The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 17, 1998
Feb. 17, 1998
VOL. 27, NO. 22


Honor role

Kudos: Senior in biomedical engineering lands on USA Today's Top Academic Team

Phil Sneiderman
Homewood News and Information

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Don't look for Robert Mittendorff II lolling in the sunshine on some sandy beach.

The Hopkins senior, who was named last week to USA Today's 1998 All-USA College Academic First Team, is knee-deep in a highly demanding schedule of academic studies and campus leadership posts.

Robert Mittendorff takes a breather from a schedule that includes courses in biomedical engineering, applying to medical schools, serving as a class officer and chairing a Student Council committee. He also researches how the auditory cortex represents complex acousticinformation. His recent honor recognizes grades, academic awards, leadership and public service.

He's completing the rigorous biomedical engineering major and weighing acceptance letters from four prestigious medical schools, including Hopkins. Outside the classroom, he's vice president of the Class of 1998 and chairman of the Student Council's academic affairs committee.

He's on the search committees for deans of the Engineering and the Arts and Sciences schools. He's a top officer in the honor societies for engineering and biomedical engineering students. In past years, he has been a member of Hopkins' soccer and cross country teams.

His campus leadership roles require so much attention that, to maintain his 3.87 grade-point average, Mittendorff sometimes must set aside 5-hour blocks of secluded study time during which he turns off the phone.

It doesn't leave many minutes for idle relaxation, but Mittendorff, a 21-year-old Virginia native, wouldn't have it any other way.

"You have to be insane to do all of this," he laughs. "I probably am."

He admits that even during a quiet dinner date with his girlfriend, his mind sometimes starts sending up ideas for a student council report that's due the following week.

"I love going to the beach and all that," Mittendorff says. "But I couldn't do that for an extended period of time. I think I might get a little too ambitious sometimes. But it's hard for me to just sit and relax for too long. I have to do something."

His drive and intelligence helped him become the first Hopkins student to land on USA Today's All-USA College Academic First Team. During the program's nine years, about a half-dozen other Hopkins students have won places on USA Today's second and third teams or an honorable mention.

This year, Marty Burke, a chemistry major with a 4.0 GPA, was named to The Third Team.

The Academic First Team consists of 20 students, selected by a panel of educators in a three-step judging process, from 1,194 nominees from colleges in 50 states and the District of Columbia. The newspaper said the students were judged largely on their scholarship and intellectual endeavors, as well as their leadership roles on and off campus.

Two Hopkins faculty members wrote letters of recommendation, saying Mittendorff's dual commitment to student activism and academic excellence is exceptional, even by the normally high Hopkins standards.

"His record of leadership on campus is among the most impressive that I have seen in my 30 years at Hopkins," wrote Charles R. Westgate, interim dean of the Whiting School of Engineering. "I would like to emphasize that he dedicated considerable time and energy to everything he has undertaken."

Westgate pointed out that no other Hopkins student has ever served on search committees helping to select new deans for both the schools of Engineering and Arts and Sciences.

"Bob academic's record is equally outstanding," he added. "As a biomedical engineering major with an electrical engineering concentration, he is enrolled in our most challenging academic program. His grade point average places him very near the top of our undergraduate students at Hopkins. I know of no other student who has maintained such a strong academic record while performing at a high level as a student leader and athlete."

Artin A. Shoukas, a biomedical engineering professor who has been Mittendorff's primary academic advisor at Hopkins, was equally enthusiastic in his letter to USA Today.

"By far," he wrote, "Robert is one of those students who comes along once every 10 years, who has attained an outstanding academic record with a balance of extracurricular activities, volunteer service and having held leadership roles throughout his tenure at The Johns Hopkins University."

Mittendorff himself says that juggling academics and student leadership comes naturally. "I love learning, and I love being around people," he says. "I like doing things as a representative of other people. I like that they are entrusting me with their problems."

The Hopkins senior grew up in the Virginia communities of Great Falls and McLean. Beginning in seventh grade, Mittendorff competed annually in regional, state and international science fairs. He credits his father, a former aeronautical engineer, for encouraging his interest in science, sometimes at an unusually advanced level. In a challenging calculus class at Hopkins, Mittendorff recognized an equation his father had once shown him--in the second grade.

At Langley High School near the headquarters of the CIA, Mittendorff played on several sports teams and worked on elaborate class projects. His grades were not quite high enough to earn him valedictorian honors, but he was named the top physics and top marketing student in his class. He was less comfortable about earning a third distinction: "most likely to succeed." "I've always worried about that jinxing me," he says.

No such jinx struck his entry in the All-USA College Academic Team program. He and his family were invited to attend an awards luncheon last Friday at the newspaper's Arlington, Va., headquarters, and Mittendorff was profiled in that day's newspaper.

He and each of the other Academic First Team members also received unrestricted $2,500 cash awards. Mittendorff says he's glad he applied for the honor--for two good reasons.

"I thought it would be great to be a representative of Hopkins at the national level," he says. "But I also saw the money as a way to repay some of the debts I've run up for medical school applications."