Steamboat Springs High School seniors Kayla Stack and Jeff Sperry are semifinalists for National Merit Scholarships.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs High School seniors Kayla Stack and Jeff Sperry are semifinalists for National Merit Scholarships.

Steamboat seniors named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists

Students in top 1 percent in nationwide National Merit program

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— Steamboat Springs High School seniors Jeff Sperry and Kayla Stack were among the 1.5 million students nationwide entered in the 2011 National Merit Scholarship Program as juniors.

They now are among the 16,000, or the top 1 percent, of the country’s high school students and were named semifinalists for the scholarship program. The National Merit Scholarship Program, in its 56th year, will provide about 8,400 scholarships worth more than $36 million next spring, according to a news release.

“They’re pretty much like rocket scientists,” said Danica Moss, the high school’s career and college counselor.

Sperry and Stack shook their heads at that Thursday in Moss’ office.

“No, you are,” Moss said. “Don’t sell yourselves short.”

Sperry and Stack, who have lived in Steamboat since early in their elementary school days, said when they found out last month that they really weren’t sure what being named a National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalist meant.

It wasn’t until after the two did some research that they learned that being named a National Merit Scholarship recipient would open up opportunities at a number of universities and for other forms of financial aid.

That’s a good thing, since Sperry and Stack still have long lists of college options and haven’t begun to whittle them down. But the two do have ideas about what they want to do.

Take Stack, for example. She’s a bit of a linguist. It started when Stack found a Japanese phrase book when she was in sixth grade. She speaks Spanish and German — she just started tutoring elementary school students in Spanish, and she likes to read Harry Potter in German. She’s only dabbled in Japanese and Latin. She really wants to learn Mandarin. Moss called her a “global thinker.”

“I like being able to piece it all together,” Stack said. “You start with ‘Hi, how are you?’ and it turns into communication.”

Stack also has a passion for the environment. She’s the founder of the school’s Eco Club, which has grown to about 15 members in less than two years. In that time, the club has led an effort for students to recycle school supplies.

“That was our way of keeping stuff out of the landfill and giving people cheap stuff,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue this year and it will be a recurring thing to keep things out of the trash.”

Because of her desire to piece things together, Stack said she’s thinking about studying medicine or engineering, something in the sciences.

Sperry also has a range of interests. Last year, he placed first in an ecology event at Science Olympiad regionals. Sperry, who is a member of the high school’s cross-country and track and field teams, said he’s interested in neuroscience, the study of the brain and nervous system. He said he likes it because it’s interdisciplinary and combines other subjects and areas of study.

“I have varied interests,” Sperry said. “It would allow me to study other sciences, too, like social science or philosophy, that relate to neurosciences. … I’m interested in learning about how people think, their behavior and motivations.”

Sperry and Stack said they weren’t sure if they wanted to attend college in Colorado or somewhere else. They also weren’t sure whether they want to return to Steamboat or Colo­rado after college if they leave the state. But they don’t have to figure that out now.

“We’ll see what happens,” Sperry said. “Everything’s wide open. It could go anywhere, which is the most exciting part about it.”

Sperry and Stack were entered as National Merit Schol­ar­ship Program hopefuls after their Preliminary SAT scores were among the highest of Colo­rado high school juniors last year.

They’re both working on a scholarship application, which will include an essay, SAT score, recommendation from Principal Kevin Taulman and information about their participation and leadership in school and community activities.

Moss said they would find out in February whether they’ve been named finalists for Nation­al Merit Scholarship. The news release stated that winners would be announced from April to July.

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