The 2004 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

High fliers.

Meet the 2004 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star team.

The 20 members — 10 males and 10 females — were chosen from nominees from all over Arkansas. We invite every high school in the state, public and private, to nominate one male and one female for the team.

The winners go through two rounds of judging. The first produces 40 finalists. The final round of judging, by professional educators, produces our winners.

This is the 10th year of the all-star competition. Each winner receives a plaque, cash and recognition at a ceremony this week at UALR, a sponsor of the project from the first year. AETN also supports the program with filmed features on the all-stars, which are broadcast on the TV network. Last year was the first for the AETN features and we appreciate their support of this, the only statewide program focused on academic excellence.

While winners with extraordinary personal stories and special talents outside the classroom always stand out, the first requirement for winners is academic achievement. It's rare that a winner is not at or very near the top of his or her high school class, with high standardized test scores, a challenging schedule of courses and a number of college scholarship offers.

With this year's prizes, the Times will have distributed more than $50,000 to winners.

Age: 17
Hometown: North Little Rock
School: North Little Rock High School
Parents: Terry and Cindy Ballard
College plans: University of Arkansas

Expectations are responsible for Shawn Ballard's academic success so far, the North Little Rock High School senior said. Curiosity, however, may be the key to her future accomplishments.

Doing well in kindergarten set her up for 12 more years of good grades, Ballard said.

"You don't realize that when you do well, and [adults] see that, they continue to expect you to do well. It was just expected. I tried to outdo myself."

She jokes that while her parents insist they wouldn't like her less if she didn't bring home high grades in hard classes, she doesn't believe them.

Ballard has been equally drawn to literature and science in high school, although she said physics is her favorite class.

She's taught herself a little Latin on the side, and played clarinet and saxophone in the band. She also joined the debate team this year — the topic involved science, so it was a natural fit, she said — and won two trophies for her speaking skills.

But she knows college means focusing her academic pursuits more narrowly. This fall Ballard plans to attend the University of Arkansas on a Bodenhamer Fellowship, and she said she'll major in a branch of physics, possibly biophysics. She borrowed from Donald Rumsfeld's phrasebook to explain her choice:

"I think it's the great quantity of known unknowns," she said. "There's so much there and it's just constantly changing." Ballard said she also has a personal interest in the field. Her mother and younger brother have kidney problems, and her mother wants her to find a cure.

Then again, a recent lesson about the Theory of Everything — which includes the idea that there are a dozen dimensions out there that humans can't experience — had her buzzing.

"It just blows my mind," she said, " but I'm really curious about it."

Age: 17
Hometown: Sherwood
High School: Mills
Parents: Paresh and Archita Buch
College plans: Accepted by Boston University, Brown University, Case Western Reserve University and University of Arkansas

English class is one of those places you'd expect a high school student to get a flash of inspiration — all that Shakespeare and Hemingway and such. But the lightning bolt that struck Vivek Buch came courtesy of a blank sheet of paper, and it was the kind more likely to land a student in the principal's office than a teacher's good graces.


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