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12 RCS students named National Merit semifinalists

September 27, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

National Merit Scholarship Corp. has named 12 Rutherford County seniors as semifinalists for 2017-2018.

John Allbritten, Connor Coughran, Morgan Elrod Erickson, Madison Fabber, May Huang, Nathan Jenkins, Hannah Middleton, Luke Porter, Reuben Savage, Jack Seage, Ethan Slipher and Chelsey Zhu are among 16,000 high school seniors who each have an opportunity to earn one of 7,500 college scholarships totaling more than $32 million.

About 90 percent of the semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing and about half of those will earn a National Merit Scholarship and the title of Merit Scholar, the organization says.

Finalists will be named in four different releases beginning in April.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is in its 63rd year.

John Allbritten, 18
Central Magnet School

Will most likely attend the University of Tennessee – Knoxville because Albritten is enlisting in the National Guard and they will help pay the tuition for a state-funded university. Graduating without any student loans is a factor in his decision.

“Honestly, I’d have to say my favorite class was Algebra II. (Our teacher Kyle Prince) really liked what he did and he really got me interested in that. Every day I was interested in the things that he would show us. He’d teach us what the curriculum was, but he’d also be like, ‘Look at this.’ He would show us interesting problems that would make you really think.”

“Finding out about the National Merit made me a lot more secure about my future. I knew it would help toward my goal of no student debt. … Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the numbers for last year, so I knew I had a good chance to get in.”

Connor Coughran, 17
Oakland High School

Applying to Air Force Academy and is also interested in the flight program at Middle Tennessee State University. His interest in flying and desire to be a pilot came from his paternal grandfather, who began taking him flying as a young boy.

“My favorite class depends on who the teacher is really. I like psychology a lot because I like learning about the way people think.”

“I was ecstatic. When I took the PSAT, I didn’t know much about the National Merit Scholarship. I just knew it was important to take so I studied for it and took it. Then I started learning about the scholarship afterward and found out I might actually be eligible for it so I was happy knowing I could get it. I waited a year and then I finally got it. I have heard so many great things from the National Merit semifinalists last year about how important it was for them for (other) scholarships. … It’s a warm feeling and I’m more secure about my plans. There’s less worry and I feel more confident that I’ll get to my plans.”

Morgan Elrod-Erickson, 18
Central Magnet School

Vanderbilt is his first choice, but also looking into Harvard and Emory or Washington University St. Louis. Has not decided between chemistry or English as his major.

“My favorite class was AP Latin because we had a small class with just seven people … so we learned really effectively, but we also had a good community in the classroom. There was a lot more direct interaction with the teacher.

“It was pretty cool to find out I got National Merit (semifinalist), but with my score on the test it wasn’t a big surprise – not to sound arrogant – but I knew based on past years and score cutoffs, that I was likely to get it. It was still exciting to find out I actually did get it. I texted my parents and then I went back to a normal day.”

Madison Fabber, 17
Blackman High School

Planning to visit Yale during fall break. If she likes the school — said she believes she will — she plans to file an early decision application with the admission department. Also applying to Barnard College at Columbia University, University of Tennessee Knoxville and Belmont.

“My favorite class is AP studio art, which I’m in right now. It’s creative and I get to challenge my boundaries of what I know I can do or what I think I can do.”

“They called me out of one of my classes and said, ‘Dr. (Leisa) Justus wants to see you.’ I was initially scared. I thought, ‘What did I do? I’m a good kid. Why am I getting called to the principal’s office?’ She asked me to sit down and she was really excited and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I was really surprised, but I remember seeing the score and being like, ‘That’s a really high score.’ It was in the 99 percentile and then I never heard anything after that. For a few months, I was like, ‘OK. I don’t know if anything is going to happen,’ but when I found out about it I was super excited and proud of myself. … I’ve been hoping for an Ivy League level school for pretty much my entire school career and being a National Merit semifinalist is kind of like, ‘Hey, you’re really smart and you’re doing good.’"

May Huang, 17
Central Magnet School

Hoping to attend NYU or MIT and also applying to Cal Tech and Stanford as well as the University of Chicago.

“My favorite class was probably calculus last year just because the teacher was really fun to work with and helpful.”

“I was pretty excited. I had prepared quite a bit for it and it was definitely an honor.”

Nathan Jenkins, 17
Blackman High School

Is looking at Tennessee Tech and Western Kentucky University because both are close to home and close to family. There’s a possibility he will look into the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

“I’ve taken a few physics classes and I’ve really enjoyed taking those. Everything makes sense.”

