Chris Pudenz, who graduated from Carroll High School  this year, has been named a National Merit Scholar and has been accepted at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He has been helping the technology department at Carroll High School this summer as they prepare to roll out more than 1,000 Samsung Chromebooks for students in grades 6-12.
Chris Pudenz, who graduated from Carroll High School this year, has been named a National Merit Scholar and has been accepted at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He has been helping the technology department at Carroll High School this summer as they prepare to roll out more than 1,000 Samsung Chromebooks for students in grades 6-12.
July 12, 2013

Chris Pudenz aimed higher than the perfect 4.0 grade-point average he achieved through the four years he recently completed at Carroll High School.

"There's a certain way you can do things just to get the grade you want," he says. "But that doesn't have the same positive learning experience that doing everything you can to improve yourself as a student does.

"I always tried to do everything I could to get everything out of whichever class I was in at the time. I can't say I always succeeded at that, but I tried."

Pudenz's drive to grow in intellect, character and spiritually led to his selection this spring as a National Merit Scholarship winner, which puts him in rare company.

Pudenz, son of Doug and DeAnn Pudenz, who farm east of Breda, learned last fall he was one of 16,000 semifinalists out of the approximately 1.5 million who took the Pre-SAT test. About 15,000 students advance to finalists, but then the application process is lengthy and students' achievements and credentials receive close examination.

Carroll High guidance counselor told Pudenz his PSAT score was the highest he'd seen at the school, and he verified that performance by scoring 2,140 out of a possible 2,400 on the SAT. Additionally, he scored 33 out of 36 on the ACT.

In his online scholarship application, Pudenz submitted his accomplishments in activities and volunteer service and the character recommendation of a school administrator. Finally, he had to write an essay describing an experience he has had, a person who has influenced him, or an obstacle he has overcome, explaining why this was meaningful to him.

Pudenz wrote about a mission trip he took to the island nation Trinidad and Tobago off the northeast coast of South America in June 2012.

Pudenz wrote, "It was an incredible experience, but even more incredible was the trust my parents placed in me to let me travel such a great distance without any family. I visited the country with Every Home for Christ. This organization made all of the necessary arrangements, but it was up to the group I traveled with to go door to door and share the love of Jesus Christ with Trinidadians."

Pudenz, whose family attends First Assembly of God Church in Carroll, added, "The trip completely changed the way I look at the world, and I am grateful for the experience. This trip was my first mission trip, but it will not be the last. I am already planning to return to the country next summer in a leadership role on a trip for only high school students. I look forward to this next adventure, confident that I will learn something as life-changing as I did on the last one."

Pudenz, 19, said in a recent interview with the Times Herald, "It was an absolute blast. You got to share God with people and pray with them. It was very good for me to see what other countries are like, because not all other countries are like America."

After not hearing for a long time about his National Merit Scholarship application, Pudenz received a very timely letter from the program, On the day his family was hosting a graduation party, he received word he was selected for a scholarship. He went online immediately and accepted.

True to his belief in pushing himself the extra mile, Pudenz will be using that scholarship to attend the prestigious Hillsdale College, located in south-central Michigan, about 90 miles west of Detroit.

Pudenz says the school is distinctive for not taking any government funding, freeing the liberal-arts school to pursue a mission of providing education based on Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman culture.

Pudenz was highly impressed when he heard Hillsdale's president address a national leadership seminar the school presented in Dallas, Texas, where the featured speaker was former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

He visited the school last October, and Pudenz says, "The campus is beautiful. Just like that conference, everything is done with excellence."

Although, the school's not affiliated with any church, Pudenz says, "There's a strong religious presence on campus."

The school may be 10 hours' drive from home, but a panel of Hillsdale students told visitors that weekend that the school community - enrollment is about 1,400 - is so strong, it's like family.

"I'm positive the religious aspect contributes to that community," Pudenz says.

He says of his choice, "I'm happy there's a strong religious presence at the school because I want to grow closer to God while I'm going to school. I want to go to school not only to get a degree but also to become a better person both spiritually and educationally. A lot of schools, I have observed, are more concerned with academics than the personal improvement. And Hillsdale's very much about personal improvement. And I think that there being a strong religious presence among the student body is part of that. One of the first things I'll do when I get there is try to find a church to plug into and become a part of."

