by Dennis Dalman
Three Sartell High School students have been honored by the National Merit Scholarship Program – one of them as a semifinalist for a $2,500 scholarship, the other two as recipients of commendations for exceptional academic promise.
The three students – Taylor Chaika, Riley Hengel, Zach Hohenstern – are all seniors this year. The students took rigorous tests six months ago, last spring, to qualify for National Merit honors.
The Newsleader contacted the students for their comments.
Taylor Chaika, the semifinalist, found out the exciting news in late September when a teacher inadvertently mentioned it, not knowing the announcement was not made yet.
“I had waited six months for any news,” Chaika said. “So when I heard it, I was super-super excited.”
Her semifinalist designation means Chaika is among the top-scoring 1 percent of entrants in each state of the nation.
Chaika is the daughter of Jill and Chris Chaika. Her favorite school subjects are chemistry and biology. At this point she is not sure which university she will attend, but she plans a career in the health-care profession, perhaps as a geriatrition (specialist in treating elderly patients) or a trauma surgeon.
To become a finalist from among the semifinalists, Chaika must submit a detailed scholarship application about school activities, leadership abilities, employment, honors and awards. She must be endorsed by a school official, write an essay and take two more tests (SAT and ACT) to confirm the top-scoring results of the earlier test taken.
Chaika will hear this February if she is among the finalists for the $2,500 scholarship. She has a very good chance because of the 16,000 semifinalists, about 15,000 become finalists.
The other honorees (Hengel and Hohenstern) are among the 34,000 nationwide who received commendations for scoring exceptionally well on their tests. Each year, about 1.5 million students apply for the National Merit Scholarship. They then take a qualifying test, which serves as an initial screening of program entrants.
Riley Hengel, the son of Tina and Joe Tina Hengel, said he was “surprised” by the commendation because he had doubts about being honored in such a highly competitive program. He is happy and proud about the commendation. Even though it does not mean scholarship funds, the honor does – at the very least – brighten up a job resume.
Hengel enjoys math and engineering. He also loves playing soccer and is one of the captains for the Sartell team. He also plays tennis.
He is going to attend Arizona State University where he will study aerospace engineering.
Zach Hohenstern, the son of Kathrin and Timothy Hohenstern, was called into the school office a few weeks ago to be informed he had received the commendation.
“It was nice for sure,” he said.
Hohenstern said he will likely attend the University of Minnesota, Duluth, to study computer science. In Sartell High School, he has taken some college-level courses in computer science and scored the highest possible on the course test last year. This year, he is taking another computer-science course on the college level.
Sartell High School Principal Shayne Kusler commented on the three student honorees.
“On behalf of the entire Sartell High School community, I want to share how proud we are of Taylor, Riley and Zachary,” he said. “It is a wonderful accomplishment for three students in our senior class to receive National Merit designations.”
Founded in 1955, the National Merit Scholarship program has recognized more than 3.4 million students and provided more than 450,000 scholarships worth nearly $2 billion.