Meet Hillary Thaon: The Epitome of Academic Excellence

Honors freshman Hillary Thaon

Hillary Thaon has a perfect GPA, five academic scholarships and a bright future ahead of her as a civil engineer.

A freshman in the Albert Dorman Honors College, she’s a well-rounded student who is as equally adept at math as she is in English.  During her first semester at NJIT (fall of 2008), she was one of 20 Honors College freshmen to earn a perfect grade point average: a 4.0.  Her freshman class is the brightest in the history of the Honors College and, in her academic excellence, Hillary epitomizes the kind of student the college attracts.

She graduated from the Staten Island Technical High School, which, according to US News & World Report, is one of the best high schools in the nation.  She scored above 1300 in her SATs and arrived at NJIT with so many advanced placement credits – 22 – that, though a freshman, she had to register as a sophomore. 

The university thinks so highly of her accomplishments that it recently selected her to publicly address the NJIT Board of Trustees.

In this interview, Hillary talks about her major, her religion, her classes as well as what motivates her to excel academically.

So what does motivate you to excel?
My religion plays a huge role in shaping my character and everything I do.  As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I always try to live up to biblical standards. This means that everything I do is a reflection of my religious conviction. I’ve always been taught to do my best in whatever I do, to give it my wholehearted effort.  Right now I am balancing my religious duties with my school responsibilities and trying to do my best in each area.

How does being one of Jehovah's Witnesses aid your intellectual development?
Since a young age, I’ve been immersed in the Bible and Bible-based literature. During religious meetings with my family and congregation, we read and discuss the Bible and each of us participates in a public speaking program. This has shaped the way I speak and write. As a result, I love public speaking and enjoy my English classes. That's been a big help to me in school. 

But you also excel in math (and science).  That’s rare.  Most students, and most people, commonly excel in only one field.
I was not always good in math. When I was a freshman in high school, I had an amazing math teacher, Mr. Scavo.  Because of him, I learned to love math. But when I came to NJIT I was so nervous I wouldn't do well that I went for tutoring at the Center for Academic and Professional Enrichment (CAPE).  The tutors there are fantastic and have really helped me.  

How did you come to enroll in the Honors College?
When I was a senior in high school, I came to the open house at NJIT, during which a student guide asked me about my high school GPA and SAT scores.  After I told him, he said I was a perfect candidate for the Honors College. He took me to meet and interview with Lois Hulin, the Assistant Dean for Enrollment at the Honors College. I had some paper work with me (my high school transcript and resume) and she accepted me into the college right then and there.  I was stunned and very excited!

What is it that you like about the Honors College?
My honors classes are small and rigorous. The professors are great and the students are bright. It's a challenging curriculum and I'm not only learning from my professors but from my classmates. Also, the staff at the Honors College is extremely welcoming and encouraging. They’ve taken a real interest in helping me. And I must say again, the scholarship money they provided me is a huge help to both me and my parents. 

What other colleges did you consider attending?  You excelled at a nationally ranked high school, so you must have had options. 
I live in Staten Island and wanted to commute to college, so I applied to local colleges: to Polytechnic Institute and to Stevens Institute.  But I was impressed with the Honors College and I'm very satisfied I chose NJIT.  I'm happy and at home here and look forward to taking civil engineering classes as I progress in my major.

Why did you major in civil engineering? What attracted you to it?
In high school, I studied AutoCAD and technical drawing and really loved that. These are tools that civil engineers use so I knew I'd like the major.  But even earlier than high school, I took an interest in building and construction because of my father.

How so? Is he a civil engineer?
No, but he works in construction as a site supervisor for a contractor.  When I was a girl, he'd drive by his sites and show me his work. Or once in a while I'd go to a job with him.  As a site supervisor, he'd let the guys on the site give me rides in the construction vehicles and as I got older I would help him at work with his computer. I want to concentrate in construction engineering. To me, building a house or other structure is something special.  I want to one day say to my children, "I built that." That will give me a great sense of accomplishment and creation.

I know you just starting your college career but do you have a sense of what you’d like to do after you graduate?
Academically, I hope to do as well as I did this past semester for the next four years. But as far as the future goes, I'm not exactly sure. All I know is I really can't wait to build something! NJIT will be the conduit by which my educational achievements will translate into future success.

Hillary's 5 Academic Scholarships
  • Albert Dorman Honors College Scholarship
  • Board of Trustees Scholarship
  • CMX Community Foundation Scholarship
  • NJIT Faculty Scholarship
  • NJIT Presidential Scholarship

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)