2018 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

Meet the best and brightest high school seniors in the state.

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Age: 17
Hometown: Bella Vista
High school: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts
Parents: Daniel and Gina Allen
College plans: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Benjamin Allen decided to compete in the 2017 Jolt Hackathon at the Little Rock Venture Center on a whim. The weekend-long contest wrapped a series of cryptography, forensics, social engineering and coding puzzles in a cyber-security theme. It was an endurance test: Participants were expected to down the brand of highly caffeinated soda brand that sponsored the event to make it through the game. Benjamin, who taught himself how to code as a kid, dramatically stepped up his game at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs, where he's taken nearly every computer science course offered and used ASMSA's partnership with UA Little Rock to complete enough college-level coursework to be about halfway through an undergraduate degree in computer science. Benjamin wrote about the Jolt event in his Academic All-Star essay: "A strong approach to problem solving was required to overcome the puzzles of a hackathon, so I used the strategy used in general programming: If a problem seems too big to solve, break it into smaller problems until each of the smaller problems is manageable. Then solve each miniature problem as it arrives. I take pride in my success because of this strategy, because it's a general strategy for all of life's tasks." In a field of more than 30, Benjamin and his high school friends placed second in the Jolt Hackathon and another similar one held later in Fort Smith, bested each time only by one of their instructors and ASMSA alumni. Despite being No. 1 in his class, with near perfect ACT and SAT scores, Benjamin said ASMSA has been humbling. "You come in and you're used to being the smartest kid in the school, and you take these courses from teachers who challenge you, and you find out there are things that you aren't really good at," he said. "One of the great things about coming here is that you realize all of these people around you are really bright in their own way, and you get a really big appreciation for people who are different than you."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Barling
High school: Fort smith Southside High School
Parent: Veronica Arens
College plans: Princeton University, New Jersey

Veronica Arens left Guatemala in 2004 in search of a better life in the U.S. Christian Ruano Arens, her son and the third of four siblings, was 4. No one in the family spoke English. His mom immediately put Christian in preschool, where he felt "helpless" because he couldn't communicate with the kids around him. His mom also put him and his siblings in a library program. "After two summers and a million books later," Christian and his siblings were fully fluent, he said, and they've excelled ever since. His brother and sister graduated near the top of their classes. One brother studies chemical engineering at Brigham Young University in Utah; his sister is studying to become a nurse at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. With a 4.4 grade point average, Christian is on track to graduate second in his class of 526 and will head next year to Princeton, where he plans to study chemical engineering, perhaps en route to becoming a nuclear physicist. He said he dreams of cracking the code on nuclear science's white whale — cold fusion. Christian's mother was a motivating force for him: "I always felt like she deserved to have successful kids. She put in so much work. I felt like I owed it to her to not only make her proud, but to show her that her hard work and patience as a single mother was worth it." Though Christian said it was hard for him to leave Guatemala, adapt to a new place and, more recently, handle the undercurrent of xenophobia among his peers, he's glad to be an immigrant student. "I strongly believe that I have a better understanding of the vast amount of opportunities available in the United States than a normal student. I do not think I would be as ambitious or zealous in my academic career if I were a native-born student because I would not have been forced to reach farther or try harder to achieve my goals. Being an immigrant has allowed me to appreciate the wealth of opportunities and has not only made me a better student, but has also made me a stronger citizen in my community."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Catholic High School for Boys
Parents: Ralph and Anne Broadwater
College plans: Undecided

