Todd Medema recently learned that he will now be able to attend the college of his dreams — Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — due to his receipt of a very special scholarship.
The Leo Volz Scholarship is awarded to an Oakdale High School senior who is considered an outstanding, well-rounded student and it pays 100 percent of that student’s college tuition and books for four years of undergraduate education at an accredited two- or four-year college of their choice.
Medema received the phone call from OHS Principal Mike Moore telling him the news about being awarded the scholarship.
“It was so unbelievable,” Medema said. “…I was like, ‘Wait, did he actually say that?’”
For Moore, serving his first year as principal at OHS, this is the first time that he’s been able to deliver such momentous news to one of his students.
“It’s a pretty neat feeling knowing the significance of the Leo Volz,” he said of notifying Medema.
Medema resisted the urge to call his parents, Jan and Ralph Medema, to tell them the news. He said that he waited until they returned home for the day so he could see their faces. He recounted that he told his mom first and she screamed. He then told his dad who was also very excited, he said.
“I couldn’t have gone (to Carnegie Mellon) without the Leo Volz. I had an inkling I wouldn’t have been able to go without (it),” Medema noted. “…In my mind, the Leo Volz was connected to Carnegie Mellon.”
He credits his positive attitude in helping shape how things have worked out, but there’s been a great deal of effort on his part as well.
“I’ve sort of lived believing that if you believe there’s an opportunity, there will be an opportunity,” he said.
Medema was selected from a field of qualified senior applicants, then the field was narrowed to five finalists. The students each wrote an essay on a predetermined topic and were interviewed by a panel of judges.
“He’s a great kid, he’s an all-around kid. He’s involved in a lot of activities,” said Principal Moore.
A few of Medema’s activities include Model UN, Academic Decathlon, Science Olympiad, drama, band, Interact Club, ‘S’ Club, track and tennis, and more. He also runs his own computer business and recently attained status as an Eagle Scout.
He has also been involved with Academic Decathlon on a national and international level. He has been traveling this year doing computer work and other tasks for a company that sponsors the Academic Decathlon Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska and for the World Scholar’s Cup academic competition in the country of Dubai. Later this week, he’ll travel to Taiwan and Korea for another World Scholar’s Cup contest. He described the Scholar’s Cup as being similar to Aca Deca and that it also promotes teamwork and critical thinking.
“(Winning the Volz scholarship) reaffirms my belief that there’s more to life than just one thing,” Medema said. “I didn’t have the best grades… I competed against other people who have better community service…”
Moore pointed out that all of the students who were finalists for the scholarship were all top students. He said they all have good grades and they are very involved in various school activities and the community.
“To see the kids pull it off and do all those things, it’s a definite tribute to their character,” Moore said.
He added that the school does not select the winner, but a committee specific to the Leo Volz scholarship determines the winner.
“The fact that the Leo Volz covers so much means I can have options,” Medema said, noting that it will give him the ability to participate in summer research projects, be a double major, and have the opportunity to expand without boundaries.
Carnegie Mellon is a technical university and Medema plans to have a double major in Computer Science and Business. He said he has a desire to revolutionize technology. He also plans to participate in the school orchestra.
“It will be fun to see where all of this takes him,” said his mom Jan Medema. “He does have a lot of big dreams.”
Last summer, Medema attended Carnegie Mellon’s six-week summer program with the financial help of local organizations and individuals. The program gave him the opportunity to apply early for acceptance, learn more about college life, and see first hand what students and professors were doing.
He said that he appreciates how the Oakdale community has supported him. He said that his former GATE teacher Brenda Combs and OHS teacher Pete Simoncini have been very influential and have helped him grow, listened to his ideas, and even helped him grow his business. He added that he’s also appreciative of his parents who have helped him balance his schedule and have allowed him to travel.
“Being a senior, everyone expects you to have ‘senior-itis’ and become lazy,” Medema said. “It’s been just the opposite for me… The only boundaries I’ll have are the ones I set.”
Leo Volz was an Oakdale area farmer who lived in the area for a short time. In his will, he asked the Oakdale Joint Unified School District to set up a scholarship and he endowed it with $2 million.
The ability to award the scholarship is based on the interest earned on the endowment account and also based on how many previous winners are still currently in college and using the funds. That determines how much or how many scholarships can be awarded.
The Volz scholarship requires students to have a minimum 3.8 GPA or a score of at least 1200 points on the SAT, participation and achievement in school and extra-curricular activities, contributions to the community, employment, and financial need. Volz also had a passion for the arts and asked that it be considered as part of the criteria.