William Tarpeh

Hometown: Alexandria, VA

high school: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology

college: Stanford University

MAJOR: Chemical Engineering

GRAD. PROGRAM: University of California, Berkeley (PhD Candidate)

When William Tarpeh was five years old, he spent the vast majority of his waking hours at the Peabody Museum in New Haven, Connecticut. His favorite area was the enormous exhibit on dinosaurs; he soon memorized all of their names and vital statistics. This exciting information was not required for kindergarten, but for William it was pure joy to learn about these awesome creatures. One year later, when he moved to Alexandria, Virginia with his mother and two older siblings, he worked painstakingly for hours to finish a project on dinosaurs for first-grade. When he turned it in, the teacher told his mother that she had done a good job in doing her son’s project. When William explained the family tree of dinosaurs, however, the teacher knew he had done the work himself. Although his interests have evolved from the world of dinosaurs into Spanish, chemical engineering, and political science, William is still the same person at heart. He finds his passions and completely immerses himself in them, enjoying learning for the sake of it. These passions include helping people and using science to solve real-world problems, which is part of the reason he is so interested in chemical engineering. Last summer, William worked with developing a biodegradable plastic out of wheat gluten, which was an exciting glimpse into his possible future career.

He is never satisfied with what he knows and always presses to improve himself whenever he can. The combination of his drive and work ethic has proven many people wrong about what can come out of a single-parent home. One area that William was very weak in was public speaking. In elementary school, he hated speaking in front of people even for presenting projects in class. He could communicate his ideas well to one or two people, but when dozens of eyes were concentrated on him he had the urge to hide. William knew this was one of his weaknesses and decided to improve on it. He registered for the Optimist Oratorical Contest in sixth grade, and failed miserably. The next year, he doubled his efforts; he wrote the speech early, found a teacher to coach him, and practiced gestures and posture and tone and inflection. That year, he advanced to and won the state competition, competing as a seventh-grader against a dozen ninth-graders. This public-speaking skill came in handy later, as William was elected vice president for sophomore and junior years and is now president of his senior class. He loves to serve his class and make student government effective; having raised over $40,000 over the past four years in numerous fundraisers, he hopes to make prom and graduation spectacular events. William enjoys working with people, and more importantly, serving them and helping whenever he can. He pursues numerous volunteer activities outside of school, including Boy Scouts, playing soccer with special needs kids, and food and clothing distribution to needy families.

Perhaps the most important part of William’s personality is the fact that he does not measure his success against others; he compares himself only to his previous level of success, striving to improve himself in any way he can. Although he will never become the perfect person, he sees great value in the process of self-improvement.

Back to 2008 Scholars