He plans to get involved in choir and church activity, such as Bible study.

The Hillsdale website says, "A liberal education at Hillsdale College entails the study of things inherently worthwhile - things good, true and beautiful. As stated in the college honor code, this study "develops the minds and improves the hearts" of students, through which they rise to the challenge of self-government in a free republic. Students refine their intelligence, furnish their understanding, and acquire the abilities and wisdom necessary to lead full, humane lives. In so doing, students, like the college itself, become trustees of 'modern man's intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture.'"

Pudenz narrowed his choice between Hillsdale and Iowa State University, where brothers Sam, a 2007 CHS graduate, and Joel, a 2009 CHS grad, both earned degrees in agricultural business and economics. Sam, a 2011 ISU graduate, married this summer, lives at Overland Park, Kan., and works in grain and commodity trading with Lansing Trade Group. Joel, who graduated from ISU this spring and is engaged to be wed next summer, just began a training program with Farmers Cooperative in Ames.

Chris didn't want to select a school other than Hillsdale and then be left with the question nagging him: what if I had gone to Hillsdale?

Chris additionally notes that Sam and Joel were able to put their faith to practice through their participation in a Lutheran fraternity at Iowa State, but he believes he will have opportunity to thrive at Hillsdale, where faith values are at the school's core.

Pudenz will begin at Hillsdale by studying economics, although he says, he's never taken an economics course.

"I really like math and policy," he explains, "so I think economics is a good place to start. It seems to be a good combination of the two. They (Hillsdale) have a lot of required courses, and several of those are economics-related. So I will definitely get a feel for what economics is like right off the bat. They require a lot of classes in different areas, so I will have an opportunity to change my major."

Pudenz, who was one of five CHS valedictorians this year, says he owes success to the supportive atmosphere provided by his parents that has seen his brothers and sister also excel - Sam was CHS salutatorian in 2007, Joel was valedictorian in 2009, and Bekah will be a CHS junior this year.

In their farm operation, the Pudenzes raise feeder cattle and grow corn for feed.

"It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every week of the year," Pudenz says of the work.

However, he says, "My parents always put a lot of emphasis on academics."

Pudenz works on the farm during the summer and during other especially busy times. Otherwise, he says, "Dad always told me I was a full-time student. I was fortunate that I didn't have to have a job during the school year, so I could focus on academics. That was very important to me. I was very happy that my parents had the mindset that during the school year I'm a full-time student and I need to be focused on my school work and activities."

Pudenz, grandson of Jim and Mary Ann Pudenz and Al and Mary Irlbeck, all of Carroll, took advantage of that opportunity to participate in speech, choir and show choir and basketball, and he also served as his class vice president three years. At his church, he's been a vocalist at Sunday morning services. Last summer he served an unpaid internship in the Iowa Secretary of State's office at the Capitol.

"I got to witness the interactions among the people in the office, and with people outside the office. It was just a very good experience to see the inner workings of our government," Pudenz says.

Pudenz also has a strong interest in technology, taking a technology internship class two periods a day during his senior year, under technology director Craig Rowedder and his assistant Brian Hogue.

In the internship he's repaired computers, installed programs and assisted teachers.

"I've learned a lot about technology," he says, "but I've also learned a lot about how to communicate with people, how to find out whatever their problem was and solve it."

Through that experience, Pudenz was hired to work 30 hours a week this summer to help the department prepare Chromebooks for distribution to students next year and update the wireless network in Carroll Community School District buildings.

In his free time he enjoys farm-pond fishing with friends and family; hiking (he raved about the gorgeous scenery of an alpine glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park); and shooting clays and targets.

He recommends students take the PSAT test. Who knows, he says, that could lead to National Merit Scholarship success. Set goals high, he urges, and avoid regrets.

Pudenz is Carroll High's first National Merit Scholarship winner since Kelsey Heino in 2007. Heino went on to receive a bachelor of arts degree in history and minor in English at Iowa State University. She's joined the workers' compensation division at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in Omaha, Neb. She serves as a liaison between claimants' attorneys and businesses involved with workers' compensation claims.