Meet Stamford High’s future Ivy Leaguers!

Pierce Colfer, Correspondent

Every year, high school seniors across the country put in their bids to attend their dream colleges, and a few will be bold enough to apply to the top-of-the-top schools, including the Ivy League schools, an elite group of eight schools across the East Coast. With the Ivy League schools with the highest acceptance rate hovering around only 9%, very few students manage to get admitted. Despite this, four Stamford High students from the Class of 2023 have achieved just that.

Denis Proskuryakov and Joaquin Diaz have committed to the University of Pennsylvania to get their bachelor’s degree in mathematics and economics respectively, while Samantha Albert and Elvis Coy Canto were both admitted to Cornell University, with Albert being recruited to play softball and Coy majoring in industrial and labor relations.

Diaz was the first of these students to hear about his acceptance, having applied early decision to UPenn. He was admitted into the Wharton School on a full ride to pursue a bachelor’s degree in economics. “I’d say it’s still pretty unbelievable, because Wharton has always been a dream of mine and I’m just really blessed and fortunate to go to such a school. I’m excited that I’ll be able to go with people that are as ambitious, if not more ambitious than I am, and hard working,” he said about attending.

Joaquin Diaz
Joaquin Diaz

Diaz applied to colleges this year through an organization called QuestBridge, which has given him the opportunity to go to this school free of charge. QuestBridge, as Diaz puts it, is “a national nonprofit that partners with top colleges to offer students a more feasible economic path.” He was able to rank upwards of 15 schools, though Diaz decided to only rank two, UPenn and MIT. He said, “If I didn’t get into Penn and I didn’t get into MIT, I was gonna have to roll my decisions through early action and apply to colleges normally. Fortunately, I got the good news and I got accepted through QuestBridge. It honestly feels amazing because my family can’t afford the Penn education and [UPenn] saw something in me and they’re paying me to go,” when giving his thoughts on the program.

Diaz is also one of few kids in the Class of 2023 who is a part of Stamford High’s IB program, a program designed to prepare participating students for college. Students who are a part of the program take seven two-year classes which give work at a college level, and at the end of their senior year take exams on each of their subjects. “IB has been very challenging and so far I’ve sustained a good amount of high grades on it…all the classes I chose here are what I want to do, and they’re fun, so I’d say they’ve helped me learn how to balance my lifestyle, because in college I’ll be doing extracurriculars and heavy academic coursework so I’d say I’ve definitely been prepared,” Diaz said about how Stamford High and the IB program have prepared him for college.

Along with his participation in the IB program, Diaz has a lot of other factors that allowed for his acceptance. He’s founded multiple clubs at Stamford High, has a variety of leadership positions, and spends a lot of time volunteering, including with Future 5, a nonprofit that helps low-income high schoolers. Diaz said the organization, of which he is an ambassador for, “helped [him] a ton in terms of gaining admittance.” But above all of that, Diaz said, “I think I just crafted a personality for me. I talked a lot about my side hobbies like reading, philosophy, and how that’s affected me. I think crafting a ‘who am I’ story and about my own background coming from Peru, I think that’s what helped my application stand out.”

Paul Wiegand, a Spanish teacher at Stamford High, has a unique relationship with Diaz, having been his ESL teacher in the second grade when Diaz was first learning English. Nearly a decade later, he is now seeing his student graduate, on his way to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country. He said that Diaz is “intrinsically motivated,” a trait which he also saw in him when they first met. Diaz “accepts any kind of critique,” refusing to take it as criticism, according to Wiegand. He also stated that he isn’t surprised that Diaz will be attending UPenn, ending his interview with a warning to the school; “University of Pennsylvania, here he comes!”

Diaz has had a big impact at Stamford High, being a co-founder for both the Personal Student Progress and Growth club and the Table Tennis Club, of which he currently holds the positions of co-president for both. In addition to the aforementioned leadership roles, Diaz is the secretary for the Future Business Leaders of America and treasurer for the Interact Club. Diaz is a member of Synchrony Skills Academy, is a student representative for the School Governance Committee, and worked as an intern for the tax department in the Stamford Government Center.

Proskuryakov will be attending UPenn alongside Diaz to earn his bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He talked about how, although he wasn’t positive he would get into top schools, he believed that he was “at that level.” “I knew the chances were slim and there’s a lot of randomness associated with it, but I also knew that I would be in a pile where I wasn’t filtered out because of my test scores or GPA, and if they actually read my essays I was hoping that I would get into one of [the Ivy League schools],” he said when asked if he was expecting to get into top colleges.

Denis Proskuryakov
Denis Proskuryakov touring the University of Pennsylvania.

Although he has committed to UPenn, this was not the only option he was looking at, as he also got accepted into UC Berkeley and Dartmouth College, another Ivy League school. Proskuryakov accredited a couple of things to his success in getting into a lot of these top schools, one of which was his status as being the valedictorian of the Class of 2023. “If I wasn’t number one weighted I think they would look differently, because Stamford High isn’t an elite school,” he said. He also believes that his performance at multiple math competitions, including winning first in different categories at state competitions, could’ve been “a spike” in his application, as he puts it.

Some of his awards include placing third in the Fairfield County Math League by overall score both his junior and senior year, placing first in the Connecticut State Association of Math Leagues among seniors from large schools, and placing second in the CSAML among all seniors.