When your life's achievements are compared to those of hundreds (or thousands) of other students seeking college admission, it's good to stand out. Michael Broadwater shouldn't have any problems there: He's a self-taught magician and juggler, and he plays the piano, the melodica and the banjo — Earl Scruggs-style, though he said he's dabbled in clawhammer. In fact, Michael was playing the banjo when his guidance counselor, Fred Baker, happened upon him in the cafeteria, where Michael was entertaining some friends. In the years since that day, Baker said, his appreciation for Broadwater deepened. "We've all seen students who are 'club joiners,' passively appearing at the occasional meeting simply so they can list it on a resume. Michael is the antithesis of this. If he's going to do something, he is going to DO something," Baker wrote. As for the banjo, Michael said: "It was mostly my grandmother's influence. ... She actually had one, and she gave it to me for Christmas one year and paid for a couple of lessons. I got really into it." Headed to college during an unquestionably divisive and volatile political climate, Michael also has the rare distinction of having been a member of both the Young Republicans and the Young Democrats clubs during his high school tenure. "I was interested in politics," he said, "and I wanted to see the different perspectives. ... I realize that a lot of people just kind of yell at each other, and I was able to observe more political discourse." Broadwater was still undecided on college plans when he spoke to the Times, but is "thinking University of Alabama right now."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Austin
High school: Cabot High School
Parents: Lee Ann Benson and Troy Bond
College plans: Tulane University, Louisiana

Women make up only 25 percent of the STEM workforce, and racial minorities even less, and that's not because women can't handle science, Jennifer Bond noted in her video presentation to Tulane University. Jennifer, who has been interested in biology since she was a young girl (volunteering to clean the fish her father caught so she could examine their organs) and who did an internship in neurosurgery at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary in 2016, is doing her part to better the odds: She and a friend founded the FemiSTEM group at Cabot High to encourage high school girls to pursue their sometimes stymied interests in science and math. The group — which boys can join — has taken field trips, explored career choices and scholarship opportunities, and has paired students with mentors. The 80-member group has also traveled to Harding University's conference for women in STEM for two years running to hear guest speakers and tour laboratories. (The boy members are engaged with the group, but can't go to the conferences, Jennifer said. They help though — "If we have to transport hydrogen balloons, we make the boys do it," she said, laughing.) The club has also taken its mission to Cabot's elementary school children, presenting fun science experiments, a la Bill Nye the Science Guy. If girls aren't interested in science, technology and math by eighth grade, Jennifer said, "the chances are they won't ever be." Things have improved for women in STEM — the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's physics department, which once had no women's restroom, now does, according to one of Jennifer's teachers — but Jennifer believes the discouragement of girls to pursue careers in science is stifling innovation in America. In her scholarship-winning video to Tulane, she asks of the minority numbers in STEM, "Does this look like the American Dream to you?"

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Age: 18
Hometown: De Queen
High school: De Queen High School
Parents: Enedina Lopez, Cirilo Gonzalez
College plans: Henderson State University

Jorge Gonzalez's drive for exemplary academic performance is inseparable from his profound sense of responsibility to his family. When his parents emigrated from Puebla, Mexico, he said, "They gave up everything to move at a very young age — and haven't seen their parents in decades — all because they wanted their children to have more opportunities." This commitment is his greatest inspiration: "It is the least I can do to show [my mother] her sacrifice was worth it." According to Jorge, living in a town the size of De Queen means people are aware of their neighbors' strengths as well as their needs. "I love the closeness of the town and how people can help each other out," he said. From canned food drives for local food pantries to the senior citizen Thanksgiving luncheon, Jorge is always ready to be of service, he said, because "there's always somebody in a worse position, and it feels great to help out somebody who really needs it." Throughout high school, Jorge deftly balanced rigorous schedules in athletics (he ran cross country and track and played soccer) and academics (he's on pace to graduate No. 1 in his class), two realms that he now believes are interconnected in beneficial ways. "The same focus, effort and practice were required for both," he said, "and that kept me motivated." This balance is further reflected in his ultimate career goal: to be a mathematics teacher and a coach. His own track coach, he said, pushed him to "stay confident and never give up," and he wants to give the same gift to students in the future.

