Good Life

Top of the class: Local students lauded for academic accolades


About 1.5 million students enter the National Merit Scholarship competition annually when they take the PSAT/NMSQT during their junior year of high school.

The top-scoring students in each state are then chosen to be among the 16,000 semifinalists and about 15,000 meet the requirements to become finalists. Of those students, about 7,500 are offered Merit Scholarships.

The following local students are finalists, semifinalists, commended students, recognized Hispanic Scholars and Merit Scholarship winners. Congratulations to them all.


The following students are winners of the $2,500 2016 National Merit Scholarship, which is underwritten by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

Sojung Kim

State College Area High School

Parents: Seong H. Kim and Dayoung Lee, of State College

Activities: Sojung is a two-year captain of the Debate Team in State High Forensics. She has won several tournaments across the regional circuit and has debated in the Pa. State Championship Finals twice. Sojung is also a two-year captain of the Quiz Bowl Team and a State High Little Lion Ambassador. She volunteers at Mount Nittany Medical Center and coaches debate at Park Forest Middle School.

Future plans: Sojung plans to study chemistry in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State as a Millennium Scholar.

Mahima Kumara

State College Area High School

Parents: Nalini Krishnankutty and Soundar Kumara, of State College

Activities: Mahima studies piano and Indian classical voice. She has won awards in national piano competitions and qualified for All-State and All-Eastern Chorus. She is a two-time qualifier for the American Invitational Math Exam and attended the Pa. Governor’s School for the Sciences. She volunteers with math competitions, Penn State AstroFest and Mount Nittany Medical Center. She is a fencer, coordinator of State High’s math tutoring program and co-captain of State High Quiz Bowl.

Future plans: She plans to pursue her interests in science, education and music at Yale University.

Cuyler Luck

State College Area High School

Parents: Jeff Luck and Ann Taylor, of Port Matilda

Activities: Cuyler has played both club and school soccer since he was little, captaining the varsity team this past fall and playing on the Centre Force Region 1 team in the spring. He is a captain on the Debate Team and has participated in Public Forum and Parliamentary debate for three years. As a junior, Cuyler worked in an astronomy lab at Penn State where he co-authored a published paper. In his free time he volunteers at Mount Nittany Medical Center, watches movies and spends time with his friends.

Future plans: He plans to study biology at Penn State as part of both the Schreyer Honors College and the Millennium Scholars Program.


The following students are 2016 National Merit Scholarship finalists.

Catherine Campbell

State College Area High School

Parents: Nancy Locke and Christopher Campbell, of State College

Activities: Catherine is a competitor and officer with HOSA and has been involved in the Health Profession program at State High, including training as a nursing assistant. She takes ballet and Tae Kwon Do.

Future plans: She plans to study history and sociology of science and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania next year.

Sarah Dangelo

State College Area High School

Parents: Jennifer and Michael Dangelo, of State College

Activities: Sarah has participated in FIRST Robotics since sixth grade. She also spent one summer working as a research participant in a lab at Penn State that studies origami engineering.

Future plans: Sarah plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Jessica Ding

State College Area High School

Parents: Hong Lu and Min Ding, of State College

Activities: Jessica has played the harp since age 10 and is an award-winner of national and international music competitions. She was also a harpist in the National Youth Orchestra of the USA. Jessica volunteers at the Pennsylvania Military Museum and Discovery Space of Central Pennsylvania.

Future plans: She plans to major in anthropology and harp performance through the Harvard/New England Conservatory joint degree program.

Anna Hirsch

State College Area High School

Parent: Rebecca Hirsch, of State College

Activities: Anna is heavily involved in the music program at State High. She plays alto saxophone in marching band, jazz band and symphonic band, and is a two-time member of the Pennsylvania All-State Concert Band. She is also a member of Master Singers and Chamber Singers and plays in an original rock band called Here All Week. She attends the Delta Program.

Future plans: Anna plans to attend Temple University honors college, majoring in saxophone performance.

Mma Grace Ikwut-Ukwa

State College Area High School

Parents: Shelley Stoffels and Uche Ikwut-Ukwa, of State College

Activities: Mma Grace has been taking ballet classes since the age of 3, performing locally with the Performing Arts School of Central Pennsylvania and attending Bolshoi and Kaatsbaan summer intensives. She also plays piano, organizes fundraisers as the president of Kiva Club and is treasurer of the State High Model U.N. Club and co-founder of the newly established State High National Honor Society.

Future plans: She plans to attend Harvard College to pursue her interests in astronomy and astrophysics.

Gopal Jayakar

State College Area High School

Parents: Ritu and Krishna Jayakar, of State College

Activities: Gopal has been an active member of many clubs at the high school and has served as president of the State High Science Bowl, Ocean Bowl and Technology Student Association clubs. He is also a proud Eagle Scout of Troop 31.

Future plans: Gopal plans to major in biomedical engineering at Penn State this fall. At Penn State, he plans to complete premed requirements and further his interest in languages by studying abroad.

Alice Lin

State College Area High School

Parents: Jan Qiu and Henry Lin, of State College

Activities: Alice is the State High speech and debate team speech captain, HOSA (health professions club) vice president and girls’ tennis team co-captain. She also serves as a witness on the mock trial team and volunteers at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

Future plans: Alice plans to major in biology in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State and later attend medical school to become a physician.

Vincent Liu

State College Area High School

Parents: Zhiwen Liu and Lu Sun, of State College

Activities: Vincent is a member of the 2016 U.S. Physics Team and a two-time semifinalist in the U.S. Physics Olympiad. He is also a co-captain in State High’s Science Olympiad team.

