.11 weighted GPA. She plans on studying Criminal Justice and Criminology at University of South Florida. She completed nearly 270 community service hours working with Horsepower for Kids, the Lawyers for Autism Awareness Association and the Muslim Students Association.

Ramos cited her seventh and eighth grade science teacher, Mr. Miller, at Tampa Charter School, as the teacher who had the greatest impact on her. “Mr. Miller always challenged me to view things from multiple perspectives and bring something untraditional to the table. Whether it was modeling the Helix Bridge out of toothpicks or dissecting sharks, he left an impact on my education that will not be forgotten.”

Lise Casady of USF stated of Ramos, “She has always excelled in her grades, which may come naturally to some degree, but there is no doubt her personal effort, ambition and drive are the primary reasons for her academic success.” Casady added, “She has unbounded curiosity and a bank of knowledge on a broad range of subjects, far beyond what one would expect from a person of her age.”

Alexandra Takagishi graduated from the International Baccalaureate Program at Robinson High School with a 6.84 weighted GPA. She will attend Wake Forest University, where she will major in either business or medicine. She completed nearly 340 community service hours working for Tampa General Hospital, the Brush Book Bed Program, Relay for Life and Westchase Rec Center.

Asked which teacher most inspired her, Takagishi cited her high school biology teacher, Mrs. Oliver. “I have had the pleasure of being her student for junior and senior year. Her dedication to the subject and to her students has helped me discover my love for science,” she said.

Erika George, Robinson’s College Guidance Counselor, said of Takagashi, “Her dedication and determination to better herself as both a student and an athlete is obvious through her actions. In addition, Alex shows her natural ability to be a good leader and a caring person through her extracurricular activities and service activities.”

WOW congratulates its 2019 class of WOW Sylvester Scholars and thanks them for their generous service to the Westchase and Tampa Bay communities. We will offer more detailed profiles of each scholar in the June, July and August editions of WOW.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher; Photos by James Broome Photography

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