PUHS senior Nicholas Dekhtyar has been offered a full scholarship to Columbia University. Photo by Jan Koch

For the second time in three years, a Patagonia Union High School student has been admitted to an Ivy League university with a full scholarship. PUHS senior Nicholas Dekhtyar will enter Columbia University in New York as a freshman in Fall, 2023. 

“I’ve always dreamed of going to an Ivy League school,” Nick told the PRT in a recent interview. Nick’s dream came true earlier this month when he received word that tuition, room and board, books, supplies, and travel expenses would all be covered if he selected Columbia. 

Columbia was one of nine schools Nick applied through QuestBridge, a program that facilitates early admission applications for students who “exhibit outstanding academic achievement despite financial challenges.” Nick was one of 1,755 students out of nearly 18,000 applicants to be selected as a National College Match Finalist in the QuestBridge program. 

Nick was inspired to apply by the example of 2021 PUHS grad Chesed Chap, who was accepted at Yale University through the QuestBridge program. “I saw an article in the PRT about Chesed and I thought, ‘Dang, I’ve got to get there,’” said Nick. 

Completing the application on deadline was stressful. “It was like the biggest final of my life,” he said. “I basically didn’t sleep for three days.” 

Nick is excited to attend Columbia, a prestigious research institution with a strong physics program. His passion for physics, and his overall intellectual curiosity, have driven him ever since elementary school. He credits Elgin School teachers Manuel Gatica and Annette Koweek for encouraging his interest in math and science. “It’s crazy how big an impact they had on my life,” he said. 

Partly because of the pandemic and partly because of the broad range of Nick’s interests, much of his education has been online, including one year each of physics, biology, geometry and algebra 2. He is presently studying calculus online under the supervision of PUHS math teacher Mr. Lynch. 

In 9th grade Nick took part in a year-long online astronomy program with the Whipple Observatory, and was interviewed on national television about the benefits of the program.

In 10th grade, Nick took part in an online environmental science program from Notre Dame University. While at home during the Covid shutdown, he also worked on a project on his own, in his bedroom, to “create levitation with the use of magnetic fields.” He was attempting to create a magnetic spinning car. This project earned him third place in the Southern Arizona Research and Science Engineering Fair. 

During the summer after 10th grade, Nick sent emails to 20 professors at the University of Arizona inquiring if there were any internship opportunities available. One professor, Gregory Hodgins, created a program for him to work on a carbon dating project with the particle accelerator machine. “It was an amazing experience,” said Nick.

During his junior year Nick was invited to work with Paul Rogazenski at the University of Arizona on a project. “I tried to determine the age of the universe using different cosmological surveys,” said Nick.  

Nick participated in a two-week program at Brown University in the summer after his junior year, studying quantum mechanics and the nature of reality. Last summer, Nick also worked as an intern for the Borderlands Earth Conservation Youth program in the mornings and spent his afternoons at the library working with U of A professor Elliott Cheu  on a virtual internship analyzing data collected from the supercollider.

Along with his research and studies, Nick also found time to be involved in student government for three years. He’s participated in the high school tennis and soccer teams for all four years, serving as captain of the soccer team his senior year. And on weekends for the past three years, Nick worked as a landscaper in Sonoita and Patagonia as well. 

When asked how he was able to keep up with all these activities, Nick replied, “It’s all about balance. I owe big thanks to my parents. They really shaped me into the person I am today.”

Nick also credits his high school. “The teachers here are amazing,” he said. “It’s a really great community and a friendly environment.” 

He also thanked “all the strangers who have helped me along the way.”

Michael Young, assistant principal at the Patagonia Schools, was full of praise for Nick.

“We are all so proud of Nicholas and his acceptance into Columbia University, as his hard work and dedication to his education have truly paid off,” he said. “Nicholas will inevitably be a future leader of America or the next Nobel Peace Prize Winner.”

He added, “QuestBridge has high standards and to have two students in the past three years qualify for their program shows that great things are happening at Patagonia Public Schools.”