Future plans: Vincent plans to pursue his interests in the STEM fields at Penn State.

Victoria Maras

State College Area High School

Parents: James and Lisa Maras, of State College

Activities: Victoria attended the Delta Program since seventh grade. She has been a member of Delta’s governing body, Advisory Council, for five years and served this year as chairperson. She has received Delta’s award for the completion of more than 100 hours of community service for five consecutive years. Outside of school, she works as a page at Schlow Centre Region Library and volunteers at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center.

Future plans: Victoria plans to attend Earlham College next year to study politics and history.

Mason Millard

State College Area High School

Parents: Michael and Laura Millard, of State College

Activities: Mason has played lead trumpet in the State High jazz band, principle trumpet in the Central Pennsylvania Youth Orchestra and associate principal trumpet in the Penn State Campus Orchestra, among many other musical endeavors. He studies under Eddie Severn.

Future plans: Mason will be attending Fordham University at Lincoln Center in the fall.

Olivia Mulley

State College Area High School

Parents: Jean-Pierre and Felicia Mulley, of Pennsylvania Furnace

Activities: Olivia has danced ballet for 13 years, performing many lead and ensemble roles at the Performing Arts School of Central Pennsylvania and attending the Bolshoi Ballet Academy Summer Intensive in Connecticut in 2013. She plays piano, guitar and is a violinist in the orchestra at State High. She loves to study languages and competed in the invitational round of the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad in 2016.

Future plans: Olivia plans to attend Hillsdale College in the fall, likely majoring in mathematics.

Guinevere Oliver

State College Area High School

Parents: Katherine and Christopher Oliver, of Pennsylvania Furnace

Activities: Gwen plays clarinet and was selected as a rank leader in the SCAHS Marching Band and as president of concert band. She also runs the PAWS Reading Program and a book club called Centre County Chapter Chat. She also volunteers at PAWS.

Future plans: She plans to study biology at Penn State in the Schreyer Honors College.

Bessie Rubinstein

State College Area High School

Parent: Judy Maloney, of State College

Activities: Bessie is co-president of State College Area High School’s first Feminist Club, where she worked with students to help shed light on gender-based issues in the community. She has played for the State High girls’ tennis team and has played piano since she was 5 years old. This past summer, she studied theater at Carnegie Mellon University, where she collaborated with other talented young artists. .

Future plans: She will attend Fordham University at Lincoln Center to study creative writing and theater.

Abigail Stevenson

State College Area High School

Parents: Mark Stevenson and Jill Hill-Stevenson, of Port Matilda

Activities: She has played lacrosse for nine years, co-founded State High’s National Honor Society and volunteers in Philadelphia every year to perform community service with her youth group. She is co-president of the Little Lion Fund, a student-run investment club, and is very grateful for the amazing team of students and friends she has made there over the years.

Future plans: Abby will attend Carnegie Mellon University in the Tepper School of Business to pursue finance and economics.

James Wittrig

State College Area High School

Parents: Mike and Becky Wittrig, of Port Matilda

Activities: During the past few years, James has enjoyed being part of the new Comp Sci club at State High, as well as Math Club and TSA. He has also enjoyed practicing Tang Soo Do with Summers Martial Arts.

Future plans: James will be attending Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., this fall with a full-tuition scholarship. He plans to major in computer science and minor in math and/or Spanish.

Megan Woods

State College Area High School

Parents: Peter and Misty Woods, of State College

Activities: At State High, Megan was a member of State High Thespians and costume mistress, crew head, assistant designer and headpiece designer for more than eight productions. This past year, she designed the headpieces for “James and the Giant Peach” and was the assistant costume designer for “Fiddler on the Roof.” She was also an active participant of the State High Renaissance Faire.

Future plans: Megan plans to attend Penn State’s School of Theatre to major in technical theater, costume design.

Rachel Zhang

State College Area High School

Parents: Furong Zhang and Jiawen Cao, of State College

Activities: Rachel has been interested in creating art since a very early age. She has made paintings, as well as films, installations, digital art and interactive works. She received a National Silver Medal for her art portfolio in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and was also recognized by the Young Arts Foundation. She participates in the National Art Honor Society, of which she is president.

Future plans: She plans to major in fine art at Cooper Union.

National Hispanic Recognition Program Recipient

The following student scored in the top 2.5 percent among Hispanic and Latino students who took the PSAT/NMSQT in Centre County.

Anthony Degleris

State College Area High School

Parents: Astrid and Soyros Degleris, of State College

Activities: Anthony is the captain of the State High cross-country team and State High track team, where he was a member of the state champion 4x800m-relay that finished third in the nation. He was an active member of the debate team, competing in Public Forum and Parliamentary debate for three years. He is also the vice president of the school Future Business Leaders of America chapter.

Future plans: He plans to study computer science or chemical engineering at Stanford University.


The following students are 2016 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists.

From State College Area High School: Elijah Waln Kelsey and Rosaleen M. Xiong


The following students are commended by the 2016 National Merit Program.

From Bellefonte Area High School: Anya Hoaglund

From State College Area High School: Kendall E. Allen, Neil C. Ashtekar, Erin M. Bevilacqua, Hope E. Bodenschatz, Gabriel M. Costanzo, Anthony S. Degleris, Jay E. Deng, Elizabeth A. Fisher, Maria P. Gorenflo, James H. Graef, Mathilde M. Hsia, Emma T. Lee, Cecilia R. Leskowicz, Milan S. Liu, Aileen L. McKinstry, Bethany M. Parkinson, Sarah Rohan, Margaret J. Rothrock and Alison E. Thomas.