Out of 1.6 million students nationwide, seniors Ashton Alperin, Julia Dillman, Madilyn Marti, Katie Olivas, Sanjna Reddy, Jaimin Vaidya, and Lukas Wolf have been named as commended students in the 2019 National Merit Scholarship Program. The commendation is acquired by only a select number of students throughout the nation.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships. To enter, high school students take the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying test). The PSAT/NMSQT is a standardized test that tests students on skills such as English, history, language, mathematics, and science.
Two thirds (approximately 34,000) of the students who placed among the top 50,000 scorers are recognized by the NMSC during their senior year of high school, receiving letters of commendation to praise their academic success. Though this commendation isn’t accompanied by any scholarships or other monetary value, it is highly selective and is awarded based on a students’ overall academic achievement and promise.
Practice and dedication
The commended East students were focused and determined to go above and beyond to reach their academic goals throughout their four years of high school. Commended scholar Katie Olivas made it a point to go out of her way to study and practice for the standardized tests that would eventually lead her to where she is today, a scholar commended by NMSC.
“I did a lot of tutoring and then as soon as my tutoring was up, I would study at the library. I had a lot of practice books and stuff but it was mainly just practice tests that I took. I found that reading about the test didn’t really help me. It was kind of just repetitive practice and stuff I put into it, to understand the questions and get familiar with the testing style,” Olivas said.
Taking time each day to study, as difficult as that might be, is vital to the academic success of a high school student, according to commended scholar Madilyn Marti.
“I’m busy. A lot of nights I don’t get home until seven or eight but even if it means staying up later I make the time to do my homework and to do studying and stuff. [In high school] you have to do a lot more work,” Marti said.
Commended scholar Jaimin Vaidya said that he always made an effort to dedicate a small portion of each day towards studying for standardized tests, setting aside about a half an hour to an hour to practice.
“I just did a lot of practice problems on Khan Academy and I had some SAT books from Princeton Review and stuff. Mostly I just did a lot of practice problems from those and whatever I got wrong, I would look at the review, the answer key, and see why I got it wrong and different patterns that come up and these different questions,” Vaidya said.
Vaidya also encourages his fellow peers to do the same to achieve their personal success, especially when preparing for standardized tests to accomplish their desired scores.
“I think the best thing [students] can do really is to just keep practicing. You can take classes and learn how to do the problems but the only way you’ll really get better is if you do them over and over again so that when the test comes you’ll know exactly what to do and what patterns to see [and] what to look for in the question,” Vaidya said.
According to the NMSC commended scholars from East, the skills obtained within their classes helped them be successful not only with their standardized tests, but with other aspects of life as well.
East’s role in the success
East offers several enrichment courses for innovative students, including intensives on topics such as science, higher math, music, engineering, and other skills. Vaidya said that his interest in math and science was by the classes he took throughout his four years at East.
“I think the ability for me to take whichever courses I want, not necessarily in a specific order, allowed me to really explore what I enjoy. I was able to get a full understanding of the different topics like math and science,” Vaidya said. “[The] different courses we have, the in-depth stuff that I can learn, I progressed through.”
Olivas stated that her time at East has been full of augmenting experiences, mainly in her enrollment in classes that catered specifically to her interests, classes such as engineering. She also said that a big factor in her academic journey has been her working relationships with challenging teachers.
“I was just used to having everyone tell me “Oh your writing’s perfect” or “Oh you’re going to get a hundred percent on this,” but having teachers who actually challenged me and who would tell me “if you turned this into a college professor, this is the score you would get. Based on how you followed the rubric, this is what you would get,” Olivas said. “It was interesting to see a lot of different teachers kind of take a different perspective on it and help me grow in a different way.”
Marti’s experience in the East band program has shaped her idea of what she wants to pursue throughout college and beyond. She said that her experiences with the teachers at East, as well as the variety of classes that were available to her, have greatly contributed to the overall outcome of her high-school education.
