JEROME — Nathaniel Nordquist scours the Internet and libraries for anything interesting to learn about math and science. And that’s just in his free time.
“That’s always what I had a passion for reading about,” the 18-year-old Jerome student said.
Nordquist read his way through his parents’ book collection, and they encouraged him to find new materials at public and school libraries. As he got older, he started looking into online resources.
“I just kind of devoured everything on the subject,” he said Monday.
Nordquist reads scholarly scientific documents through online repositories and looks up recommended college reading lists.
He used an over-the-phone homework hotline through Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., to get help with a multivariable calculus class he took on his own.
He stumbled across information online about the American Mathematics Competitions and signed up just for fun. He participated for two years and even qualified for an invitational competition.
Nordquist’s efforts have paid off. He’s one of nine Jerome High School valedictorians who graduate Wednesday.
Plus, he’s a National Merit Scholar, a prestigious honor awarded to less than 1 percent of graduating seniors nationwide based on preliminary SAT test scores.
Nordquist plans to attend Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., in the fall.
He’s interested in studying computer science, likely with a focus on programming. And he’s looking into future career options.
“I’ve been really into cryptology,” he said. “It’s the perfect blend of the abstract and the applied.”
Nordquist said he’s interested in using creativity to generate algorithms and then implement them.
He said he’d like to be hired by a business or government agency, for example, to create something helpful to make their computer system more secure.
Nordquist has already earned A+ and Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician certifications through a College of Southern Idaho class that was offered to Jerome students.
And through Jerome High’s technology program, he and his classmates were given the flexibility to study something that interests them as they prepared to wrap up high school. Nordquist took a free online class through Harvard University.
On his own time, Nordquist — who was born and raised in Jerome — signed up for a nationwide math competition because he thought it looked cool.
When it was time to take the test, “it was just 75 minutes of pure agony,” he said, adding it’s based on abstract thinking.
Afterward, he connected with an online community of other students who’d taken the test. He called the experience “awesome.”
During his time at Jerome High, Nordquist found plenty of opportunities to get plugged into school activities, too.
As a freshman, he participated in marching band for a year, along with cross country, track and basketball.
He continued with cross country and track all four years of high school — where he was a distance runner — and picked up basketball again his senior year.
During his sophomore year, he joined the school’s quiz bowl team and participated for three years. He was named the regional “most valued player” his junior and senior years.
And he was on Jerome High’s speech team his sophomore and senior years. This year, he won a state competition in an individual oratorical analysis category.
Recalling those who made an impact on him as a student, Nordquist was quick to mention Jerome High counselor Christi Gilmore.
She has an amazing ability to find ways to help each individual student maximize their potential, he said. “I’ll definitely miss her.”