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Outstanding student receives high honor

Sam Totten’s hard work has paid off, literally, and in big way. As the recipient of the Eccles Distinguished Scholar Award, Totten will receive full financial support for tuition, housing, and fees; admission to the University of Utah’s Honors College; and in conjunction with the Early Assurance Program guaranteed admittance to the graduate program of his choice upon completion of his bachelor’s degree.

Established this year in a partnership with the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, the Eccles Distinguished Scholar Award is considered the most prestigious award available to incoming freshman at the University of Utah, according to the U’s website. Only 10 students were awarded the honor this year.

While well aware of his intelligence and diligence, the notability of the award even caught his mother Mora off guard.

"We knew he was smart, but [the Eccles Distinguished Scholar Award] was a surprise. It’s a really big deal," she said.

Totten is graduating with a 4.0 grade point average.

He has chosen to major in biology, a departure from his parents interests his mother is an artist and his father is a writer. He said he developed a passion for science after taking honors bio in 9th grade and AP biology his junior year of high school and is interested in pursuing a career in research science after college.

In the 5th grade Totten picked up the viola and continued to play throughout high school, joining the PCHS chamber orchestra and sitting 1st chair his senior year. He joined the environmental club the year it was created and, enamored with the opportunity to apply what he was learning in environmental science classes, continued with the club to serve as vice president as a senior, organizing clean-up projects of the trails and highways and leading educational trips with the local elementary schools taking kids on hikes and teaching them about nature.

Totten’s achievements are impressive on their own merit and even more so considering he’s accomplished them in the face of physical hardship. Six years ago he started seeing doctors about an inexplicable digestive disorder. He’s been hospitalized four times and has gone through rigorous testing for Crohn’s, Celiac at Intermountain’s Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo and at the U’s University Hospital in Salt Lake. So far doctors have been unable to make a diagnosis.

As a result of his condition Totten has struggled with losing weight and had to give up running track and cross country and he has been put on a gluten-free diet. His tests for Celiac have all come back negative, but doctors are concerned about false negatives.

Sam applied to a number of schools and said the University of Texas and Boston University were two of his top choices. The University of Texas accepted him and offered a partial scholarship, but receiving such a generous all-inclusive scholarship from the University of Utah sealed the deal. He said that staying close to family and his doctors also played a significant role in his decision.

Normally scholars admitted to the University Honors program are housed in the Honors College dormitories on campus, but special arrangements have been made for Totten. He’ll be living in the "Officer’s Circle," upperclassman housing, that is equipped with its own kitchen so that he’ll be able to cook specialized meals to fit his diet, as opposed to the cafeteria food at other residence halls.


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