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Rebecca Wolf

Rebecca Wolf, a salutatorian for the Class of 2021, has spent her 14-year educational journey at NSU University School (USchool) where she dedicated herself to academic excellence and community service, building lifelong friendships and close relationships with her teachers along the way. Rebecca was always encouraged by role models in our school community. As a first grader, Rebecca remembers admiring the fourth grade students who led the annual Make-a-Wish fundraiser, marveling at what they had accomplished. Since then, she has become a student leader, serving as both vice president of the senior class and vice president of fundraising for the National Honor Society.    

Rebecca’s love for math and all things STEM started early on and only grew as she got older. Invited to participate in our challenging Math Fellows program allowed her to enrich her learning and inspire others along the way. Upon realizing the gender gap in STEM disciplines, she successfully rebooted our Math Circles program, serving as co-president, to encourage young girls to be confident and passionate about math. Rebecca serves as president of Achieve Miami, helping improve the literacy skills of elementary school students in underserved communities to continue working toward educational equality while exercising her leadership skills both in the classroom and in the South Florida community. 

Attending USchool has been a family affair for Rebecca. She is the final Wolf child to graduate following her three older brothers. Her experience at USchool has been one filled with memories she will cherish for years to come. Rebecca is most proud of her acceptance to Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, her first-choice college. She plans to study electrical and computer engineering and will continue to maximize her educational experience as a Duke Blue Devil.   

Q&A with Rebecca: 

Describe your leadership style.  

My leadership style is heavily centered around collaboration. I grew up in a large, loud family, and I personally feel that the best ideas come out when there are diverse viewpoints on the table.  

NSU’s Core Values are Academic Excellence, Student Centered, Integrity, Innovation, Opportunity, Scholarship/Research, Diversity, and Community. Which value resonates most with you and how have you embodied it?  

The values of community and opportunity resonate most with me. With both Math Circles and Achieve Miami, I have performed community service throughout my USchool experience that has been geared toward opening up doors and encouraging students to walk through them. 

What are the top three reasons you love being a student at USchool and being a part of the Shark family?  

USchool’s faculty is unrivaled! You can have meaningful conversations with the same people who teach you history. Being on a college campus is also special and a unique experience that provides access to infinite resources and makes learning much more in-depth and interactive. Lastly, USchool provides a feeling of family. Everyone knows everyone in the community, which makes school far less daunting and way more enjoyable. 

Share a fun fact about yourself that most people do not know.  

Although academically I am more focused on the logical facets of life, I am actually quite creative. I love indulging in my creativity. I create crochet pillows, bake and decorate cakes, paint watercolor portraits, and tuft homemade rugs.  

Who has served as a source of inspiration and guidance for you over the years and how?  

Having taken all five of his courses, Dr. A has always been the biggest source of inspiration and guidance. There have been countless times where I have doubted my abilities in physics and math, handing him my test and warning him that I may have gotten zero questions correct. He always responded calmly, assuring me that he knew I was far more capable than what I could see. His constant encouragement pushed me to apply to engineering school. I will truly miss Dr. A and his 21st century teaching when I graduate. 

For more information about NSU University School, please email

Risa Pollak

Starting NSU University School (USchool) in the third grade not only gave Class of 2021 salutatorian Risa Pollak time to acclimate to the environment and experience all it has to offer, but also an opportunity to discover her passion for math, science, and dance. After participating in math fellows and taking chemistry, biology, and physics at multiple levels, Pollak quickly realized her love of learning, especially in these topics. As co-president of Math Circles for three years, she empowered young girls in grades 3-5 to pursue STEM education. Embracing the USchool experience, Pollak also participated in the NSU Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine Fellowship, Debbie’s Dream Club, and Writing Fellows. She has been recognized as a National Merit Commended Scholar and received the Johns Hopkins Book Award and National AP Scholar Award.  

Since the age of four, dance has been a fundamental part of Pollak’s life. Beyond the classroom, Pollak has been actively involved in our dance program since her freshman year, which allowed her to experience dance from different perspectives and develop her skills as both a dancer and choreographer. She has had several opportunities to grow as a student choreographer while leading her peers, exploring her creativity, and developing pieces to be performed on stage. As president of her National Honor Society for Dance Arts (NHSDA) chapter for the last three years, Pollak has been using her talents and interests to help others in the community through a variety of dance-based service projects. Since the seventh grade and eventually, in conjunction with NHSDA, she has collected more than 500 dance items for under-resourced students at the ProDanza Dance School in Havana, Cuba. She also led her peers in performing for hospitalized pediatric patients at Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital and helped raise proceeds for the nonprofit organization Dancers Against Cancers. Recognized for her work with NHSDA, Pollak was selected as a nominee for the Miami Herald Silver Knight Awards in the Music and Dance category. 

