Centre County students named finalists in National Merit Scholarship Program

June 7, 2014 

Centre County is home to some pretty smart students, and among them are 12 of the country’s 15,000 or so 2014 National Merit Scholarship finalists — and one winner.

About 1.5 million students enter the National Merit Scholarship competition annually when they take the PSAT/NMSQT. The top-scoring students in each state are then chosen to be among about 16,000 semifinalists, and about 15,000 meet the requirements to become finalists. About 8,000 seniors are then offered Merit Scholarships.

Josh Cetnar, of Bellefonte, is the only Centre County student among the winners this year. He — like all the finalists — is a high achiever in all areas of this life, not because his parents, Philip and Priscilla Cetnar, pressured him, he said, but because he’s just always been that way.

“I’ve always wanted to be the best,” Cetnar said. “Even in elementary school, I always wanted to be the one with the right answer.”

Being the best has certainly paid off for him and all the finalists. Here’s a bit about who they are, where they’ve been and where they’re going.

Michael J. Cawley IV

State College Area High School

Parents: Michael J. Cawley III and Mary Cawley, of State College

Activities: Cawley was a parliamentarian of the student government. He has participated in State High’s Latin and Quidditch clubs and is a member of Pennsylvania’s National Junior Classic League Latin honor society. He has done volunteer work at the Our Lady of Victory Parish Bazaar and vacation Bible school, and his poetry has been published in Acclivity, State High’s literary magazine.

Future plans: He will study liberal arts at Penn State.

Josh Cetnar

Bellefonte Area High School

Parents: Philip and Priscilla Cetnar, of Bellefonte

Activities: Cetnar was a four-year member of the cross country and track teams and was a captain of both in his senior year. He was president of the Bellefonte Chapter of the National Honor Society and was a member of Class Cabinet, the math competition team and the student prayer group. He also was homecoming king.

In his own words: “I hope to get an MBA and start my own business after I get my engineering degree. I have always enjoyed business, math, science and technology. I have had many incredible opportunities to pursue my interests throughout high school, especially regarding my employment. For the past three years, I have worked for Bellefonte Area School District as a computer technician, and I am working again this summer. It’s been a great experience and has really helped me build a lot of important skills. I am also very thankful for the many tutoring opportunities I’ve had. In addition to working as a private tutor, I have taught the math portion of an SAT prep class for the past two years with Gregg Kohlhepp, one of my English teachers. Teaching the class was really rewarding, as I was able to see a large portion of the students drastically improve their scores, which opened up a lot of new college and career opportunities for them.”

Future plans: He will study engineering science in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College.

Sajal Datta

State College Area High School

Parents: Manabendra and Soma Datta, of State College

Activities: Datta was co-captain of the nationals-bound Science Bowl team and is an aspiring scientist. He helped coach the Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School’s Science Olympiad team this year. He enjoys playing the piano in his spare time.

In his own words: “I have always had a deep love of the sciences. Thus, I leapt at the opportunity to participate in Science Bowl, which stretched my knowledge of the sciences and allowed me to compete with others who shared this same passion. I have been a Science Bowler since I entered high school. I was co-captain of the Science Bowl team and I enjoyed helping new members getting acquainted with the club. I also helped coach the Science Olympiad team at the Young Scholars charter school, and I loved helping the kids succeed at their events and endeavors at that competition. In my free time, I like to play the piano and hang out with my friends.”

Future plans: He will study biological physics and applied mathematics at Brown University.

Michael Feffer

State College Area High School

Parent: Carline Crevecoeur, of Boalsburg

Activities and interests: Feffer was a member of the varsity swim team and participated in the District VI Championships and in the state competition. He also participated in Knowledge Masters and Quiz Bowl. He has been a part of Knowledge Masters since his freshman year and has represented State High at the national level of competition since his sophomore year. He also played first violin in the school orchestra.

In his own words: “I am going to major in computer science so that I can become a software engineer. However, I am also interested in several other fields. My high school humanities courses were just as enjoyable as my STEM ones, and in my spare time, I play music and read books in addition to writing code. While I hope to become a software engineer, I want to keep my passion for the humanities and music alive.”

Future plans: He will study computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Emily Fricke

State College Area High School

Parents: Eric and Christina Fricke, of Pennsylvania Furnace

Activities: For the past several years, Fricke has helped to organized a fair-trade sale and has sold more than $11,380 worth of fair-trade goods for SERRV International, raising $2,750 for charity. She is a cantor and choir member at Good Shepherd Catholic Church.

