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Students named National Merit semifinalists

Students named National Merit semifinalists
Three high school seniors are semifinalists in National Merit Scholarship Program

Three Gaston County Schools students have been named 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists, thus taking the first step in the highly-selective process to earn the distinguished finalist honor and possibly win a National Merit Scholarship.

Sydney Lester, Grace Nehring, and Marshall Pearson are among 16,000 students announced as national semifinalists from a pool of 1.5 million students.  They will have an opportunity to compete for 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million that will be offered next spring.  Students entered the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2019 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

To move on to the finalist round, students are judged based on an application covering their academic record, leadership abilities, employment, participation in school and community activities, and honors and awards.  Students must also write an essay and be recommended by a high school representative.

This year’s finalists from Gaston County Schools are not just excelling in academics. All three are involved in several extracurricular activities.

Lester, a senior at South Point High School, is an active participant in the environmental club, National Honor Society, and Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council.  In addition, she is proud of her volunteer work with the Cancer Services Youth Advisory Council.

“In the last year, I created and organized a fundraising project to collect donations of soup and Gatorade for chemotherapy patients,” said Lester, who was named Cancer Services’ Volunteer of the Year.  “I have also enjoyed being able to help people who are struggling in the community, while meeting people from all around the county and hearing their stories and successes.”  

In addition, Lester is a competitive year-round swimmer and is on the school’s swim team and track and field team.  Some of her other accolades include being recognized as a Congressional Award Gold Medal recipient, AP (Advanced Placement) Scholar, and Chief Junior Marshal.  She plans to attend college to major in architecture with a minor in environmental science.

Nehring, also a senior at South Point High School, serves as an active volunteer at Holy Angels where she interacts with residents and participates in fundraisers for the organization throughout the year.  In addition, she actively participates in the Bible club, environmental club, Interact club, and National Honor Society, and she is a member of the Science Olympiad team.  Nehring has also participated on the school’s basketball team and is currently an active player on the school’s tennis team.

“I enjoy math and science,” said Nehring, who plans to major in one or more of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.  “I would like to get a degree in the STEM field because I think work in this area would be fulfilling and beneficial to the community.”

Additionally, Nehring is a member of the Queen City Stars lacrosse team and is being recruited to play lacrosse at Rhodes College.  Some of her other accolades include being accepted for the prestigious North Carolina Governor’s School, winning several awards in basketball and tennis, and receiving recognition for highest academic average in math III honors, pre-calculus honors, AP biology, physics, and AP environmental science.

Pearson, a senior at Highland School of Technology, is involved in the school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Technology Student Association (TSA) clubs.  As a member of FBLA, he participated in the 2018-2019 state conference and attended all of the club meetings. As a member of TSA, his team designed a product that would help a third-world country.

“Our team designed a system that would allow people without access to clean water to help purify their water,” said Pearson, who was unable to present the idea last spring at the TSA state conference because of COVID-19.  “Unfortunately, when in-person learning closed in March, our team never got to test how it would work or fix any design flaws.”

Pearson has aspirations of working in the field of computer science. As a part of the school’s Business, Legal, and Information Science Academy, he has learned the foundations of being able to work with computers, including building a computer, installing software, connecting computers through a network, and creating programs with Python.

In February, Lester, Nehring, and Pearson will find out if they have advanced to the finalist level. Of those finalists, about half will win a scholarship.  Every finalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit Scholarships, some 1,000 corporate-sponsored scholarships, and 4,100 college-sponsored scholarships.  National Merit Scholarship winners will be notified after April 1.