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.
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