The quantum champion

Student leader becomes sixth Schoolcraft recipient of prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship

By Peter Hubbard, Staff Writer


Elis Sholla speaking at Schoolcraft College Graduation 2017.  (Photo courtesy of Schoolcraft College)

The term entanglement means multitudes more to Elis Sholla than some vague physics term which minds like Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku sling around while modeling how the universe holds together. Sholla breathes additional meaning into the word through the marriage of his voracious curiosity, altruistic nature, sociability, and beautiful dreams.

On April 13th, Sholla walked into his scheduled Phi Theta Kappa honor society meeting to instead find cake, balloons, cameras, and some of Schoolcraft’s administrators, faculty and staff smiling at him. The reason for celebration was his victory regarding the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, his ticket for studying at the most prestigious research institutions in the world. Before he heard the news, Sholla shrugged away those dreams due to the stark finances of such an education.

Amongst those in attendance were President Dr. Conway Jeffress, Student Activities Director Todd Stowell, Associate Dean of Transfer and Partnerships Laurie Kattauh-Snyder, Executive Director of Marketing and Advancement Frank Ruggirello Jr., and his beloved honor society team.

“This is a person who’s had quite the dedication to what he wanted in life, and pursued it with a vigor which allowed him to succeed. To have him get these awards is marvelous… This is somebody who’s worked hard and he’s getting the accolades,” President Jeffress said regarding Sholla when he received the All-USA Community College Academic Scholarship only a month prior.

Considered by many to be the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the globe, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Transfer Scholarship is the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students in the country. Nearly 3000 students apply for the scholarship annually, and Sholla was one of approximately 60 students in the United States to receive the $40,000 per year (for up to three years). The application process is notoriously demanding and the average GPA of its incoming class is 3.9, just below Sholla’s perfect 4.0.

The biggest question at Sholla’s surprise party was what exactly he intended on doing with such a door-opener. For such a brilliant student, his life may be poetically modeled like his favorite subject. His future mirrors the premise of quantum theory: how until a particle is measured and observed, it actually exists in all of the states it could possibly be in simultaneously. Of course this analogy has to be limited to positive outcomes, but anybody who has spoken with Sholla for a length of time will find a well-read mind versed in nearly every subject in academia due to his love for learning. This Schrödinger’s cat is a true polymath, occupying the titles of scholar, engineer, artist, philosopher, comedian, physicist, and writer, until his career observes and grants him a title.

Sholla has juggled the roles of Phi Theta Kappa chapter president, tutor, Peer-assisted Learner (PAL), Learning Assistance Center (LAC) Tutor, Math and Physics Club President, coordinator for the Middle School Science Day,  Zack’s restaurant employee, and full-time student. Terri Lamb, Schoolcraft’s Mathematics Learning Specialist and Tutor Program Coordinator, had this to say about her former employee:

“Elis started working as an LAC tutor in the Winter 2016 semester. That same semester, was the semester of the ‘LAC dream team.’ Coincidence? I think not! Elis is an amazing student, a talented employee, and an all-around awesome guy!”

Sholla certainly has an abundance of potential energy, and luckily for everyone, the aspiring physicist knows how to convert that to kinetic energy. After his acceptance of the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, his dreams of attending the University of Michigan became a reality. He will start in the Fall 2017 semester for a bachelor’s in Computer and Software Engineering, ultimately with a longitudinal goal of receiving a PH.D. in quantum physics.

Long-time friend and former tutoring/PAL coworker James Boyce knows Sholla better than almost everybody in the western hemisphere (Sholla is an Albanian native). First meeting in physics 211 with Professor Chris Wood, James said, “I could tell he was poised to do great things, despite the curve ball that life had thrown him. After all the time that I’ve known him and every struggle he has had to be here, the statement still holds true… After being fellow Ocelots, I am excited that we will soon be fellow Wolverines.”

Sholla’s choice regarding the University of Michigan was concisely simple. The university is one of the most prestigious quantum physics research institutes in the world, a majority of his former LAC coworkers transferred there, and the school is about thirty miles from his home in Westland.

Always a futurist, Sholla is eager for his next chapter, although he will never forget his past. This was clear due to his high volume of thanks for everybody who helped him along the way.

Laurie Kattauh-Snyder, Associate Dean of Transfer and Partnerships, spoke for everybody when she said, “Elis has experience many life-changing challenges, and in spite of all this, he has learned the English language, enrolled in college, excelled in college, persisted beyond anyone’s expectations, and is ready for this next transformative phase in his life.”

Humility is a trait which Sholla understands to be powerful. Sholla does not believe geniuses to be individuals, but instead events. People like Einstein and Newton were not geniuses by design, but they instead found their genius after laboring long. “My favorite definition in physics is that work equals the integration of force with respect to distance. This applies to every facet of one’s goals. Perhaps we cannot change the force of our character much, but we certainly can control how long we push with it. Despite whatever one’s goal/work is, hopefully beneficial to the human collective, I know one truth. Great things are not achieved by people complimenting themselves or comparing themselves to others. Great work is achieved by people who realize they have enough force to change the world and are obstinate enough to walk however far it takes to get there.”