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Age: 17
Hometown: Marion
High school: Marion High School
Parents: Caryn and James Bunn
College plans: University of Georgia

As a kid, Claire Bunn would read anything she could she could get her hands on. Fiction proved especially transporting for someone growing up in small-town Marion (pop. 12,362). "From an early age, reading was my solace, allowing me to embark on unique adventures from the comfort of my room," Claire wrote in her All-Star essay. Athough she cites Betty Smith's classic novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" as her all-time favorite, her reading interests have broadened into nonfiction, books on science and economics in particular. Like many readers, Claire has long loved to write. Her enthusiasm convinced the sponsor of the Marion High School school newspaper, Patriot Expressions, to allow Claire to join the staff as a sophomore, a year earlier than the school had historically allowed. As the editor of a staff of eight this year, Claire has worked to increase digital readership and maintain a weekly publication schedule while also writing about everything from animal shelter donations to "cutting edge stem-cell regeneration treatments" and "equal opportunities in education in an impoverished school district." This summer will be her last year to serve as a counselor at a wetlands camp at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, south of New Orleans, where kids learn about biology and conservation. She's been going there every summer since she was 6 years old. "It's the place where I really fell in love with science," she said. In the fall, she'll attend the University of Georgia as a Foundation Fellow, a generous scholarship that covers full tuition, room and board and provides frequent international travel opportunities. Claire plans to major in biochemistry and statistics en route to getting her MD/Ph.D. She'd love to be a pediatrician who also does research. Asked about the stereotype that scientists aren't often passionate readers and writers, Claire said, "If you're a science major who can't write, you can't share your idea."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Pulaski Academy
Parents: Tom Davis and Cindi McConnell
College plans: Undecided

At 18, Spencer Davis is already exhibiting all the classic symptoms of the brilliant but absent-minded professor. On his 13th birthday, Spencer got a ukelele (his guitar-playing never panned out, he said: "I was a whopping 90 pounds soaking wet and the thing was huge"). He lost track of time with the new endeavor, plucking away for a good six hours until he developed the requisite callouses on his fingers for stamina and, he said, "had accomplished something on my own. ... I had essentially learned the fundamentals of an entire instrument in a day." Now, he said, the ukelele is his "go-to zen place." The meditative practice is clearly effective. Spencer, a straight-A student with a perfect score on the ACT, is president of his school's Young Democrats club and volunteers at the Little Rock Animal Village and the Ronald McDonald House. For his Senior Thesis class, he is writing a 50-page paper covering "the contemporary Religious Right and their impact on American politics, focusing mainly on their impacts on abortion and gay marriage," he said. Spencer settled on that topic in the middle of playing a soccer game. "I don't quite know how," he said. "I think that I probably took a header too hard." He's still weighing his options for college (University of Southern California and Purdue University among them), and said he'll "attempt a double major in computer science and political science. When the workload overwhelms me, I'll probably end up doing computer science and mathematics."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Arkadelphia
High school: Arkadelphia High School
Parents: Saba Chaudry
College plans: Stanford University, California

Fateemah Faiq attributes her deep and guiding sense of empathy to the fact that not only has she met many people who engage the world from perspectives different from her own, she has already navigated a number of watershed moments in her own life. By the age of 12, she had moved from her birthplace of New Jersey to Pakistan, and then to Malaysia, before returning to the U.S. and Arkansas. These cultural and geographic transitions, she said, taught her to "appreciate the differences that make our world so diverse and impressive." A drastic constriction of her family's financial means further developed her ability to relate to people from various socioeconomic backgrounds, as it wrought both major and minor changes in her life. Rather than resentment, she feels gratitude for the "new view on life" it has given her. "It has improved me as an individual, and I am proud of the person I have become," she said. In addition to earning a 4.193 grade point average, maintaining leadership roles in school organizations, playing clarinet in the band, playing tennis, and tutoring, she also served a crucial role in the CONE Foundation, a philanthropic endeavor through which students raise funds to award grants to community projects and institutions seeking support. Fateemah will attend Stanford University on a QuestBridge National College Match scholarship, which covers the full cost of her tuition, room and board. Though she doesn't yet have a particular career in mind, she said, her priority is to go somewhere she can "thrive and serve," living in a way that will have a "positive impact on as many lives as possible. ... I believe that all people deserve support and that every person has a responsibility to care for others, no matter where they are from or how 'different' they seem."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Hot Springs
High school: Lakeside High School
Parents: Angie Macri, Karl Hanson, Wade Derden
College plans: Hendrix College, Conway

