Both of Harris Wallace’s parents graduated from Mercer University, so when it came time for him to start his college search, it was only natural for him to consider becoming a Bear.
When he visited the Macon campus, he was impressed. The people were inviting, and the size was just right. He was drawn to Mercer’s commitment to changing the world.
“Going to a place where they actually make service a priority and make changing the community around us — changing the world, so to speak — a priority was just really important,” he said.
Now a freshman in the honors program at Mercer, Wallace, of Lilburn, is majoring in philosophy, politics and economics. He hopes to earn a postgraduate degree and work in government, maybe in law, policy analysis or staffing. A high school internship opened his eyes to policy issues surrounding domestic violence, and it’s something he wants to “shine a brighter light on,” he said.
Already at Mercer, he has arranged for volunteers to help at the community garden at Crisis Line and Safe House of Central Georgia, which serves victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. He said the support he received at Mercer for his ideas proved to him that he was in the right place.
Wallace is part of a record-breaking freshman class.
This fall, 1,015 new first-time college students and 103 transfers chose to attend Mercer for their undergraduate education. The Class of 2027 is the largest incoming class in the University’s history and represents a 13% increase in first-year students from fall 2022.
Overall enrollment also hit a record of 9,164 students, a 2.7% increase over last fall.
This freshman class is one of the most academically qualified. Sixty percent of first-year students have a GPA of 4.0 or higher, and Mercer freshmen took an average of 10 Advancement Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), honors, and dual enrollment courses. In addition, their average SAT and ACT standardized test scores neared the 90th percentile.
Riley Hall, a freshman double-majoring in cybersecurity and criminal justice, took seven AP classes, two dual enrollment courses, and one Cambridge International class. She graduated from high school a year early.
“I felt like I was ready for that next chapter in my life,” she said. “It was my personal decision to graduate. It was my personal decision to choose Mercer. And it was also my decision to double-major. I’m really proud of myself for all the progress that I’ve made and all the great things I’ve done so far.”
Hall, who is from Wesley Chapel, Florida, said she was drawn to Mercer for its small class sizes that would allow her stand out “as an individual and not just a number.” On a campus tour, she spoke with members of the computer science department and learned about its Mercer On Mission program teaching computer science skills to children in South Africa.
“Being able to hear about the specific possibility of, in the computer science department, going to South Africa, that really stuck with me,” said Hall, who is applying for the summer 2024 program.
She’s gotten involved in Mercer Mock Trial and the CyBears, the University’s cybersecurity team. She also is in the honors program.
“So far, everything that I have been told when I was applying to Mercer is 100% true,” Hall said. “I actually have connected with some of the people that took me on tours at Mercer, and they are my friends on campus now. I’m getting certified to give tours now, and I really hope that I get to help other people find Mercer as their home.”
Freshman Aleem Patni, a history major on the pre-medical track, said he chose Mercer because of its high-quality programs and close-knit community. He hopes to become a physician, an interest he’s had since middle school.
“My grandmother had end-stage kidney disease, so she lived with us since I was in seventh grade,” he said. “Then, I just sort of fell in love with medicine after that.”
Patni, who is in the University’s honors program, is one of 22 freshmen who were pre-selected to receive special consideration admission into Mercer’s School of Medicine.
In high school, he was educational director of his school’s chapter of a young physicians group. The summer before he came to Mercer, he worked at a free clinic as a pharmacy aid.
“That was actually the first time I got to see the face of poverty,” said Patni, who is from Johns Creek. “I always grew up in the suburbs, really sheltered. I never got to see much and had preconceived notions of what it meant to be poor. They’re just people who need help, and it was really rewarding being there looking at how much good you could do by working at a free clinic.”
He also started a group called Sports for Good Use, which donated 600 pieces of slightly used sports equipment to immigrant children at a community fair, and he has served as a volunteer in his Muslim community since a young age. At Mercer, he’s already been able to get involved in research at the School of Medicine.
Patni and freshman Kathryn McLagan were both named Stamps Scholars, placing them among the highest-achieving students at Mercer. Eight incoming students were selected as Stamps Scholars this year.
McLagan, from Walton, Kentucky, is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology on the pre-medical track. She also is in the honors program. In high school, she volunteered at a hospital and shadowed medical professionals.
She said she appreciates Mercer’s holistic approach to education. She’s already applying for a Mercer On Mission program this summer in Greece, where a Mercer team holds pop-up health clinics for a stigmatized group of people.
“Professors care about students and want them to succeed — and not only just in academics but growing as a person,” she said of the Mercer experience.
Freshman Batyr Matyakubov came to Mercer from Turkmenistan. He always planned to attend college, but he initially wanted to go to school in Russia like his brothers. Like other Asian countries affiliated with Russia, the Turkmenistan government often portrays America in a negative light, he said.
“But once I explored America myself personally, I chose that country and just chased it until I arrived,” he said.
It took Matyakubov a few years to finally enroll at Mercer, and Mercer’s Office of Global Engagement helped him every step of the way, he said. He ultimately received a scholarship that covers his tuition, and his brother gave him money to cover room and board.
Mercer has been amazing, he said. He plans to major in mechanical engineering and minor in physics.
“I would like to understand how the universe works, which is why I chose physics, and I also want to bring that understanding of the universe into reality by applying it to engineering,” said Matyakubov, who was inspired by television shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. “The unknown and the cosmos — why and how do they work? Those questions inspire me.”
Matyakubov, who is in the honors program, hopes he can stay at Mercer. Because his brother is in Russia, Matyakubov has been unable to receive money from him due to U.S. sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine. He said Mercer is working with him on the issue, and he’s starting a job on campus.
“I’m looking forward to exploring some ideas that I have for my future life and just finding a better me, building a better me throughout these four years,” he said.