“I was actually at home sick. I knew nothing about figuring it out ahead of time or anything about it, but I was at home sick and my mom had come in for a meeting and Ms. (Susan) Pugh told my mom so I didn’t know until she got home from the meeting. It was good news. … It’s reassuring and gives me less to worry about.”

Hannah Middleton, 17
Central Magnet School

Middle Tennessee State University is an option, but also looking at an art school like Pratt Institute or SCAD: The University for Creative Careers. Both art schools offer animation, which is what Middleton is most interested in for a career.

“My favorite class is art and I’ve always wanted to do art as a career. My teacher, Mr. (Dennis) Greenwell, is really good at teaching art as well.”

“I was pretty surprised, but also pretty happy about it. I didn’t realize (National Merit) was such an exclusive thing. I thought more people from (Central) would get into it, but it was definitely a good feeling. … It’s impressive and it’s a cool feeling.”

“I’ve actually been doing quite a bit of research on the trends of the semifinalist cutoff for the past couple of years, so after I took the test I was a little worried about my score. It was a little borderline of what I thought the cutoff line was going to be this year so it was really stressful through the end of junior year and beginning of senior year. I got called up to Dr. (Leisa) Justus’ office a couple of weeks ago and she told me the good news. … It was Sept. 1 that she called me up and I was praying that, that’s what it was about.”

Luke Porter, 17
Blackman High School

Is looking at big state schools like Alabama, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Michigan State, Ohio State and Kentucky because he would like to attend a large school in a metropolitan area. Leaving his options open and also looking at MIT.

“I really enjoy physics classes and computer science classes because I like math and problem solving. “

Reuben Savage, 17
Central Magnet School

He will most likely attend Middle Tennessee State University and is hoping to get a full scholarship with a major in economics and a minor in history. And with 50 credit hours already earned, he plans to pursue a second major in education. The goal is to become a teacher.

“My favorite class was probably world history my sophomore year. I love all of it. Through middle school, (you learn) little portions (of history) and freshmen year, it’s geography, so it’s kind of what got me into it. … I don’t know if any one part is my favorite yet. That’s kind of what I want to get into in college. I just like learning about the past.”

“I was pretty excited. I looked at what the predicted scores would be and I was right on the line so I was excited I got it. I went and told my mom because she teaches (English) here on the other side of the hallway. Her whole side of the family are teachers so that’s probably why I want to go into it.”

Jack Seage, 17
Stewarts Creek High School

His college plans are not clearly defined yet and he has not picked a major, but said Austin Peay State University is a strong contender.

“My favorite class is probably choir. I’ve always loved to sing all my life and it’s not something that would be expected from someone who is the first to be a National Merit semifinalist (from Stewarts Creek), but I’ve always loved to sing and I love the arts in general. It’s a fun experience every time I go in there.”

“I was extremely proud and excited that I was able to be the first one from this school. … My counselor emailed my parents and told them to tell me that I should go see them at some point. I was excited when I first got in (the guidance office). It’s just incredible and now I’ll get so many greater options for scholarships no matter what career choice I pursue.”

Ethan Slipher, 17
Central Magnet School

Hoping to attend the University of Chicago. Stanford and Princeton are also on the list along with Vanderbilt. Would like to experience life in a metropolitan city while attending college and majoring in economics and public policy.

“My favorite would be AP Comparative Government. It’s interesting to see the way governments are run in the world and how that (relates) to current events.”

“I kind of expected it, but I was still kind of surprised. There was a practice PSAT we took and I didn’t make it on that one and I was worried I wouldn’t make it on this one. You just need to have confidence in yourself. … It’s a reaffirmation of your own abilities.

Chelsey Zhu, 17
Central Magnet School

At the moment, the only school she has applied to is the University of Tennessee Martin, but is applying to quite a few others. Her dream school would be Stanford, but thinking the likely destination will be Emory.

“Currently this year, my favorite class is competitive government with Mr. (Adam) Brooks. So basically what we do in there is study the governments of six different countries around the world. I think that’s very helpful because what I want to do in the future is to become a journalist and maybe go international and cover news there so getting to know about all these other countries and how their government works will help.”

“To be honest, I got a perfect score when I took it so I kind of knew already. (Being a finalist) would be amazing because I know it’s an honor not a lot of people get to have and the application process for finalist is more comprehensive. They look at extracurriculars as a whole and you have to submit an essay. I feel like (being a semifinalist) is a stepping stone of sorts. It does make me feel more hopeful because once you start looking at the upper schools, (being selected as a National Merit semifinalist) is almost expected.”