Connection and curiosity are the twin impulses that have led Sidra Hanson to her passion: writing. On a whim, she remembered, she joined the yearbook staff in her freshman year and "absolutely fell in love with it." Since then, Sidra has been recognized for her achievements in journalism at the annual Arkansas Scholastic Press Association conference, in both pre-submitted and on-site copy competitions. As copy editor of the Lakeside yearbook, she feels remarkably in tune with the daily lives of her fellow students, and senses that it gives her a unique "outside perspective" on the goings-on of the school and the student body. Beyond offering her a mode of exploration and expression, being part of the yearbook production team also plugged her into an invaluable network of supportive friends. In order to connect with — and reach out to — people who are not in her immediate peer group, Sidra has volunteered each summer at CHI St. Vincent in Hot Springs. Not knowing what she might encounter at the hospital each day, working there opened her up to a number of "monumental experiences," she said. She observed a Caesarean section and — in the same day — comforted a mother who was grieving the loss of her newborn. "Seeing people alone or alienated — or meeting them at a major moment in their lives, when they just need someone to talk to," she recalled, reframed her understanding of the role communication plays. With a 4.24 grade point average, Sidra is on track to graduate second in her class at Lakeside. Looking forward to her studies at Hendrix College, Sidra hopes to engage with subjects to which she hasn't yet been exposed. With such a persistent curiosity about the unknown, there is one thing she said she knows for sure: "As long as I'm writing, I'll be happy."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville
High school: Fayetteville High School
Parents: Paul and Mary Jo Henry
College plans: Clemson University, South Carolina, or Southern Methodist University, Texas

Charles Morriss Henry loves being outside. "I'm actually outside right now," he said when a reporter reached him recently. He was preparing for a soccer game then, but it could have been any number of pursuits. Charles has served as captain of the Fayetteville High School varsity cross country team, he's played varsity soccer for FHS for four years and spent tons of time outdoors in the long ascent to the rank of Eagle Scout. He spent 75 hours on his Eagle Scout project, a permanent outdoor classroom for the students at his hometown's Holcomb Elementary School, he reported in his All-Stars essay. "I study outside sometimes and I just wanted to make sure that other people got to do that as well," Charles said. (That must have worked out for him, by the way. Charles is ranked first in his class, with a grade point average of 4.25, and is an AP Scholar with Distinction.) "Basically, what I did was design eight benches by their concrete garden — it's made out of cinder blocks and they have the students plant things there. ... And they use them a lot, apparently; I got a letter in the mail thanking me for my work there and saying how much they appreciated them." Charles plans to be pre-med, taking courses in microbiology and chemistry. In doing so, he'll be following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both opthalmologists. He's watched an eye surgery "and I found that really fascinating," he said. "They've shown me that they love what they do."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Russellville
High school: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts
Parents: Kurt and Sandra Jones
College plans: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

The members of the Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team are so piercingly bright that you wonder, why bother with college? Go straight to grad school! Sabrina Jones, having patiently tried to explain to this reporter what was involved in her research project "The Gamma-Glutamyl-Glutamine Induced Neoplastic Transformation of NIH 3T3 Cells," gave this reporter a little extra help by providing her layman's synopsis of the research. In clear and concise terms, it explained she'd confirmed that certain chemicals encouraged cancer cell growth but another could slow the transformation down. "If we deny cells what they need to become tumors, we can stop cancer before it starts," she wrote in the synopsis. Sabrina said the lab experience, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, was "humbling" and ignited an interest in research. She's looking at a new field, biophysics, which combines research into how, for example, voltage and molecules interact in the human body. To blow off steam from all her brain calisthenics, Sabrina runs: Half marathons are her favorite distance. "It's stress relieving. You can see from my course record I haven't chosen the most relaxing course load throughout my high school experience," she said. Running, she said, is a "metaphor for embracing pain but with the knowledge that something good is going to come out of it." Sabrina is not, of course, skipping college on her way to finding a cure for cancer: ASMSA's top student, a ranking she shares with All-Star Benjamin Allen, got a Bodenhamer Fellowship to attend the UA, which will provide her $70,000 and is awarded to only five or six students a year. On top of that, she was awarded a Governor's Distinguished Scholarship of $10,000 a year.

