Olentangy Valley News

Eight seniors bask in semifinalist glow

Liberty, Orange students pursue National Merit finalist status, look to college

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Eight Olentangy high school seniors aced the Preliminary SAT test last fall, making them eligible for National Merit scholarships.

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced earlier this month the names of 16,000 students who are scholarship semifinalists, including Olentangy Orange High School students Austin Channell, Andrew Heintz, Sedina Dzodzomenyo and Ben Wilcox and Olentangy Liberty High School students Corinne Conway, Treasa Otighearnaigh, Haylee Padgett and Seneha Sharma.

About 1.5 million current high school seniors who attend more than 22,000 schools across the country took the PSAT last fall as juniors, which qualified them to be considered for a semifinalist spot.

"It's definitely an honor," said Channell, who is considering applying to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ohio State University and Vanderbilt to study genetics or biochemistry.

"I feel very grateful for my educational background and how it's truly put me ahead," he said.

"Part of (doing well on the PSAT) is just trying to approach the test calmly," he added, offering advice to juniors who will take the test next month. "Know that it is all content you've seen before in class."

Otighearnaigh said she would have studied -- had she not been out of school sick the week before the PSAT.

"It's totally unlike me, but because I was sick, I had completely forgotten about it and I considered staying home from school the day of the test," she recalled.

The varsity rower at Liberty plans to let her future in the sport guide her to the college where she'll study biology or chemistry. She said she's glad she took the test -- not just because she ended up doing exceedingly well, but because it was "actually fun to see the way the SAT was set up."

Heintz said he also was unaware that he'd be tested that morning last year. Luckily, his test-taking skills didn't fail him, because he said while he's visited colleges he's interested in, he's found earning the designation as a semifinalist is about more than possibly being chosen to receive a $2,500 scholarship.

While at a college fair, "I visited the MIT booth and they said (being a Merit Scholar) is pretty standard for students there," said Heintz, who would like to study computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, MIT, Purdue, University of Michigan or Rochester Institute of Technology.

Padgett said she didn't have to study because she had taken the SAT as a sophomore and scored well. When it came to the day of the test, she didn't feel any pressure, which may have helped her score.

"I had known a couple of people who had been named semifinalists in the past and it is definitely important to me to consider myself among them now, and it's a good opportunity for college," said Padgett, who would like to follow a pre-med track and study creative writing at Rice University, Johns Hopkins University, Yale University, Davidson College or Tulane University.

"I did study," Dzodzomenyo said, "but it was pretty important to me."

She said even if the Merit Scholarship wasn't at stake, she still would have taken the time to prepare.

"I always want to do my best; I don't want to do anything just because," said Dzodzomenyo, who plans to take the pre-med track during her first four years of college in addition to majoring in sociology.

Sharma and Conway took studying for the PSAT one step further by enrolling in Kaplan Online courses over the summer.

"I think it's an honor to be able to receive this title," said Sharma, who would like to study biology on a pre-med track at OSU, Duke, University of North Carolina or University of Chicago.

"It is a prestigious honor to have," agreed Conway, "but it's not just for your resume.

"It's a personal accomplishment that could impact your future, which isn't really common when it comes to standardized tests, such as the (Ohio Graduation Test), which measures the bare minimum you need to know to graduate and really reflects on the teachers more than the students."

More than 4,500 colleges, including Ohio State University, where Conway will begin studying next fall, are known for offering academic scholarships to students who were named National Merit semifinalists.

Wilcox was aiming for Merit Scholar recognition, not just for the possible scholarship, but because both his older brothers received mentions.

Along with the other seven semifinalists, Wilcox plans to put together an application that includes academic history, an explanation of extracurricular activities and teacher recommendation letters, which will be reviewed by the National Merit Scholarship Corp. prior to the announcement of finalists this spring.

"It'd be huge to be a finalist," said Wilcox, who would like to attend the University of Chicago to prepare for a future in grass-roots politics. "For me, it would be the ultimate achievement academically so far, because it's such an honor and a perfect way to end out my high school career."

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