Proskuryakov chose UPenn over Dartmouth and UC Berkeley after considering a wide range of things. “I looked at a lot of stuff. I looked at the curriculum, I looked at the graduate programs, I looked at graduate program placements, I looked at coursework that I’d be able to take, and UPenn just made more sense in terms of opportunities,” he cited as a couple reasons for his decision. He also noted that Dartmouth “is basically just frats,” and decided that attending may not be the best for his future career, and UPenn’s proximity to the East Coast as compared to UC Berkeley, where he would be attending across the country on the West Coast, put the school as his top choice.

When looking at careers in mathematics, he has a lot of options at his disposal. Proskuryakov had a long list of things for him to pursue, laying out academia, finance, tech, actuarial mathematics, and consulting as potential career paths. However, he said that a “more interesting career path” for him that he is currently looking at would likely be found in quantitative finance, where he would be building models and trading for a hedge fund.

During his time at Stamford High, Proskuryakov has gotten himself involved with a lot of extracurriculars. He is the current captain of the math team, in addition to being on the varsity cross-country and varsity track team, the former of which he is the team captain for. Students may also recognize Proskuryakov from the Future Business Leaders of America, where he manages the club’s store.

Albert is unique in her attendance to Cornell, having been recruited to the university to play softball after applying early decision. While there, she will also be majoring in applied economics and management. Albert said that she is “very excited” about attending, but “also pretty nervous, just because of the name and it being an Ivy League school.” Albert talked about how she knows that the competition at Cornell will be steep, especially given her position as a student athlete. Despite these concerns, Albert remains optimistic, saying that she “feels like the right fit” for the school, and given her ability, she is confident that she will be able to overcome any challenges that she faces.

Sam Albert
Sam Albert batting against Greenwich.

Being recruited to play a sport in college is a dream for many people, and for Albert that dream was able to come true. She said that she, “started [playing softball] in kindergarten or first grade, so it was just kind of a love for a game that I played with my friends that developed into me getting this opportunity to go to this amazing school that I love”

Albert has had a long career with softball. Although she wasn’t able to play her freshman year because of COVID-19, she has been a starter for the varsity softball team for her remaining three high school years, and has filled the role of captain her senior year. Outside of Stamford High, Albert was a part of the Fury Softball team from 2019 to 2021, and has been a part of the TC Futures Elite Softball team since 2021.

Albert has received multiple accolades for softball and for other sports, including being named first team all-FCIAC for her junior and senior year for softball, and being named third team all-FCIAC for basketball during her senior year.

Cornell’s head coach of softball, Julie Farlow, said she was thrilled that Albert chose the school. “She’s a talented and versatile athlete who will be able to help us at multiple positions. She hasn’t hit her ceiling yet and it’ll be exciting to see her skills continue to develop during her time here,” said Farlow. Albert herself said, “[Farlow and I] just kind of clicked, and I turned out to be a great fit,” when talking about her first meeting with the coach.

Although Albert is going to be pursuing softball, this is not the only sport that she’s played. She is also a captain of the Stamford High girls’ basketball team, and was a starter for the volleyball team her underclassmen years. In addition, Albert currently holds the position of sports editor for both the Round Table and the Stamford High Yearbook. Her work experience also includes being a softball coach for young children at Elite Sports Training Softball Camp.

Coy also got admitted into Cornell, having applied to major in industrial and labor relations. “It’s a dream come true, honestly. I mean, everyone wants to get in, and I didn’t really expect to get in,” he said about going to the school. He called it a “life-changing day” when he got his acceptance, since he thought that they were just going to ask him questions about financial aid and was shocked when he opened his portal.

Elvis Coy Canto
Elvis Coy Canto

He talked about how his teachers and mentors have been amazing through the college process, and how he credits his acceptance to them, in addition to all of his extracurriculars. “Everyone who applies to these colleges has great stats, SATs and GPAs, but perhaps doing the extracurriculars I participated in set me apart,” he said.

One teacher in particular that helped Coy was William Casolo, a math teacher at Stamford High who worked with him to improve his SAT scores. Casolo said that, although math isn’t Coy’s strongest subject, his desire to learn and to always find out why something works the way it does allows him to rise above other students. “He has the ‘it’ factor. He has a certain drive to him that most others do not, and with the passion that he has for his education, the work ethic that he puts into it, there’s really no ceiling for what he can do. He’s an exemplary student and somebody that I know is going to be incredibly successful in whatever career path he decides to go,” Casolo said about Coy.

Coy is going to be attending the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University (ILR). ILR is ranked as the number one industrial and labor relations school, with an acceptance rate that hovers around 12% each year for freshman, on top of Cornell’s own acceptance rate of 9%. Coy said that, “Initially, I wanted to do something related to business, but after finding out that Cornell had this specific school that related with how people work (basically it goes deep into the study of work) I believe it has the potential to lead me into many opportunities in the future,” citing starting a business, practicing law, or pursuing an MBA as potential futures for him.

Coy started off his career at Stamford High by successfully running for secretary of the Class of 2023 his freshman year. Since then, he has gone on to become the president of the Distributive Education Clubs of America, as well as many activities outside of school. He is the student ambassador for Future 5, leader of a youth group at Fraternidad Cristiana Church, and worked as an intern at Courtyard by Marriott.