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Age: 17
Hometown: Lowell
High school: Springdale High School
Parents: Todd and Crystal Krawchuk
College plans: Purdue University, Indiana

Chance Krawchuk lived in Hong Kong from age 5 to 13. "There, I always considered myself as American," he said, "but coming back it was very clear to me and everyone else that I was nothing at all like my peers." Then Chance found his community in robotics. It wasn't something he'd grown up dreaming about. His only friend asked him to come along to robotics club. "I wasn't the least bit interested, but I did want to spend time with someone I knew," Chance recalled. It wasn't too long after joining the club, though, that Chance began to introduce himself as a roboticist. "Even when I played varsity football, or I made the JV wrestling squad, or when I was my party's candidate for state treasurer at Boy's State, if someone asked me who I was, I started with my name and then added the title "captain of a robotics team," Chance wrote to the Times. It's been a hugely successful run for Chance and the Springdale High School Gear Hogs. In recent years, they've won five tournaments, received three awards and competed in a world championship match. Chance even started the nonprofit FIRST Robotics, which has as its mission the sustaining of robotics programs and encouraging other young people to start their own. No. 1 in a class of 651, Chance probably could coast on his intellect and land a scholarship to a strong college. Asked why he worked so hard, he brought up football: "I was godawful for the first two years. I never got off the bench. It hurt getting tackled. But it also hurt my pride. ... I'd gotten complacent. I learned that you are who you settle for. No matter how good you are, you're always going to be someone else's mediocre. And I don't like the idea of being unremarkable. So I decided not to be." In his senior year, Chance learned the entire defensive scheme and started games as linebacker, cornerback and safety. At Purdue, he plans to major in aerospace engineering, en route to getting involved in a field that isn't yet off the ground: asteroid mining.

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Age: 18
Hometown: Searcy
High school: Searcy High School
Parents: Annie Luy and Jayton Lim
College plans: Cornell University, New York

Margaret Lim's record of high achievement began at a young age. In sixth grade, she won first place in the national Level I Letters About Literature Writing Competition for her essay on Sharon Draper's novel "Out of My Mind," about a girl with cerebral palsy. Margaret wrote about how the book had expanded her perceptions of disabilities and, as an honor for the prize, Searcy's Southwest Middle School Library was awarded $10,000. (She later won first in the contest in Arkansas in 2014 and 2016.) Margaret has been pegged for greatness from a young age. She's the youngest of four; all of her siblings were Academic All-Stars (three siblings was a record; four may be insurmountable) who all went to prestigious colleges. Margaret concedes there's been some pressure to be the last one through high school, but said, "It's nice to have siblings who have been through this before. They're a big part of my support system. I can always call them for help to figure out how to balance everything." She probably had to make a number of calls this year: She's taking six AP classes — every AP course Searcy offers, plus two additional ones through the state's Virtual School — and playing in the band and on the tennis team. She's managed the load well: She's on pace to graduate atop her class, with near-perfect ACT and SAT scores. She advanced to the quarterfinals of the state tennis tournament. She also made All-State band. During marching season, Margaret played vibraphone. For concert season, she switched to oboe. Though everyone told her she sounded like a "squawking duck" when she began playing, she's stuck with it. "Though I am a solo oboist," she wrote the Times, "playing in concert band has taught me when to project my melody, but also when to integrate myself into a kaleidoscope of sound." It'll be a music-filled summer for Margaret. She and her sisters plan to see Taylor Swift in concert, and she'll march with the Searcy High School band in the Washington, D.C., Memorial Day Parade.

