Tribune Foundation scholarship winner Michelle Ross talks about how she built her own computer with a $1,000 budget. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

Scott Beck

By John P. Huston,Tribune reporter

Scott Beck's brain isn't the only instrument he uses to help him excel at math and science.

Beck, a Highland Park High School senior, turns to the French horn to "kind of keep me balanced and keep me sane, and keep me going through the hard sciences."

In a competitive environment like Highland Park High, he succeeds at just about everything he tries, whether it's academics, athletics or music, said Principal Brad Swanson, who nominated Beck for the Tribune's All-State Academic Team scholarship competition.

In addition to his stellar academic credentials and musical achievements — he has a 4.69 GPA on a 4.0 scale and was selected French horn first chair in the North Shore Honor Band, to name just two — Beck also played goalie on both his school and club soccer teams for four years.

"I think Scott is a very unique student because I truly don't feel that he is consumed by or wrapped up into his standard of performance," Swanson said. "I always appreciate his commitment to — as silly as it might sound — to the journey that he's on. He values every single experience that he has, and every single day."

Beck, a National Merit Scholar, also notched a perfect 36 on the ACT.

In his high school career, he has received only four overall class grades below an A.

"They're A-minuses. I can't complain too much about that," Beck said jovially, conceding that the sciences are a "labor of love" and that he gets a thrill "seeing how things fit together and ... how chemistry fits into physics."

Beck plans to study mechanical engineering at Northwestern University next fall. He said he's "very interested" in energy research and alternative energies.


Michelle Dobbs

By Jennifer Delgado,Tribune reporter

When an injury sidelined Michelle Dobbs from basketball and running for nine months, the three-sport athlete unintentionally found a second calling.

Dobbs, then a high school sophomore, channeled her energy toward her school's math team. She has kept up with it ever since and took seventh place at this year's pre-calculus state contest sponsored by the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

"Before, math was another subject I was good at," said Dobbs, 17, now a senior at Rochelle Township High School. "When I started going (to practices), I think I realized I liked it more and that I could be competitive at it."

The daughter of two high school coaches, Dobbs grew up playing sports and being around athletes on her parents' teams.

Early on, she applied the discipline she gained from sports to school. Ranked first in her senior class, Dobbs has a 4.66 GPA on a 4.0 scale, takes classes at Kishwaukee College in nearby Malta and is captain of the cross-country, basketball and track teams.

"Sometimes it is hard to balance it all, (but) I think it wouldn't be possible if I didn't enjoy it so much," she said.