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Local students among National Merit program scholarship semifinalists

by Brandon Smith | September 18, 2022 at 4:03 a.m.
The campus of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts on Whittington Avenue is shown. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

Ten Garland County students have been named 2023 National Merit Scholarship Competition semifinalists by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

NMSC officials, on Wednesday, announced the over 16,000 semifinalists in the 68th annual National Merit Scholarship Program. They now have the opportunity to compete for some 7,250 scholarships worth almost $28 million next spring.

Semifinalists include Eliana M. Adamos, Robert F. Boerwinkle, Mason H. Cooper, Savanna L. Duey, Cecil Mitchell, and Charis Xiong from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts; Tristan C. Wendel from Fountain Lake High School; home-school student Sophia A. Wright; Benjamin L. Hollis from Lakeside High School; and Austin C. Barnes from Lake Hamilton High School.

While the program does not measure the "quality or effectiveness" of education within a school, system, or state, it honors those students who show "exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies," according to an NMSC news release.

ASMSA Dean of Academic Affairs Stuart Flynn noted in an email on Wednesday how proud he was of his students.

"We congratulate these students for their exceptional accomplishment, and we wish them the very best as they work through the National Merit Scholarship Program's rigorous process," Flynn's email said. "This achievement offers them a learning opportunity that can become a springboard to an extraordinary senior year and the many possibilities beyond."

Michael Murphy, superintendent at Fountain Lake School District, described Wendel as an "outstanding" and "well-rounded" student.

"We are very proud of his academic achievements and the contribution that he makes to all aspects of our school community. Tristan, as so many of our students are, is an example of dedication and perseverance. My personal congratulations go out to Tristan and his family on this distinct honor," he said.

The semifinalists, now seniors, entered the program as juniors in high school by taking the 2021 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Nationwide, they represent less than 1% of high school seniors and include the highest-scoring entrants from each state.

According to the release, "To become a Finalist, the Semifinalist and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application, in which they provide information about the Semifinalist's academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards received.

"A Semifinalist must have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be endorsed and recommended by a high school official, write an essay, and earn SAT or ACT scores that confirm the student's earlier performance on the qualifying test," the release states.

"Ben Hollis embodies everything that we hope our students will be at Lakeside High School," said Lakeside High School Principal Blake Campbell. "As a student-athlete, student council president, and National Merit scholar, Ben is well-rounded and primed for a successful future. We are so proud of him, his diligence and devotion to all that he does, and this achievement."

Lake Hamilton School Superintendent Shawn Higginbotham was equally as proud of their selection.

"We are extremely proud of Austin for his outstanding scholastic achievements," he said. "The Lake Hamilton community joins Austin and his family in celebrating his superior academic talents as demonstrated by this elite recognition earned by a very small percentage of students nationwide. Congratulations, Austin!"

More than 15,000 semifinalists are expected to advance to finalists. They will be notified in February. Scholarship winners will be selected from the group of finalists based on their skill level, accomplishments, and potential for success in college. Winners will be announced in four nationwide news releases from April to July 2023.

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