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National Merit semifinalist: Passion for technology, curiosity drive scholar at Coronado High School

Matthew Pohlmann isn’t satisfied with having a working computer.

The 17-year-old wants to know how it works, see all the pieces behind the plastic casing. That’s why he custom built his desktop model from scratch, assembling parts that were strewn all over the family’s living room floor while he wore special bracelets to keep him grounded. Any static electricity arcing from his fingertips to the parts would have been disastrous.

His insatiable curiosity may be why Matthew is an A student at Coronado High School in Henderson and among the top 1 percent of America’s high schoolers, said his father, Karl Pohlmann.

Matthew’s PSAT score made him a National Merit semifinalist, an honor bestowed on only the top 1 percent of students each year. He scored the equivalent of 2180 in the SAT system out of 2400 possible points.

It’s the same with everything, the father said. Matthew, a thin, red-haired teen, doesn’t stop at getting the right answer.

“He wants to know why,” Pohlmann said.

Matthew admits to the trait, which is evident in his interest in K’nex and other engineering toys.

“It’s both a blessing and a curse,” said the teen, noting the challenges he faced in building a computer without instructions. “I’d hit the power button, but nothing happened. I enjoy complex things, but it’s also time consuming.”

The PSAT, co-sponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corp., is a standardized exam that measures critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills and writing skills.

His parents realize he’s not the usual teenager. For example, he doesn’t look for an excuse to miss school.

“It’s almost impossible to take him out if it’s not an emergency,” said Karl Pohlmann, a hydrogeologist with Desert Research Institute.

And he sees to his homework without pressure from his parents.

“I don’t know if this had anything to do with it, but they started giving him homework in kindergarten,” said his mother, Brenda Pohlmann, who is Henderson’s environmental programs manager.

In elementary school, he brought home an agenda daily that parents had to sign to show they had checked that his homework was done.

“It sunk in,” she said.

The two parents also have read to Matthew every night since he was a baby, she said.

“Even before they could understand it,” said Brenda Pohlmann, who also is raising a 6-year-old son, Bennett. “That was a sad day when we didn’t have to read to him anymore.”

“I take every chance I can to read,” Matthew added.

Brenda Pohlmann said she and her husband have always emphasized that “education is absolutely the most important thing in life.” Her parents, who didn’t finish college but realized the opportunities they missed, did the same for her.

“Books were treated with the utmost respect,” she said, recalling how she always got a book for Christmas.

Brenda Pohlmann said she and her siblings were the first generation in her family to make it through college.

She was an A student but didn’t work nearly as hard as Matthew, who often stays up late to work on projects and takes the hardest classes.

That’s not to say his life is unbalanced and heavily academic, added his parents, who make sure that isn’t the case.

Matthew has his sights set on becoming a mechanical or aeronautical engineer.

“You have to be a kid because it only happens once,” Matthew’s father said. “It’s fleeting.”

They often ride mountain bikes and hike together. Matthew also can be sidetracked by video games and his friends. At the dinner table, when asked about his day, sometimes he will just say, “Fine.”

To get him to open up, Brenda Pohlmann starts in with a little computer talk.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at
tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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