Throughout her time in the Upper School, Pollak learned to balance a challenging course load, 16 plus hours a week in the dance studio, and various clubs and leadership roles while setting aside time for her family and friends. Her hard work and dedication paid off when she received acceptance to her dream school, the University of Pennsylvania, where she plans on studying bioengineering in pursuit of a career in the medical device industry working to develop personalized, precise, and affordable technologies to improve patient care.   

Q&A with Pollak:

What factors outside of school have shaped you into the person you are today?  

My family, specifically my parents, shaped me into the person I am. They instilled in me a strong work ethic from which I have learned to pave my own path, set and work toward ambitious goals, and ask for help when needed. Through dance, I also learned invaluable lessons about time management, attention to detail, discipline, commitment, and sacrifice.   

What is the most important life lesson you have learned in Upper School?  

Discovering what you do not like is as important as discovering what you do. Participating in the medical fellowship helped me realize that my interests lie within the application of technology to medicine, allowing me to transition from an educational and career path in medicine to one in engineering.   

NSU’s Core Values are Academic Excellence, Student Centered, Integrity, Innovation, Opportunity, Scholarship/Research, Diversity, and Community. Which value resonates with you most and how have you embodied it?  

The value of opportunity resonates most. I believe I have taken advantage of the many opportunities provided from a multitude of courses and the medical fellowship to the dance program, clubs, and community service initiatives. I feel extremely fortunate to go to a school that continuously improves the academic and extracurricular opportunities it provides.  

What are the top three reasons you love being a student at USchool?  

The first reason is the freedom we are given in our education. I have been able to take a variety of classes of my choosing and solidify my interests. The second reason is that teachers want students to succeed and care about their well-being. I especially thank Dr. A and Ms. St. John for their support throughout high school. The third reason is the resources that USchool makes available on campus that enable students to discover their passions within and beyond the classroom. It is these resources that have allowed our school to safely reopen during the pandemic while maintaining the high quality academics and community that are the cornerstones of the USchool experience.   

Any words of wisdom you would like to share with the younger generation?  

Discover and pursue your passions. Time is too precious to spend it on things that do not make you happy. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is to take nothing for granted. 

For more information about NSU University School, please email

Ari Arias

When senior Ari Arias first walked through our doors, he embarked on a journey toward excellence. Arias, a salutatorian for the Class of 2021, strived to lead by example throughout his academic career at NSU University School (USchool) with the hope of inspiring others through his work ethic, commitment to community, and academic integrity. Arias was selected as a nominee for the Miami Herald Silver Knight Awards, one of the nation’s most highly regarded student awards programs, in the World Language category. He also earned the Brown University Book Award, USchool’s Director’s Award for his high GPA, Head of School’s Honor Roll for three consecutive years, and was recognized as Risley’s Outstanding Science Scholar.  

It did not take long for Arias to discover his passion for politics, current events, and STEM in his time at USchool. He involved himself in various extracurricular activities including speech and debate, Writing Fellows, and the NSU College of Osteopathic Medicine Fellowship. He also participated in a six-week Research and Science Engineering internship at Boston University where he worked with artificial intelligence and machine learning for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which solidified his biology interests. Arias is a member of the Mu Alpha Theta, Science, Rho Kappa Social Studies, English, and National Honor Societies. Arias serves as the co-captain of the speech and debate public forum team and is part of the leadership committee. Among his many accomplishments, Arias qualified to the National Speech and Debate Association Nationals in Public Forum Debate, the gold division of the Tournament of Champions, and the Florida State Championship. He was also honored as Student of the Year in his debate district and will be competing for the national title of Student of the Year.  

Arias will be attending Stanford University in pursuit of a degree in bioengineering or human biology.  

Q&A with Ari:

What is your secret to educational success?  

Patience. Many times, in high school academics and extracurricular, time and practice are essential for success. Although I consider my discipline instrumental in my success, it was my patience and genuine desire to improve that I believe propelled me along the way. 

What first prompted your interest in Speech and Debate?  

Whenever I would have dinner with family, issues in politics and current events were always brought up. While I always had baseline knowledge of the discussions occurring at the dinner table, I wanted to learn how to better express my ideas and find my voice. Debate has done more than just expose me to new topics; it has also given me lifelong public speaking and expression skills. 

NSU’s core values are Academic Excellence, Student-Centered, Integrity, Innovation, Opportunity, Scholarship/Research, Diversity, and Community. Which value resonates most with you and how have you embodied it?   

The values of Scholarship/Research resonate with me the most because during my time here I tried to really structure my experience around research and a genuine love of learning. Whether it has been through taking the independent research study class or the Medical Fellowship, I strive to take advantage of all the opportunities for research and scholarship available to me. 

What makes the USchool experience special? Share the top three reasons you love USchool and being a part of the Shark family.  