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Age: 17
Hometown: Conway
High school: Conway High School
Parents: Govind and Rasila Lukhi
College plans: University of Alabama

Gopi Lukhi is a devoted practitioner of her religion, Hinduism. It affects "every decision I make in my life," she said, from the way she eats — she's a vegetarian — to how she treats others. "I am a kind and innocent girl who would never intentionally harm someone," she wrote in her essay for the Times. In fact, she hopes to heal: At the BAPS temple she and her family attend in North Little Rock — a "big part of my life" — Gopi discovered a love for taking care of babies. Now she's thinking neonatology is the career she'll pursue, a specialty that will allow her to take care of babies born in critical condition. Gopi, who is ranked first in her class at Conway High and whose grade point average is 4.3962, also plays trumpet in the school band and is in the All-State Symphonic Band. When she's not studying for her four AP classes or playing in the wind ensemble, she likes to spend time with her best friend in Little Rock, hiking or going to parks. Her parents and her friend's parents come from the same part of India and both girls speak Gujarati (rather than the Spanish that strangers have spoken to Gopi because of her Indian complexion). Gopi said her parents moved to America so she and her older sister could get a good education, and so they have. For example, Gopi combined her love of biology and science with a significant accomplishment in history, traveling to Washington, D.C., to present a group documentary for National History Day, "The Rights and Responsibilities Concerning Tissue Research: Henrietta Lacks," about the woman whose cancer cell line was appropriated by researchers without consent of the family. "I think it ended up really well," Gopi said. She is likely to end up well, too.

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Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Little Rock Christian Academy
Parents: Michael Powell, Melissa Powell
College plans: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Nicholas Powell embraces the opportunity of every new experience. "I've always wanted to learn and discover as much as I can and push myself to grow," he said. From attending culinary camp to volunteering as the assistant teacher of an ESL program, Nicholas has not let inexperience or discomfort hold him back. This year, he made his theatrical debut in his school's production of "The Sound of Music." "It was out of the blue," he said, "and no one expected it from me. But I can't confine myself to a classroom. I have to find new ways to express myself and find creativity in everything." For his senior capstone project, Nicholas again refused to limit himself to what was easy or comfortable, and in so doing laid a foundation for what he now believes will be his career: "I spent the last year designing and creating a functional, 3D-printed, prosthetic hand," he said. Through a program that matches people in need of prosthetics with people who can make them, Nicholas connected with a second-grader named Caitlin who was born with what he called a "debilitating hand deformity." Taking full advantage of the technology available to him in his school's engineering department, he created a prosthetic hand that he said will "restore some functionality and regularity to Caitlin's life." The project confirmed his thinking about studying biomedical engineering, and, specifically, pursuing a career in prosthetic research and development. In this field, the Little Rock Christian valedictorian plans to apply his creativity and knowledge to work that can improve lives. "It all comes back to giving back the way people have given to me. Even if people don't know your name or what you're doing," he said, "you can still make an impact for the betterment of the world."

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Age: 17
Hometown: Fayetteville
High school: Fayetteville High School
Parents: Jianlin Si and Renhua Wang
College plans: Cornell University, New York

For many of our 2018 Academic All-Stars, college may be the biggest transition of their lives thus far — new friends, new digs, new demands to meet. Kari Si (pronounced "sigh") got an early start in life transitions. Kari grew up with her grandmother in a small seaside village on China's Shangdong peninsula. At age 5, she moved to Fayetteville to be with her parents, Jianlin Si and Renhua Wang, who had been studying there. "Dazed," her nomination essay reads, she was "unable to function." But after her mother enrolled her in a dance class, she said, she found herself opening up to her peers. "I feel like as children, you just hang out even though you don't know how to communicate," she said. Mastering English and a new dialect of Mandarin to speak with her parents was, no doubt, a test of resilience, but it's one that Kari seems to have used to catapult her personal drive and sense of inquiry. Kari danced competitively for nine years in jazz, lyrical, ballet and hip-hop genres. She's ranked first in her class. She's a four-time Arkansas State Music Teachers Association champion in piano. She served as president of Fayetteville High School's National Honor Society, Green Team and World Language Club, and she started a school-supply donation program called "Shooting for the Stars." Though her grade point average is 4.38 and her test scores are through the roof, Kari emphasized, "I don't feel like I'm inherently smart, I'm just insanely hard-working. I have to hold myself to a certain standard, and I set that standard for myself." Kari, drawn to Cornell on her brother Beau's testimony, was accepted to the Ithaca, N.Y., university as an early decision candidate. There, she'll study economics or engineering.

