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Teachers honored by former students at Cornell University event

Aerial view of Kuhlman stadium with water tower in foreground.

Edina High School (EHS) teachers Dan Baron and Jodi Ramirez were honored by former students at the Merrill Presidential Scholars Convocation at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, May 22-23. Baron, a social studies teacher, and Ramirez, an engineering and technology teacher, were selected by 2014 EHS graduates Caroline (Cara) Sierks and Ken Shimizu, as educators who influenced them. Sierks and Shimizu are among 30 Merrill Scholars - the top 1 percent - who are Cornell’s “most outstanding graduating seniors.”

Each Merrill Scholar was invited to honor a high school teacher and a college professor. Cornell paid all expenses for Baron and Ramirez to attend the convocation. “It was such an honor. It is so nice to be remembered by a former student,” Baron said. “And to know how successful the student is and for them to give you credit for part of that -- I’m as pleased as can be.” Likewise, Ramirez said she was “very surprised” to learn that Shimizu had selected her for the honor.

In addition to the convocation, the university will award a one-time $4,000 scholarship in each teacher’s name to an incoming Cornell student from EHS or the regional, with financial need as determined by Cornell.

Sierks is a government and economics major. Her research on poverty policy was published as a “Cornell in Washington” top paper. She also analyzed policy in her honors thesis, as a research assistant, and as an intern in the U.S. Senate and the Justice Department. Following graduation, she will begin work in Washington, D.C. at a research and policy development organization.

Baron said he remembers Sierks well. “It is fun to watch sophomores in their first ever AP class – they don’t know how great they are, but I had an inkling about her,” he said. “These kids are doing amazing things,” Baron said of the Merrill Scholars. “Cara is going to work in Washington, D.C. – she believes government policy can change things for the better.”

Sierks’ tribute to Baron said in part, “Mr. Baron’s AP European History class was the first class to push me to be a more analytical thinker. While Mr. Baron taught facts, he encouraged students to see the forest for the trees and showed us how to weave information together to convey a compelling story. Mr. Baron’s class taught me why knowledge was valuable.”

Shimizu’s interests combine civil engineering, finance and project management. Last year, his research earned first place honors at the International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure. Shimizu will intern at Tesla this summer, working with Gigafactory 1 facilities expansion and engineering in Nevada.

Ramirez said she had Shimizu as a student twice, in 9th and 10th grades. “I remember him as being very inquisitive, asking me questions that would allow us to delve deeper into learning in the classroom,” she said, “and he inspired his fellow students to do the same by creating opportunities for further discussion around engineering topics.”

Of Ramirez’ impact on his learning, Shimizu said, “Taking advanced mathematics and engineering courses taught by Mrs. Ramirez was one of my favorite experiences in high school. Her classes inspired me to study civil engineering. Mrs. Ramirez brought out my creativity with architecture and my analytical ability with engineering. She has inspired me to integrate safe building design with the social, economic, environmental, functional, and aesthetic considerations.”