At a campus filled with intelligent, highly motivated students, Hopkins seniors Zack Friedman and Sarvenaz Zand could be classified as hyperachievers.
As undergraduates, they have earned near-perfect grades, conducted rigorous research projects and participated in a dizzying array of extracurricular activities on campus and off. Friedman has published two articles for a political encyclopedia, is a co-editor of the Johns Hopkins Law Review and has interned at the White House. Zand has directed Hopkins' peer counseling program, taught photography to inner city children and conducted brain cancer research at the Hopkins School of Medicine.
As commencement draws near, the two show no signs of slowing down: Friedman is applying to law schools, Zand to medical schools.
But last week, the two superstar students took a short breather to accept some national recognition for their higher-education achievements. Friedman and Zand, both 21, were named on Feb. 17 to the 11th annual All-USA College Academic First Team, sponsored by the USA Today newspaper. Only 20 students from around the nation were selected for this team, which recognizes young people for academic excellence and community service. Each team member received a $2,500 cash award during ceremonies conducted in Arlington, Va., where the newspaper is based.
Two other Hopkins seniors were also recognized by the newspaper. Mahesh Shenai, a biomedical engineering major, placed on the All-USA College Academic Second Team. Daniel Shapero, a mathematical sciences major, placed on the Third Team.
It is unusual for one university to place two students on the First Team. In fact, in the 11-year history of the judging, only one other Hopkins student has ever been named to USA Today's prestigious First Team. This year, a panel of judges selected the 20 First Team members from 828 students nominated by colleges across the country.
Coincidentally, both of this year's First Team winners from Hopkins come from Southern California. Friedman is from Beverly Hills. Zand is from the Northridge section of Los Angeles.
"When I heard in January that I had been chosen, I felt like someone who had won the lottery," Zand said. "I was thinking, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God!' "
Added Friedman: "I've been a reader of USA Today for a long time, so this is a complete honor. For helping me win this award, I need to thank the faculty members I've had here at Johns Hopkins. They've really been stellar."
Friedman, a political science major, reserved special praise for several professors from that department: Joel Grossman, Milton C. Cummings Jr. and Joseph Cooper. "They've been role models for me, and I attribute my academic accomplishments to them," he said.
Grossman, acting chair of the department and Friedman's adviser, said the student has contributed greatly to his own success. "Zack Friedman is, quite simply, one of the smartest and best students I have had in over 36 years of teaching political science and constitutional law," the professor wrote in a recent letter of recommendation. "He has a first class intellect, extraordinary verbal ability, writes exceptionally well and has a very strong motivation to work in the policy sector."
Friedman said he has long been interested in public service and government and chose to attend Hopkins partly because of its location. "I wanted to be close to Washington, D.C.," he said.
Since he arrived at Hopkins, he has gained hands-on experience in politics by serving as a Foreign Relations Committee intern for U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and by working on the re-election campaigns for Democratic U.S. senators Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Barbara Boxer of California. Friedman also was elected state president of the College Democrats of Maryland and co-president of Johns Hopkins College Democrats.
Last summer he served as a White House intern for Chief of Staff John Podesta. Despite the long commutes to Washington, Friedman described his White House stint as "the greatest experience anyone could ever have. Just being in that atmosphere, and seeing how these brilliant people communicate and work for the American people ... it was truly fascinating."
Like Friedman, Zand, a biomedical engineering major who is known by her nickname Sarvy, attributes much of her success to faculty mentors. "People like Murray Sachs, Art Shoukas, Clare King and Henry Brem have been so crucial in my personal and academic development," she said. "I have learned so much from them as professors and as people that I do not know where I would be without them. In a lot of ways, they are the inspiration that has motivated me to pursue being of service to others."
In support of Zand's nomination, Sachs, who is director of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, wrote that Zand has brought more than brainpower to her academic success. "Her unbridled enthusiasm is very real and infectious," he said. "She rises rapidly to leadership in all that she does because of her charming personality and her deep sense of investment. ... Suffice it to say that in my 29 years at Johns Hopkins I must have recommended nearly 100 students for medical school. Sarvy is simply No. 1 among those."
Zand, whose first name means "a tree that bends the sky to the earth" in Persian, has been particularly active in academic tutoring and other projects that assist fellow students. She is director of A Place to Talk: The Johns Hopkins Peer Counseling Center, and she directs the university's Sexual Assault Response Unit. Beyond the Homewood campus, she founded a counseling program for children at Garrison Forest Middle School in Baltimore.
"These activities are all based on personal interaction," Zand said. "This is where I think I can have the most positive effect on people around me."
Beyond her academic and extracurricular work, Zand has had to face financial challenges to attend Hopkins. Shortly before she enrolled, her family suffered significant property losses in the Northridge earthquake, forcing Zand to finance her education without monetary help from them. "Hopkins has been amazing with its financial aid," she said. "They've taken good care of me."
Zand returned the favor recently by speaking at an alumni dinner, thanking donors for their contributions to financial aid programs.
To read the story in USA Today, log onto http://www.usatoday.com/life/academic/intro.htm.