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Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Mount St. Mary Academy
Parents: Reese and Julia Strickland
College plans: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

You might find it odd that Katie Strickland, No. 1 in her class at Mount St. Mary, wrote her Academic All-Stars essay about failure. She wrote that she did not make the school's premier choir, her Mock Trial team didn't qualify for the semifinals as it had the year before, and though she campaigned "passionately" for student body president, she didn't win. But that, Katie said, made her able to "welcome challenges with open arms ... face opposition with a smile and to embrace new doors when one shuts." Such setbacks produced unforeseen blessings, she wrote, and made her unafraid to "push the boundaries of my comfort zone." Katie's school record appears to be one, however, of a very comfortable and high-achieving young woman, with nothing but A's since ninth grade. Those A's come in AP calculus, chemistry and physics, but Katie said she tries to be an "all-around" girl and the subjects she favors are history and English. "The way I'm wired, I can write a paper [more easily] than sit down and formulate a math problem," she explained. As she's grown older, Katie said her interests in various histories have changed: When she was "really little," it was in the shipwreck of the Titanic. "I could tell you who was the captain of the ship who rescued" the survivors, she said. Then it was the Romanovs. Then World War II. "And I really liked learning about the Golden Age of France and the Russian Revolution," she added. Now, it's American history that's captured her heart, and she plans to use her love of history to major in international studies, to learn "how we can take history and influence where we are going now. What has worked? What hasn't worked?" Katie is also getting ready to combine that love of American history with the arts: A dancer, she's rehearsing for her recital at Shuffles & Ballet, where she'll tap dance to "The Schuyler Sisters," the lively feminist song from the Broadway musical "Hamilton" ("Look around, look around! The Revolution's happening ..."). Sister Joan Pfauser, Katie's counselor, wrote in her All-Stars recommendation for Katie that she "fits no adolescent mold that I know. She is honest, plays no games with you, totally invests herself in all that she does and, despite having firm opinions, is always open to the ideas of others." Sounds like a good trait for someone going into international relations.

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Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Central High
Parents: Puteri S. Sillenneon and L.E. Tang
College plans: Princeton or Yale universities

Interested in learning Java programming language? Well, pick up the e-book that Leck (as he's called) Tang wrote. It made the "What's Hot" section of iTunes in September last year. If that subject sounds like someone talking in code to you — well, it is. The young author and coding whiz has shared what he knows in other ways: He co-founded the Little Rock Math Outreach Program and coached kids at Pulaski Heights Middle School, an experience he found profoundly moving because of the appreciation expressed by the students with whom he worked. "I would say anything you can imagine you can build in code," Leck said. And, he added, "If you can write a good program, you can really help people build better lives." Leck has also conducted independent research in graph theory. He put that research to use in a science project, "Efficiently Predicting Traffic Bottlenecks via Max Flow Analysis in Weighted Digraphs," that sounds like it could be helpful to the Arkansas Department of Transportation (and taxpayers, too) should it alter interstate-building strategies. But that's not the road Leck plans to take. He wants to keep studying economics in college, because it's "fun." He thinks statistics are fun, too: "The big picture is made of small parts." Leck describes himself as a "jack of all trades," grounding himself in the fundamentals of many areas of math and physics. "It's good to have a solid foundation, to test out where you want to go," he said. No. 1 in his class, with 20 AP classes and a grade point average of 4.481 under his belt, Leck is sure to find himself on the right road to success.

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Age: 17
Hometown: Crossett
High school: Hamburg High School
Parents: Leslie and Steve Mansur
College plans: Undecided