The first, and most important reason, is the teachers. I have formed great relationships with the teachers here at USchool, which has allowed me to enhance my learning experience. They are incredibly supportive and amazing at sharing their passions with students. The second reason is access to a college campus. Being on NSU’s campus allows us to have great fellowship opportunities and access to research. The third reason is flexibility. I have had the ability to explore so many different interests. While I hope to one day become a doctor, I have been able to explore opportunities in several other fields. The flexibility USchool offers is so rare nowadays. 

What is the most important life lesson you learned in Upper School?  

The value of perseverance. There were many points where high school was challenging, not just from an academic standpoint but also from a personal one. Regardless of the obstacles, I always found ways to learn from mistakes, use obstacles to grow, and continue forward. 

For more information about NSU University School, please email

Peyton Ronkin

There’s no question that students have faced unprecedented challenges this past year, but senior Peyton Ronkin did not let that get in the way of finishing her final year at NSU University School (USchool) strong. Since we last interviewed Ronkin back in June for her recognition as a 2020 Bank of America Student Leader, she has earned numerous additional awards, both for her academics and extracurricular involvements, including the title of class co-valedictorian.

Recognized for her exemplary leadership, service, and academics, Ronkin was recently named a 2021 Coca-Cola Scholar and will receive a $20,000 college scholarship, making history as the first USchool student to receive this prestigious award regarded as one of the top honors in the country. She also was selected as a National Merit Finalist, an award given to less than one percent of the country’s top graduating seniors, for her academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies and will be considered for National Merit Scholarships offered this spring. Additionally, Ronkin is one of 787 seniors in the state to be designated a National AP Scholar.

The Speech and Debate program has been a big part of Ronkin’s USchool experience. Competing on the national circuit in Public Forum Debate, she is currently ranked first in the state of Florida and second in the nation out of approximately 3,000 teams. Having earned eight bids this year to the prestigious Tournament of Champions, Ronkin and her debate partner received the honor of top female-female team in the country. From more than 141,000 student members, the National Speech and Debate Association named Ronkin an Academic All American, which recognizes students on the basis of academic rigor, speech and debate success, and personal excellence. She was also selected as a nominee for the Miami Herald's Silver Knight Awards in the Speech and Debate category for applying her knowledge and talents to contribute service to our school and community. 

In her AP independent research study class last year, Ronkin conducted a yearlong research project on the gender gap in the speech and debate community and analyzed how to overcome the disparate treatment that she experienced. After interviewing female leaders from across the country, she created a blog titled Balance of PowHER to inspire young women by sharing stories of female leaders who overcame gender barriers in their academic and professional pursuits.

“With the support of my coaches, I have used the debate space to address inherent gender inequality in the world,” Ronkin said. “In the process, I found my voice by discovering that when I speak up, I am advocating for a group larger than myself. My hope is that the stories of incredible, successful women will help young women realize that we are not defined by ingrained stereotypes and artificial barriers.”

Ronkin has been a USchool student since the age of four, positively impacting those within our school and local community over the years. Not only was she involved as a debater, but she also served as president of I Care I Cure, vice president of Debbie’s Dream, treasurer of Mu Alpha Theta and the Spanish Honors Society, and was on the Florida executive board of Beyond Resolved. She also served as co-president of Math Circles, an enrichment group devoted to fostering a love of math in elementary-aged girls without gender barriers. In her role as the National Honor Society’s vice president of membership, Ronkin helped launch a virtual tutoring initiative to match students with members of the society that are strong in particular subjects.

“By getting an early start, I was able to cultivate a community that has been like an extended family,” Ronkin said. “I love USchool because of the academic and extracurricular opportunities, the supportive environment, and the amazing friends and teachers I have met throughout my time here. “

Growing up, Ronkin learned that the key to success is to never give up and to finish what she started. Instead of giving up on her community service efforts when faced with challenges brought on by a global pandemic, Ronkin decided to spend her time in quarantine finding new ways to safely continue giving back through Dipped with Love, a nonprofit organization she created to raise money for gentler cures for childhood cancers. Although the demand for her baked goods suddenly diminished since parties and holiday celebrations came to halt, she continued to support cancer charities by donating individually wrapped treats to support their socially distant fundraising events. To show frontline healthcare workers her appreciation, she donated more than 1,500 treats to the staff at various Memorial Healthcare hospitals since May 2020.  

During this time, she also decided to experiment with new recipes and expand her baked goods selection, developing a new line of sprinkled and decorated sugar cookies that quickly became popular for birthday celebrations and college acceptances. To abide by safety guidelines, she began offering contactless delivery and transitioned to an online payment system. Since its inception in 2015, Ronkin has raised more than $20,000 by dipping over 10,000 chocolate-covered pretzels, 3,000 chocolate chip cookies, 1,000 sugar cookies, and 50 batches of matzah crunch in support of various cancer organizations.

