The 2012 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

It's time again to meet our choices for Arkansas's top 20 high school seniors.

The class of 2012, our 18th, is full of National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, artists, musicians and writers. There's rarely a B on the transcripts of these students — in not just this, their senior year, but in any year of their high school careers.

They have busy lives outside school, too, with extracurricular activities, volunteer work, mission activities and more.

They'll be honored this week at a ceremony at UALR with plaques and $250 cash awards. AETN will feature some of them in a series of short videos that will appear periodically on the state's public television network.

We've tried to give an idea of what the future holds for them, but these profiles appear before the final deadline for college decisions and many of our winners have exciting options. College plans listed are, therefore, not set in stone.


Age: 17

Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M., and Little Rock

High School: Episcopal Collegiate

Parents: Stephen and Joan Beetstra

College plans: Georgia Tech, Washington University, Northwestern University, Rice University or Agnes Scott, applied mathematics

Math, tennis, dogs — she fits all in

Margaret Anne Beetstra reads ancient Greek, tutors calculus students and spent last summer researching life expectancy factors for the state Health Department through a scholars' program at Arkansas Children's Hospital. She's lived in four states, she rescues abused dogs, and she serves meals at Stewpot. Not only is she a member of seven academic and community service clubs, she's president of two of them, and she captains her varsity tennis team. It's obvious that, at only 17, Maggie's a whiz with time management — which is great, because next year she plans to juggle college tennis with a full course load and some to-be-determined undergraduate research project.

Maggie knows her priorities, though. "I love tennis, but tennis can't be my life. I definitely want to do undergraduate research, and if I don't study applied mathematics, I'll do chemistry or neuroscience," she said. Among her academic achievements, Maggie is at the top of her class, has a 4.52 GPA and is a National Merit semifinalist. Joan Beetstra, Maggie's mother, is amazed by her daughter's work ethic. "With school and tennis, it's just the hours she puts in," Joan said. "I've never seen anyone who power-studies the way she does ... she's also good at thinking on her feet, which really works in her favor." Maggie considers leading Honor Council the most noble of her sundry activities. "It's the most prestigious club at our school," she said. "It's our job to enforce the Honor Code that every student signs. It can be tough, having to inform one of my peers that there are serious consequences to their behavior, mostly because students are remorseful and regret what they've done." In dealing with her peers, Beetstra applies principles she learned through working with her family's rescue dogs: "I'm an only child, so these dogs are my siblings. They teach me to be grateful, they teach me unconditional love, they teach me that everyone deserves a second chance."


Age: 18

Hometown: Little Rock

High School: Central High

Parents: Daniel Berleant and Joy Liaw

College plans: California Institute of Technology, computer science

Model student

Joseph Berleant is a computer whiz and lifelong cellist with plans to head off to Pasadena's Cal Tech this fall. (For the record, Cal Tech just became the first university to beat Harvard for the title of best school in the world, according to the London-based "Times Higher Education.") The Central High senior recently received his acceptance letter, and he's still giddy. "It's such a good engineering school," he said. "I want to go into computer science, but that ties in so closely with other types of engineering. Being at Caltech will give me a good opportunity to keep up with what's going on in all forms of engineering and physics." It's no surprise that Caltech wants him. Joseph scored a perfect 36 in math on his ACT, with a composite score of 35. This year he took a course in differential equations at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, since he took AP calculus, the highest math Central offers, his junior year. He has also designed a computer program that more efficiently models plants. The program took top honors at the state science fair and advanced to the international Intel Science Fair in Los Angeles. Currently, Joseph is working on a paper detailing the program, which he hopes to present at the Bionanotox 2012 Conference. If his paper is accepted, he'll be a rarity — a high school student among graduate students, professors and think-tank types. Though his achievements are far beyond high school, Joseph is down-to-earth and committed to his school and his community. In addition to being treasurer of Junior Civitan, a Central High volunteer club that pitches in everywhere from the Salvation Army to Wildwood Park, Joseph is in six other clubs and honor societies, he's a National Merit semifinalist and he plays with the Arkansas Youth Symphony. Last year, he won the Arkansas ACLU Bill of Rights essay contest with an essay about First Amendment freedoms of gay and lesbian high school students. He's taken 21 Advanced Placement classes, which means, depending on Caltech policies, he could have a major head start on his freshman year. Joseph should be right at home next year among the world's brightest engineering hopefuls.


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