In her own words: “In my free time, I enjoy hiking, reading and sewing. I look forward to using the skills that I gain in college as an environmental engineer to promote sustainability.”

Future plans: She will study environmental engineering at Bucknell University.

Alicia Lai

State College Area High School

Parents: Ying Li and Zhi-Chun Lai, of State College

Activities: Lai is a 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholar and a 2014 National YoungArts finalist. Her writing has been recognized by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Alliance of Young Writers and Artists, and the National Poetry Foundation, among others. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the Postscript Journal, an international literary journal. She was captain of the Mock Trial team and the Ocean Sciences Bowl team, the webmaster of Math Club and an active member of the school orchestral ensembles.

In her own words: “I have always been fascinated by the exquisite exhilaration of language. In an effort to bridge communities as a writer, I founded The Postscript Journal, an international literary magazine run by students for students; as editor-in-chief, I have reached out to a distinguished array of young and established writers in the process. Outside the literary realm, I relish the juxtaposition of different disciplines, always looking to use knowledge from one field to enhance another — in science, math, law, literature or music.”

Future plans: She will study the sciences and humanities at Princeton University.

Joseph Lin

State College Area High School

Parents: Guoyang Lin and Zhidan Zhang, of State College.

Activities: Lin was a member of the State High Science Bowl A Team, serving as captain for the past three years. The team won the 2014 New Jersey Regional Science Bowl competition at Princeton, which qualified him to participate in his second National Science Bowl competition. He has performed community service as a peer math tutor, a volunteer at the Special Olympics Summer Games and as a Little Lion Ambassador.

In his own words: “Science and mathematics have always been passions and integral parts of my life. Besides Science Bowl, I participated in many other competitions — from Mathcounts in middle school to USA Math Talent Search, Pennsylvania Math League and Olympiads in math, chemistry and physics while in high school. I hope to pursue these interests in college and beyond, with the ultimate goal of applying my scientific knowledge to benefit society. I also hope to continue to spread my understanding and passion for science and mathematics to others through tutoring.”

Future plans: He will study physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Marta Millar

State College Area High School

Parent: Jane Millar

Activities: Millar was a spirit leader and rank leader in the State High marching band. She is also a lifeguard and swimming instructor and a member of the TriM music honor society and National German Honor Society. She volunteers as a docent at the Columbus Chapel and Boal Mansion Museum, and will travel to France this summer to work as a guide at the Chateau de Methon. She has received two gold keys in the Scholastic Competition for her writing.

Future plans: She will study history and international relations in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College.

Pratiti Roy

State College Area High School

Parents: Punyabrata and Sandhya Roy, of State College

Activities: Roy was captain of State High’s Science Olympiad team. She is an editor for the literary magazine Polyphony M.S., and her work has been published in several magazines. She is a Gold Medal winner for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

In her own words: “Being recognized as a National Merit finalist has been a great honor, and it was a nice finish to my high school career. I’ll miss high school and all of the great teachers and classmates I’ve worked with, but I’m excited to go to college.”

Future plans: She will study biochemistry in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College.

Mila Tamminga

State College Area High School

Parents: Ken and Nancy Tamminga

Activities: Tamminga was a rank leader in the State High marching band and plays trombone in several school bands. She also enjoys being a Polar Ambassador with PolarTREC.

Future plans: She will study biochemistry in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College.

Lauren Weiss

State College Area High School

Parents: Susan Smith and David Weiss, of State College

Activities: She was a member of State High’s softball and cross-country teams. She also plays the piano and participated in Pottery Club and Kiva Club.

In her own words: “I have always loved science and I have always worried about the planet. I hope to become a physicist and work on green energy solutions. Specifically, I would like to work on burying nuclear waste on the moon. I also love nature, pottery, my family, my dog and my friends”

Future plans: She will study physics at Amherst College.

Sarah Wylie

State College Area High School

Parents: Richard and Dee Ann Wylie, of State College

Activities: Vice president of the State High Model U.N. Club. She has participated in the Fellowship in Senior High youth group, as well as track and field since her freshman year. Last summer, she participated in a short-term Rotary Exchange program to France.

In her own words: “I love hiking, backpacking, ceramics, swimming in the ocean, reading memoirs and traveling. My biggest goals are to travel the world, hike the Appalachian Trail, become fluent in French and work for an international nonprofit organization.”

Future plans: She will study international relations and French at Colgate University.

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