Reid Mansur epitomizes the fact that intelligence is not a question of what you know but how you use your knowledge. He knows a lot: As the regional Quiz Bowl MVP, a three-year alumnus of Duke University's Talent Identification Program, an accomplished musician and an insatiable reader, the range and depth of his knowledge is remarkable. But, according to his coaches, teachers and mentors, what makes him stand out most is his deportment. His guidance counselor remembered that what first caught her attention about Reid was his confidence, school spirit and "self-efficacy." His Quiz Bowl coach called Reid "the glue that holds the [Quiz Bowl] team together." He knows who he is and he believes in himself — surely a powerful trait to possess so early in life. Whether at meetings of his own Quiz Bowl team or at statewide and regional convocations, opportunities to connect with students who can match his intellectual energy and interests have been among "the best experiences of his life, as he felt he belonged in those environments," his counselor recalled. He translates that sense of belonging into all of his encounters, and it gives him the ability to discern when to lead and when to follow. When reflecting on his various leadership roles in his school — most especially Student Council — the Hamburg High valedictorian said that one of the crucial insights he has gained is that "followers are leaders in their own right." By all accounts, Reid exhibits respect for himself, respect for others and respect for the objective at hand. Though he is still deciding what step he will take next in his education, Reid feels a strong attraction to fine arts and performing arts. "The arts in many ways are a cycle. Creating leads to more curiosity, which in turn leads to the desire to create more," he said.

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Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High school: Episcopal Collegiate
Parents: Sung W. Rhee and Eunju Kang
College plans: Undecided

As a new student at Episcopal Collegiate in the eighth grade, Samuel Rhee tried out for the school's fall play. "As an eighth-grader in a new school who had never acted before, I wanted desperately to become part of the community," he wrote to the Times. But it wasn't to be. "I was crushed to discover that I did not make the cut," he said. But Samuel said he forced himself to ask the director for tips and prepared for weeks for the spring musical. He got a role. Since then, he's acted in seven school productions and two community theater shows. Earlier this month, he starred as Tevye in Episcopal's "Fiddler on the Roof." Episcopal counselor Tricia Davis said Samuel could regularly be found singing unabashedly through the halls. Samuel said he loves the community aspect of theater: "You create this moment with every performance that is impossible to really capture or recreate down the line. Each performance is totally unique because there's a connection you form between you and your audience." Also a leader on Episcopal's Quiz Bowl team, Samuel said his strong suits are random pop culture, math and Bible facts (he teaches Sunday school). He also recently memorized the periodic table for Quiz Bowl purposes. Nothing seems out of reach for him: He's the first student in the history of the school to take six AP classes in one year. He scored a perfect 36 on his ACT and a 1580 on his SAT. He had an internship with Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and worked alongside Dr. Wendy Ward as part of the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Fellowship. During the latter, he said he was moved by seeing a Latino family bring a child into Children's and struggle to communicate with doctors. "That communication barrier created such a sense of emotional loneliness. The reality is that we're surrounded by people who struggle to communicate with their doctors. ... It made me wonder what I could do to help, whether it's learning Spanish or advocating for creating an infrastructure where we provide more translators in hospitals."

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Age: 18
Hometown: Springdale
High school: Har-Ber High School
Parents: Vance and Bridget Wilson
College plans: Boston College, Massachusetts

It's not unusual for a college applicant's pitch to include her experience from early school years — junior high, even. College admissions offices, after all, want to pick a team with a track record. For Peyton Wilson, though, it was at age 7 that she marched into her house and announced that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Wilsons3Foundation, a child abuse prevention-focused charity that Peyton's parents, Vance (a former Major League Baseball catcher) and Bridget Wilson, had started in Northwest Arkansas. Her elementary school consortium of five and their lemonade stand — "Peyton's Pals," it was called — swelled into dozens. Fire trucks showed up full of firefighters in search of lemonade and cookies. The kids raised $1,700 for an adjacent charity called EOA Children's House. So, consider this: Peyton is a person who was born in the year 2000 and, nevertheless, has the words "Peyton's Pals, est. 2007" on her resume. As her nomination essay put it, rather conservatively, "The power of potential in youth is overlooked." Peyton is first in her class of 661 at Har-Ber High School, a drill captain and All-State percussionist for the school's Wildcat Marching Band, captain of the varsity tennis team, and a member of the National German Honor Society. Her band director writes that she is "committed to the success of her peers" and that "her attitude toward playing her instrument [is] fearless." When Peyton was asked about those glowing recommendations, the first words out of her mouth were about her parents, who she said are "very determined to find the good in people." In keeping with her Catholic faith, she'll attend Boston College this fall, where she'll major in international studies.

*Chance Krawchuk's name was previously misspelled.

Speaking of Arkansas Times Academic All-Stars

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