Twenty-six Oregon seniors from 18 public and private high schools have won the highest tier of scholarship awarded by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
Perennial academic award powerhouse Westview High was tied this year by another public high school with a large crop of top National Merit award-winners: South Eugene High. Both had four students in the class of 2020 earn the elite honor.
Winners of the $2,500 scholarships are judged to be the best of the best among National Merit Scholars, with what the scholarship organization says are the strongest combination of accomplishments, skills and potential for success in college. Panels of high school counselors and college admission officers pick them based on grades, difficulty of courses taken, standardized test scores, an essay and recommendations from a teacher and their high school.
Students from outside the three-county Portland area made a particularly strong showing this year, claiming 12 of the 26 top spots. They included students from Bend, Junction City and McMinnville.
National Merit contest organizers issue the coveted $2,500 awards to students in each state roughly in proportion to the state’s number of PSAT test-takers.
Here are the winners from Westview and South Eugene highs:
Choi, a varsity swimmer, was named one of the nation’s top 300 science scholars by the Society for Science & the Public in 2020 based on his genetics research. He told National Merit officials he hopes to pursue a career in medicine.
Qijia “Joy” Liu
Qijia Liu, who also goes by the name Joy, is partial to computer science and community service. She led her school’s Key Club and co-founded a science ambassadors program. She placed first in cellular and molecular biology at the 2020 Northwest Science Expo and qualified for the International Science and Engineering Fair. She is headed to the University of Pennsylvania, where she has been accepted into the management & technology program.
Mukherjee won this year’s Oregon American Legion speech contest. She was awarded a prize for the most outstanding project by an 11th-grade student and first place in bioengineering at the 2019 Northwest Science Expo for her research on machine learning algorithms.
Tan served as secretary of his school’s Key Club and was a member of the volunteer-oriented group all four years of high school. He also was on Westview’s game development club. He will attend California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo to study computer science.
Brinkley is a two-time winner of the national Young Playwright’s Festival in LA and a three-time winner at the Oregon State Thespian Festival. She served as a student advocate in the Eugene community and at school.
Mandavilli was a student researcher at the University of Oregon’s Barber Lab, where she studied the evolution of host-microbe interactions in primates. She played on her school’s varsity tennis team. She is headed to the University of California at Berkeley, where she plans to major in environmental science.
An accomplished violinist, Wang was named co-concert master of the Eugene Springfield Youth Orchestra Symphony. She was a member of the school tennis team and volunteered at a local hospital.
Yao competed on his school’s varsity water polo team. He told National Merit officials he plans to pursue a career in medicine.
Here are the remainder of this year’s winners from the Portland area:
Woo is Beaverton High’s 2020 valedictorian, ranking No. 1 in the class with her weighted grade point average of 4.41. She is headed to Cornell University to study medicine.
Wilson was a member of the Hillsboro school’s video game development team that took first place among more than 50 teams that competed in the Oregon Game Project Challenge in 2018.
Kalupahana is a TEDxYouth talks organizer and worked for the city of Hillsboro to design and run a computer programming challenge for local youth, according to his LinkedIn profile. He won a prestigious national Coca Cola Scholarship and will attend Vanderbilt University, majoring in computer science.
According to KGW, he scored perfect scores on both the ACT and the SAT and plays piano, guitar and tenor saxophone.
Li was named a Top 40 scholar in the 79th Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and mathematics competition for high school seniors.
According to JesuitNews.com, Li won for his project titled “Compatible Recurrent Identities of the Sandpile Group and Maximal Stable Configurations.” His research was directed at the mathematical foundation of the model.
“If you take a pile of sand and imagine what happens when you add more sand to it, eventually it will collapse,” Li told the news site. “So you can make a model that tries to understand the behaviors of that … It’s interesting from a mathematic and worldly perspective and is historically significant in the models of natural phenomena. For example, the model can be used to study landslides.”
Lake Oswego High
Zhang, who describes herself as an activist, co-founded a group named Bit by Bit Coding. She was the only Oregon winner this year of a prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship, designed for extremely promising high-achieving students from low-income families who have helped others. The scholarship provides $40,000 a year toward college costs.
Neferkara helped lead the group Brothers of Color, which worked to raise the graduation rate of males of color at Lincoln. According to the Lincoln High Facebook page, he said in 2019 that he planned to study microbiology in college. He also founded and led a school biology club and was inducted into the National Honor Society.
Oregon Episcopal School
Strothkamp won a top award from the Portland chapter of the American Chemical Society for her research on the digestive system of a carnivorous plant at the 2019 Intel Northwest Science Expo. She played varsity soccer. She won prizes for her poetry and non-fiction writing in a contest judged by professional writers. She earned a gold medal on the National Spanish Exam. She is headed to Amherst College with a long-term plan to go to veterinary school.
According to the website of a math education-related group he co-founded, Shu does research with the Portland State University nano-crystallography research group, writing code to analyze crystallographic symmetry. He plans to study physics and materials science and engineering at the University of Pennsylvania this fall as part of the university’s Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research.
Jun served as president of her high school’s chapter of the National Honor Society and its future health care workers association. She played on the varsity golf team. She studied for years, then helped teach, at Oregon Korean School.
Jun had summer internships at Oregon Health & Science University and North Interstate Kaiser Permanente. She is headed to Notre Dame University to study biology.
Finkbeiner was a three-sport varsity athlete in basketball, soccer and track and field. She the editor of her school’s online newspaper, The Paw Print. She is headed to the honors program at Arizona State University, where she will study biology.
And here are the rest of this year’s winners from beyond the Portland area:
Baker Early College
Laine Bohnert of Bend
Crescent Valley High, Corvallis
Oak Hill School
Daisy Mare Hagan
Mountainview High, Bend
South Salem High
— Betsy Hammond; email@example.com; @OregonianPol