Dallin Soukup’s aptitude for math was evident at a young age.

As an 8-year-old, he was mentally calculating squares of three-digit numbers. At age 11, he received his amateur radio license and bounced his call sign off the moon to calculate its distance from Earth.

While in eighth grade, he got a 5 on the Advanced Placement Calculus BC exam, taking the class at a high school from a reluctant teacher who told his parents, “‘I reserve the right to remove him if I don’t feel like he’s keeping up.’ He got straight As in the class and a 5 on his BC calculus exam,” said his mother, Elise Soukup.

Also while in junior high, Soukup’s physics, astronomy and math entry in the University of Utah Science & Engineering Fair won first place. He used computer modeling and calculus to explain the phenomenon of double rainbows.

More recently, the Skyline High School senior studied math at the University of Utah, diving into Calculus III, linear algebra and Foundations of Analysis. He’s also doing an internship as a statistical analyst at AuctionIQ and is the founder and president of his high school’s astronomy club and the vice president of its math club. He also volunteers as a math tutor.

He achieved perfect scores on his ACT and SAT tests and plans to study astrophysics in college. Earlier this week, he visited Yale and Princeton universities, but he has not yet decided where he will attend college. Some universities in the West are also under consideration.

Soukup’s latest accomplishment is being selected as the 2024 Deseret News/KSL General Sterling Scholar, topping a field of 168 finalists. The students were nominated by their high schools along the Wasatch Front for their academic achievements, leadership and service to their communities.

The honor was bestowed Thursday evening during awards ceremony at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Conference Center Little Theater in downtown Salt Lake City.

“It’s just a really great honor. It was kind of unexpected. There’s so many great people here and I’m just so glad to have been selected for this,” he said.

When Dallin was in the fourth grade, his family moved from New York to Salt Lake City. During the long flight to Utah, “he was bored and my husband had downloaded a college level math course by a Harvey Mudd (College) professor to keep him occupied. He was like, ‘Would you like to look at this course?’ It was the Secrets of Mental Math and he binged the entire thing on the flight. ... We just thought ‘Who is this child?’” said Elise Soukup.

His parents enrolled him in Cottonwood Elementary School in Holladay, explaining, “We got this kid. He’s really good at math,’” said Elise Soukup.

“I just really credit his teacher, Kayla Williams, who still teaches there. She said, ‘You know, I see his talent and I really want to nurture it.’ And so she let him do independent study and he did that all the way through junior high and then he enrolled in calculus in eighth grade,” she said.

“I love math and have always been good at it,” Soukup wrote in his Sterling Scholar entry.

“I think math is most beautiful when it’s applied, which is why I want to study astrophysics. I love stargazing and am equally fascinated by what lies beyond my telescope,” he wrote.

Dallin’s father, Dean Soukup, said his son’s intelligence “was all him. We always wanted to support what interested him. We never pushed him. He is just driven to learn the mysteries of science, the universe. We just tried to give him the opportunities he wanted.”

The Soukups are obviously proud of their son’s considerable intellect but equally so for his humanity. “He is the kindest, sweetest, most gentle soul,” Elise Soukup said.

“He’s a great tutor and a great older brother” to five younger siblings, said Dean Soukup.

Soukup was among 14 finalists who were nominated by their Wasatch Front high schools and advanced through progressive rounds of judging. He also won the top prize in the scholarship program’s mathematics category.

The General Sterling Scholar is selected among 14 category winners, which include business and marketing; computer technology; dance; English; family and consumer sciences; instrumental music; mathematics; science; skilled and technical sciences education; social science; speech/theater arts/forensics; visual arts; vocal performance and world languages.

Aside from their academic achievements, many Sterling Scholar winners make significant contributions to their schools and communities.

The Sterling Scholar program, launched in 1962, encourages academic excellence by awarding scholarships and publicly recognizing some of Utah’s top high school seniors. The winners of each category receives a $2,500 scholarship, while runners-up receive $1,000.

The program is sponsored by the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation.

Soukup won both the mathematics and General Scholarship titles for a total of $5,000 in scholarship awards.

The Sterling Scholar program also features the Gail Miller Community Service Award. This year’s winner is East High School’s Cedar McDonald. The award comes with a $2,000 scholarship.

An accomplished pianist, she volunteers with the My-Hometown initiative as a piano teacher. She also traveled to Ghana to build a computer lab and serves as co-president of East High’s Youth Court.

Ogden High School’s Isabella Nestel was the winner of the Philo T. Farnsworth Governor’s Award, which celebrates innovation. The award is named for the inventor of the vacuum tube, who is considered the “father of television.” Farnsworth was born in a log cabin near Beaver. The award includes a $1,000 scholarship.

Nestel credits her father for fostering her love of learning and engineering. As a child, she often took her toys apart to figure out how they worked.

In the fifth grade, she enrolled in a STEM charter school that had 3D printing labs, a robotics program and new computers, where she further developed her interests, which she carried into high school.

Nestel was also winner of the skilled and technical sciences education category. She has interned at aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman and Studio 333 Architects in Ogden. She is also president of her school’s National Honor Society chapter.

She plans to attend the University of Utah to study engineering.

Nestel said the Sterling Scholar experience was its own gift “because they (fellow scholars) inspire you to be more.”

She said she learned about new opportunities and discovered more about others’ interests. “So by being around inspired students, it is just amazing because you get to learn so many new things even if it’s not in your field of interest,” she said.

Herriman High School senior Kaitlyn Rios, winner of the business and marketing category, also plans to attend the University of Utah to earn a degree in entrepreneurship. “I plan on going into fashion design so the U. is going to be where I can start my business and then just keep going,” she said.

Her early forays into business seemingly teed up her aspirations. As a young child, she accompanied her family to yard sales nearly every weekend.

“That’s what we did for fun,” she said. When she saw something that caught her eye, she’d ask her father, “Can I get this? Can I get this?”

He said, “You can get Barbies and stuff like that.”

“I took it and ran with it.” She refurbished the dolls she bought and turned around and sold them, literally flipping hundreds of the dolls after doing their hair and making their clothes.

“It was just like learning how to do supply and demand when I was 6. That translated into just a love for business that hasn’t left me,” she said.

Granite School District’s Skyline High School had two category winners and four runners-up, the most of any of the schools entered. Last year’s General Sterling Scholar winner Aaron Wang also attended Skyline High School.

Herriman High School in the Jordan School District had two category winners and three runners-up.

American Fork and Syracuse high schools had two runners-up each.

Two East High School students were selected winners of their respective categories while a Highland High School student won their category. Both schools are in the Salt Lake City School District.

Students from two Canyon School District high schools — Corner Canyon and Hillcrest — won their respective categories.

Meanwhile, two Alpine School District high schools — Lone Peak and Timpanogos — produced category winners as well.