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Three top performers at Rock Canyon are also top in the nation

Shannon Jiang, Shivani Chauhan, and Dane Burkholder were recently named National Merit semifinalists.

By Lisa Nicklanovich; photos courtesy of RCHS

Three Rock Canyon High School (RCHS) students – Dane Burkholder, Shivani Chauhan and Shannon Jiang were recently named National Merit semifinalists, an honor in academic excellence. The three students performed in the top one percent in the country on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) last fall, making them eligible to compete for scholarships that, all combined, are worth about $46 million.

Beginning with one-and-a-half million high school students who take the PSAT/NMSQT and meet other program requirements, only 50,000 high scoring entrants qualify for recognition based on the sum of critical reading, math and writing skills scores.

Only one third (about 16,000) of the 50,000 high scorers are then notified that they have qualified as semifinalists, the highest scoring entrants in each state. Semifinalists have the opportunity to advance in the competition for the 9,200 National Merit Scholarships. A very proud principal Andy Abner, along with administrators and counselors, made a surprise visit to each student’s class on September 11 and announced that they had qualified.

Burkholder said, “Qualifying to be a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist was a goal of mine ever since sophomore year, when I took a practice PSAT test. My score was decent but not good enough to qualify, so in the months leading up to the actual test I put a significant amount of time and effort into preparing, and gradually my scores improved. When Mr. Abner, along with administrators and counselors came into my AP Statistics class and informed me that I had qualified, it was so exciting and exhilarating seeing my hard work pay off as a tangible reward!”

For Jiang, whose family moved to Castle Pines this past spring from Highlands Ranch, the announcement was a surprise. “I was excited but didn’t realize the potential opportunities in being a semifinalist right away. Now, I’m very happy; it’s rewarding.” Chauhan exclaimed, “I knew I was in the range to potentially become a semifinalist, but I found areas where I could do better and worked through review books and practice SATs. I’m excited to be a semifinalist because it has opened lots of opportunities for me.”

In February 2014, Burkholder, Chauhan, and Jiang will be notified if they have advanced to finalist standing. From the finalists, Merit Scholarship winners are selected through a process that evaluates the student’s academic record, test scores, essays, demonstrated leadership and contributions to school and community as well as the school’s recommendation.

In the meantime, the three students are busy filling out college applications. Burkholder’s top choice is Yale University and he would like to study chemical engineering or business. Jiang is applying to Princeton, among others, and plans to become a pediatrician. Chauhan plans to study engineering, possibly at the Colorado School of Mines, CU Boulder, or Georgia Tech.



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