Conant's Mittal not a rocket scientist yet -- but he's close

  • Conant High School senior Rajat Mittal got a perfect score on his ACT and excels in math; he is a violinist, and he plays basketball.

      Conant High School senior Rajat Mittal got a perfect score on his ACT and excels in math; he is a violinist, and he plays basketball. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 

His resume is impressive. Certainly impressive enough for any college in America.

A perfect score of 36 on the ACT. The first time he took the test.

A near perfect score of 1580 (out of 1600) on the SAT. Also on the first try.

A report card with nothing but As in multiple honors classes and advanced placement classes, and a 5.048 grade-point average.

A standout basketball player.

An accomplished violinist.

A state math champion.

A co-founder of a nonprofit small business that gets kids excited about math.

Conant senior Rajat Mittal, the leading scorer of the Conant basketball team (14 ppg) and an all-conference and all-area selection, is the complete package. The perfect candidate for a top-shelf college.

But, stunningly, Mittal has not been accepted to all of his top college choices. And in the wake of the national college admissions scandal, where deserving students have gotten pushed aside through bribes and falsified applications for wealthier students, the most impressive thing about Mittal might be his wise reaction to it.

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"The college admissions scandal is really crushing to me, that people are willing to go to that extent to get their kids into great colleges," Mittal said. "But what I tell myself is that college isn't everything. These rich people who are trying to get their kids into these colleges are actually hurting the self-esteem of their kids by getting them into colleges they don't deserve, and they are forgetting that the biggest take-away from college is not about what college you get into or where you go, it's what you do with the college experience."

Mittal did not get into MIT. And he is still waiting to hear from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon. He's not super confident about either of them.

Who knows if Mittal is a victim of the admissions scandal. He hardly blinks an eye at the idea.

That's because Mittal still has big plans. He is proud to have gotten into many other elite schools, including Cal Institute of Technology, where he is excited about the prospect of tapping into a special NASA-related program there.

"I've heard that Cal Tech is one of the hardest schools in America to get into and I'm excited about that because at Cal Tech, I would learn a lot. And I could specialize in artificial intelligence and intern at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and work on astrophysics and space projects.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's always been my dream to work for NASA."

So, Mittal literally wants to be a rocket scientist.

Talk about someone looking to make the most out of his college experience, no matter what that college address is.

Mittal certainly did just that with his high school experience at Conant. He made the most of it.

He has been on point in the classroom, on the basketball court, in the music room and as a leader with his peers.

"He's a phenomenal kid," Conant basketball coach Jim Maley said of Mittal. "Raj has been a great leader and a hard worker. When your best player has a perfect score on the ACT, is a violinist, is the state math champion and the hardest worker in practice, everyone else seems to fall in line."

Mittal, who played basketball and various other sports since before he can remember and earned a spot on the varsity basketball team at Conant as a sophomore, says his biggest asset as a basketball player is his team-first mentality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I've always really prided myself on not what I can do individually, but the way I can help the team," Mittal said. "I go for every offensive rebound, every loose ball, I don't skip any lifts (in the weight room). I just try to do whatever I can to help the team win or to be a good role model."

Somewhere between basketball, an eight-year career as a violinist, duties with Conant's chamber orchestra and competitions with the school's math team, where he finished with a perfect score and a championship in last year's state math competition, Mittal took his desire to be a role model to an entirely new level.

Two years ago, he went to an elite math competition in which most of the winners were from either the East Coast, the West Coast or from China.

"I wondered why we weren't seeing more people from the Midwest and our area doing well there and when I really looked into it, I noticed that there aren't a lot of opportunities in our community for young kids to get introduced to advanced math in a fun way," Mittal said. "So I got together with three other kids (on the math team) and we founded the Midwest Math Circle. It's not just math tutoring, it's math exposure. My goal is to inspire kids to love math at a young age.

"I love math because I love puzzles and each problem is a different puzzle and I love the joy of solving different problems, and that's our goal for the kids at Midwest Math Circle.

"We're not necessarily trying to teach them the most material, it's about getting them to love math and usually the result is that they learn a lot, too."

Besides, handling the finances and tax records for Midwest Math Circle, which caters to third graders through high schoolers, Mittal also designs the curriculum and finds other high school students to serve as "teachers."

With a branch in the Northwest suburbs as well as in Glenview, Midwest Math Circle, which charges just $100 for 90 hours of service over the course of the entire school year, works with more than 50 kids and is looking to add more.

"Even though I'm going to be going off to college, I still plan on being involved in this," Mittal said. "This is like my child. I don't think I could ever totally move on from it. I really care a lot about the impact this organization has.

"Its potential in the future is enormous."

Ditto for Mittal.

Greatness seems to be ahead no matter where he starts his journey next fall.

To check out Midwest Math Circle, visit www.midwestmathcircle.org.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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