As someone who leaves nothing to chance, it’s no surprise that she has reached this level of success at a young age. Ronkin’s parents instilled in her and her two siblings, Skylar (‘19) and Jacob (‘16) who were also named valedictorians, the value and importance of education and hard work, building a strong foundation early on that Ronkin will continue to strengthen as a student at the University of Pennsylvania. She plans to study philosophy, politics, and economics and pursue a minor in survey research and data analytics.

For more information about NSU University School, please email

Duncan Jurman

It is said that deep interests that present at an early age often stay with us throughout life, which is certainly true for Class of 2021 co-valedictorian Duncan Jurman who developed an interest in butterflies at the age of four and has continued to fuel that passion to this day. As a student in our early childhood program, teachers quickly noticed Jurman’s enthusiasm for butterflies and sought out ways for him to further develop his passion through unique experiential learning opportunities at NSU University School (USchool). In fourth grade, Jurman began to teach Lower School students about butterflies, their importance to the environment, and ways to help the declining butterfly population. In Middle School, he worked with Associate Head of Academic Affairs Dr. Robyn Kaiyal who encouraged Jurman to help create plans, develop, and manage a garden on campus.

Thanks to Jurman’s vision and environmental passion, along with the mentorship and dedication of Upper School Science Teacher Ms. Chana Goodman, USchool’s very first butterfly garden and vivarium came to life in 2018, an achievement he is most proud of.

“It has been a lot of work, but to see the empty plot become a space teeming with wildlife and students enjoying the area has been rewarding,” said Jurman. “I have been so fortunate over the years to have so many at USchool nurture my interests and help me share it with others.”

Since its inception, thousands of butterflies have been observed in the garden and vivarium. Additionally, wildlife counts and biodiversity in the surrounding areas have increased with greater numbers of birds, native lizards, and other insects. For his butterfly conservation efforts, Jurman has received local, national, and international recognition. In fact, Jurman was named one of twelve most inspirational students in 2020 by The New York Times, featured in the Times’ Upfront news magazine. He also earned a Young Eco Hero Award, placing second in an international competition recognizing best youth-driven environmental projects across 30+ countries.

Experiential learning at its finest, the butterfly garden and vivarium has served as a hands-on educational resource and nature-based classroom for students of all ages as teachers have been incorporating it into their curricula, earning Jurman USchool’s first ever Leadership in Experiential Education Award. Not only has Jurman educated those within the USchool community, but he also expanded this project into the Broward region by helping other schools start gardens of their own and educating students about broader environmental issues including pollination, conservation, biodiversity, and ecosystems.

In 2018, Jurman founded the Bringing Butterflies Back initiative to counter declines in the size and diversity of South Florida’s butterfly populations. To maximize his reach and impact, he created partnerships with county leaders, such as the Town of Davie mayor, and organizations including the Broward County Butterfly Chapter, Broward County Public School System, and Nova Southeastern University.

“We have been working together to protect these delicate creatures, including the plants they pollinate and animals higher up on the food chain, through education, outreach, conservation, and research in the community,” Jurman said. “While I really hope more individuals will become aware of the beauty and biology of butterflies, there are other important lessons to learn from them including that they are considered an indicator species, providing valuable information about our planet’s health, such as the effects of climate change.”

When he is not instilling a sense of environmental stewardship in others, you can find Jurman leading his teammates on the field as a captain of the varsity lacrosse team, which he joined as a starting attackman in eighth grade, or playing travel lacrosse. As an avid lifelong athlete, he received the Scholar-Athlete Award and Offensive Player of the Year Award several times along with all district recognition. Some of his fondest memories as a Shark are being a part of the lacrosse program and the camaraderie that took place on and off the field for the last seven years.

“The opportunities to explore and develop many different interests are endless at USchool,” Jurman said. “So many teachers have been integral to my success. They are truly committed to helping you succeed both in and out of the classroom.”

His environmental-related and lacrosse achievements are just a few of Jurman’s many impressive accomplishments. He recently advanced to the Finalist level in the National Merit Scholarship competition, was named a U.S. Presidential Scholars Nominee, and received the University of Pennsylvania Book Award. Acknowledged among some of the best and brightest students in Broward County, Jurman is also a nominee for the Miami Herald Silver Knight Award in the General Scholarship category.

Finishing at the top of his graduating class and receiving his acceptance to Cornell University are two of his latest, hard-earned achievements. In the fall, Jurman will begin his college journey with plans to pursue a degree in biological engineering.

“At USchool, I learned invaluable leadership skills and the ability to juggle numerous commitments, which will serve me well in college and beyond,” Jurman said.

For more information about NSU University School, please email