“Coming into high school I knew I wanted to be a teacher but I didn’t know what kind until I got really involved in the music program here and then it was like yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Marti said.
Commended scholar Sanjna Reddy, who used her four years of high school to take more science and math classes than are typical for a high school student, said that it’s important to take initiative when it comes to academics.
“Don’t shy away from a challenge, don’t be worried about taking a hard class, or don’t be worried about trying a new activity, because you’ll be able to do it. Don’t think you won’t be able to do it, because you will. [You] get better [when] you push yourself,” Reddy said.
With an eye to the future
Olivas, Reddy, Vaidya, and Marti all have a strong ambition of what they want to accomplish in the future, planning to further their education to develop their skills and interests.
Vaidya is planning to attend Duke University next fall, where he hopes to focus on engineering. He said that with his interest in math and physics, engineering would be a suitable outlet for his talents.
“I want to hopefully get my bachelors and then maybe get a job and then go back for a masters. I’m not sure what kind of engineering yet, but something in that field,” Vaidya said. “I like working with others and designing things to help improve life in general.”
“Don’t shy away from a challenge, don’t be worried about taking a hard class, or don’t be worried about trying a new activity, because you’ll be able to do it. Don’t think you won’t be able to do it, because you will. [You] get better [when] you push yourself.”
— senior Sanjna Reddy
Reddy said that she is uncertain as to which college she wants to attend yet, but she has considered, among others, the University of North Carolina, University of Michigan, and Rice University. AP Physics teacher Matthew Guerrieri said that while he only taught Reddy during sophomore year, the skills that she emulates in a classroom setting will transfer on to her future aspirations.
“Sanjna possesses natural intelligence, and the desire to learn. Sanjna was one of a handful of sophomores in the district to take AP Physics 1, which demonstrates her willingness to embrace challenging situations,” Guerrieri said.
Marti will further her musical endeavors at Iowa State University next year by majoring in music education. She said that her band directors have influenced her extensively and that her experiences in the band program at East have helped her build a supportive network of friends and mentors in addition to developing her love of music.
“I foresee [Madilyn] being very successful in the future and positively influencing the lives of many throughout her [future] career,” band director Steven Rexroat said.
Olivas went on a missions trip to Nicaragua last year and said that her experience in a third world country influenced her idea of what she wants to pursue as a potential career: biomedical engineering or environmental engineering. Many people in third world countries don’t have access to medical assistance, sufficient food, water, plumbing, and other basic necessities. With her future career, Olivas’s goal is to help solve some of these problems. She wants to help people, specifically people in third world countries, by providing solutions to medical and environmental deficiencies.
“I think it’s cool that you can use a cross between engineering and medicine, to kind of help find innovative ways to advance the medical field and find new ways to help people using engineering. I have taken a lot of engineering classes, and I enjoyed them,” Olivas said.
Olivas’s favorite teacher and mentor, soccer coach Patrick Molinari, said that he is confident in Olivas’s ability to pave her way to a successful future using the skills and traits she embodies.
“Katie can accomplish anything that she wants to accomplish. She is vivacious, she is self-determined, she’s unselfish, [and] when she puts her heart to something and really wants to achieve it she’ll work hard to go get it,” Molinari said. “Not only that, but she’ll be the best at it. She has extremely high standards for herself and so whatever it is that she decides to [pursue], she’s going to be really good at it.”
Molinari said that he wasn’t surprised by Katie’s commendation, and that he knew she would be successful based on the qualities she’s demonstrated throughout her high school years. He said that he believes she’ll have a strong career as a biomedical or environmental engineer, and that he admires her decision to use her gifts for good.
“I think she carries a lot of characteristics of what successful people have and what successful people will continue to possess outside of their academics, that when she goes into her career, these characteristics will follow her and she’s going to be successful because of it,” Molinari said. “Because she has such a desire to want to be successful, she puts the work in to make those other characteristics kind of stem off each other but also to polish and make [her characteristics] the best that they can be.”
Alison Standish is an arts & entertainment editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl