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2019 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

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

click to enlarge FELIPE  MORALES OSORIO: Taught himself pre-calculus. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • FELIPE MORALES OSORIO: Taught himself pre-calculus.

The 2019 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team, the 25th team the Times has honored, is made up of coders, musicians, scientists and championship athletes. 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.

Back in 1995, the Times created the Academic All-Star Team to spotlight what we then called "the silent majority — the kids who go to school, do their homework (most of it, anyway), graduate and go on to be contributing members of society." Too often, we argued then, all Arkansans heard about young people was how poorly they were faring. Or, when students did get positive attention, it came for athletic achievement.

As you read profiles of this year's All-Stars, it should be abundantly clear that good things are happening in Arkansas schools and there are many academic achievers who deserve to be celebrated. You should get a good idea, too, of how these stellar students are busy outside school, with extracurricular activities, volunteer work, mission activities and more.

They'll be honored April 26 at a ceremony at UA Little Rock's new River Market campus with plaques and cash awards.

Many college plans listed here are not set in stone, as students await information on scholarships and acceptances.

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MOHAMMED ABUELEM
Age: 16
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Pulaski Academy
Parents: Tarek Abuelem and Shireen Khalaf
College plans: Harvard University

What accomplishments can a 16-year-old lay claim to? Mohammed Abuelem has earned prizes in competitions in science, essay writing, History Day projects, Spanish, math. He's studied DNA sequencing at Harvard; researched the effect of radiation on soybeans; aced all his classes at Pulaski Academy. But this teenager, two years younger than his classmates and fluent in Arabic, can also point to work with Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan for two summers running. After his sophomore year, Mohammed volunteered at the Zaatari refugee camp in the northern part of Jordan, where 60,000 people have taken refuge. There, he interviewed families and visited the medical clinics. He listened "to their stories and how their life is at the camp. ... I got the chance to see how medicine is practiced toward people who are part of a diaspora." He returned to Jordan after his junior year and distributed food and supplies to Syrian refugee families in the capital, Amman. "So many of the refugees are relocated toward urban areas, and don't get as many benefits" as those in the camps, Mohammed said. Mohammed decided to bring the lessons of the crisis home: "I wanted to involve local people here." So, he organized a benefit piano recital where he and others played (he performed a piece by the Greek composer Yanni) and raised $5,000 from the audience. Half the sum went to the Syrian Emergency Task Force and the other half to his Boy Scout Eagle project, building first-aid and hygiene kits for Syrian refugees. Because the Middle East is his passion, his senior thesis (in an elective class at Pulaski Academy) is on the Arab Spring and, because he is fluent, he was able to use primary sources in Arabic. As he heads to college, Mohammed is unsure of exactly where he'll put his considerable brain power to work. Though keen on many subjects, Mohammed's favorite is biology. His father, a neurosurgeon at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, "has emphasized that he wants me to choose the right path for me," rather than mirror his father's career, Mohammed said.

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CHLOE BOWEN
Age: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville
High School: Springdale High School
Parents: Yancey and Ginger Bowen
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville or University of Alabama

The last thing most high school students want to do just a few weeks before the start of their senior year is switch schools. For Chloe Bowen, though, the decision to transfer from Fayetteville High School, where she'd gone since ninth grade, to Springdale High School for her final year wasn't particularly difficult. Many of her friends had already graduated, and Chloe's burgeoning interest in engineering drew her to Springdale High's Engineering and Architecture Academy. "I was ready for a change — [a] new challenge," she said. She's certainly found it. Chloe signed up for four engineering classes, one of which has her working with a group of engineering students from the University of Arkansas to design a device that will allow one of Chloe's classmates, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, to walk across the stage at graduation. "Getting to collaborate with them has been a really great experience," she said. Chloe traces her interest in engineering to a human geography class she took in ninth grade, where she learned about urban development and city planning. She's not sure what type of engineering she'll settle on — for now, it's all about exploration and learning about a career that will draw on both her math-loving analytical side and her artistic interests. Chloe has flourished in Springdale's engineering and architecture academy. She's a National Merit Finalist, ranked first in her class with a 4.27 GPA, and she's developed a tight-knit group of new friends who share her interests. She recently helped run a STEM day for younger students and has represented the engineering and architecture academy at area junior highs.

Chloe is also active in her church youth group and has a part-time job working in another church's nursery. That doesn't leave much time for other hobbies. "I used to play volleyball, but I don't anymore," she said. "I've been pretty busy with homework and projects lately."

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JORDAN ERICKSON
Age: 18
Hometown: Hot Springs
High School: Lake Hamilton High School
Parent: Mandy Farmer
College plans: Baylor University

Jordan Erickson is the big man on Lake Hamilton High School's campus. He's the class president, the valedictorian and a National Merit Semifinalist. He's also 6-foot-10 and was the captain of the basketball team, which went 25-3 and won its conference. "It meant a lot [to be captain] because I'd been playing basketball with these guys since fifth grade," Jordan said. While this season marks the end of his basketball career, look for him in pick-up games at Baylor University, where he'll be a University Scholar, a competitive program that generally accepts fewer than 2 percent of incoming Baylor students. The Scholars program will allow him to pursue an individualized course of study. Jordan is planning on studying one area in science, likely biology, and one in the humanities, likely Spanish. He plans to be a doctor and figures that knowing Spanish could be beneficial. He doesn't know what sort of doctor he wants to be, but has gotten some experience working with seniors with neurodegenerative diseases as a volunteer with The Caring Place, a day center for patients suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. "The people there were just absolutely loving and caring, the staff as well as the patients," he said. "It was heartwarming and heartbreaking as well." Jordan's mom, Mandy Farmer, is a nurse practitioner. He resisted following in her footsteps for years, he said, but as he's gotten older he's realized what an inspiration she's been. She instilled in him a motto that he's obviously applied: "There is no penalty for overachievement."

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KATE FREYALDENHOVEN 
Age: 18
Hometown: Conway
High School: Conway High School
Parents: Tim and Mary Ann Freyaldenhoven
College plans: Rhodes College in Memphis

Kate Freyaldenhoven is competitive. Ranked second in her class at Conway High School, she said she was driven to "achieve the highest grades" in all her courses by the same ambition that earned her spots on the school's varsity cross-country and track teams. She has a 4.42 grade point average, and she said it's this "kind of tenacity" that earned her the perfect score of a 36 on the ACT. After two attempts that earned her a 33 and a 34, Kate said, "I pushed myself to do the best that I can do, and I'm very glad that I took it again." She's taking this tenacity to Rhodes College in Memphis, where she recently signed to run on its cross-country and track and field team. Kate said she decided on Rhodes because she knew she wanted to run in college, but her education was most important, and she wanted to go to a school that "was great with balancing academics and athletics." She said Rhodes felt like a "great fit" for her, and she'll be able to grow "not only as a student, but as an athlete." Another crucial part of her decision to attend Rhodes is the "plethora" of community service organizations the school offers. Kate said that as a kid, her mother took her along when doing service work for nonprofits, and since then, volunteering has been "a really big part of my life." Two summers ago, Kate also participated in the Community Health Applied in Medical Public Service program at Conway Regional Hospital, where she "witnessed firsthand different aspects of working in the medical field." She said she's interested in pursuing a medical career, perhaps as a physician, so she can use her "passion for science and math to contribute something beneficial." Kate said she's looking forward to research and internship opportunities in Memphis and to the "close-knit community" she said she felt on Rhodes' campus.

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MARY JIA
Age: 17
Hometown: Stuttgart
High School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts
Parents: Melissa and Yulin Jia
College plans: Undecided

Mary Jia knows what she wants to do, and what she wants to do is study rice. "Rice is so amazing!" she said, with an enthusiasm so genuine she'll make you excited about rice, too. She said it's a model genome to study in plant science, and she's particularly interested in the "biological sciences and the numerology behind rice." Mary has applied to 16 different schools, but her top choice is the California Institute of Technology, where her favorite physicist, Sean M. Carroll, works as a professor. She said she plans on studying rice by pursuing an M.D.-Ph.D., a combined doctorate of medicine and philosophy, which can take between seven and nine years to complete. "With an M.D., you learn a little bit of everything, which is basically my goal in life," Mary said. "And a Ph.D. is more specific." Mary's research at the Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center earned her a semifinalist spot in the Regeneron Science Talent Search. She's the only finalist from Arkansas. Her project studied the blast disease resistance of three strains of rice, a process through which Mary said she hopes to find "resistance genes" to help keep farmers from having to use fungicides on their rice crops. During a recent trip to visit family in China, Mary was able to appreciate the opportunities she's had to study her passion. "I really want my family to one day be able to enjoy the same things that I do, to go out in the world and realize they can be whatever they want," she said. Ranked No. 1 in her class at Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, Mary is also a member of the school's Grandma Club, which teaches "relaxing" skills such as knitting — Mary's specialty — and origami to the "future grandmas of America."

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ISABELLE FLORENCE JONES
Age: 18
Hometown: Jonesboro
High School: The Academies at Jonesboro High School
Parents: Robert and Mary Kay Jones
College plans: Boston College

Isabelle Jones has been called "Dizzy Izzy" since she was a little girl, thanks to the energy she displayed in trying to keep up with her two big sisters. But Izzy, as she likes to be called, could also be called "Busy Izzy" because of the many school leadership positions she holds — student council president, National Honor Society treasurer, Spanish Honor Society president, to name a few — and other academic honors. She's No. 1 in her class. She swims, she runs cross-country. She volunteers at St. Bernards Hospital and the Hispanic Center. She's known, she said, as "that liberal person" at school because of her progressive views on gun control. Izzy said the most significant achievement of her high school career was organizing, as head of the local Students Demand Action chapter, the March for Our Lives last year. Calling "Show me what democracy looks like!" into her bullhorn, Izzy and other organizers led 200 people from Jonesboro High to the courthouse. The speakers included a survivor of Jonesboro's Westside Middle School shooting in 1998, in which two boys shot and killed five people and injured 10 others. Izzy spoke, too, about those who would shift the conversation away from guns and onto mental illness. "I spoke to the fact that someone who suffers from mental illness is more likely to be a victim" of gun violence than to cause it, she said. "People use it as a scapegoat." Because the Students Demand Action members were too young to get a permit for the march, the local Moms Demand Action helped out. "The Moms were so amazing; they let us take control of what we wanted to say," Izzy said. If you are an activist in a "big city," Izzy said, you can "talk to your elected officials and not get the door shut in your face. Here, to talk about gun control, it's a nonstarter, because people think it means you're going to take their guns away." So, Izzy's group focuses on having a community presence, participating in fairs and writing letters. Izzy is ready for big-city life and wants to pursue studies in global health, which is why she applied early decision to Boston College, which plans to offer a major in the field. Boston College has offered Izzy a Gabelli Presidential Scholars scholarship, which is a full-tuition award and goes to only 15 incoming freshmen every year. After college, the plan is med school and, someday, travel to help people in need of medical care with Doctors Without Borders.

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JEREMIA LO
Age: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville High School: Fayetteville High School
Parents: Hsiaowen Cho and Wenjuo Lo
College plans: Undecided

Jeremia Lo found her high school niche with Connotations, Fayetteville High School's annual literary magazine, where she serves as design director. When she joined the staff as a junior, she discovered a community of people who enjoy writing, art and photography as much as she does. Digital art has been a passion ever since her dad installed Adobe Photoshop on the family's computer when she was 10 years old. "Years of practice — setting aside time on the weekends to do photostudies and learn color theory — eventually turned jagged lines and irregular proportions into realistic portrayals of faces and creatures," Jeremia wrote in her Academic All-Stars essay. "Via the versatility of digital art — a medium that easily allows me to dabble in design, animation and drawing — I've been able to practice my communication skills by analyzing how details and the big picture work together to convey meaning to viewers." In the short run, thanks to those skills, she's made some spending money doing commissioned portraits and seen the designs for clubs and classes that show up all over the school. Longer term, she's considering a career in UI/UX (user interface/experience) design. To that end, she's planning on majoring in cognitive science or psychology to help her think about how people process design. But art isn't her only passion. While maintaining a 4.37 GPA and a No. 1 rank in her senior class of more than 500 students, she also found time to serve as publicist for the World Language Club and to co-found the Fayetteville High School History Club, realizing "that there are many important events in history that are often overlooked in our curriculum." She grew up in a Mandarin-speaking family, has taken five years of German and is studying Japanese on her own. Spanish, French and Korean are on her to-learn list.

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TYLER MERREIGHN
Age: 17
Hometown: Greenwood
High school: Greenwood High School
Parents: Ty and Josie Merreighn
College plans: Undecided

When Tyler Merreighn auditioned for "Jeopardy!" last summer, he was coming in with over seven years of trivia experience: He's been on a Quiz Bowl team since he was in third grade. He's now captain of Greenwood High School's team, and in 2018 he led it to a second-place finish at the 6A Arkansas Governor's Quiz Bowl Association. While he didn't make the final cut for the game show, he said he would definitely try out again, and next time he'll be "a little more prepared." He'll have to find time to do that while majoring in biomedical engineering on a pre-med path. He hopes to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he's applied for the prestigious Bodenhamer Fellowship, which awards a select group of students $70,000 scholarships over the course of their education. During an educational trip to Peru with his high school in the summer of 2017, Tyler said he visited a community in Cusco and loved "seeing [the children's] faces light up when you could do something so simple for them," like playing a game of soccer. This experience helped him realize that "whatever I do, I definitely want to be able to help people." Last summer he attended the two-week Medical Applications for Science and Health program at Baptist Health in Fort Smith. MASH requires participants to complete 40 hours a week of shadowing in a hospital. Tyler said the experience affirmed his desire to become a physician, as he "really loved the atmosphere of the hospital." He took the ACT seven times in order to get a perfect score because "I just felt like I could do it, and if I didn't get [a perfect score], then I just felt like I was letting myself down."

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KENDON MOLINE
Age: 17
Hometown: Conway
High School: Conway High School
Parents: Rebekkah and Corey Moline
College plans: Brigham Young University

Kendon Moline said he has always liked learning how things are built, and as a child, he once spent an entire afternoon watching his neighbors get a new roof installed. A self-described "musician, math nerd, bowler and engineer," he's now third in his class at Conway High School and plans to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in the fall to study civil engineering. He's particularly interested in transportation planning, so civil engineering "falls right in line" with that passion. Kendon is so interested in engineering that he received the top possible score on his AP Physics C exam — a class his high school doesn't even offer. While he said he's "not the best at studying," he put in "a lot of effort" for the test because "if it's something you're passionate about, you'll commit to it." Kendon is also committed to his faith, as he'll only be attending BYU for a semester before he leaves to take part in his two-year mission as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's looking forward to his mission, during which he'll be able to "share my beliefs, the Gospel, to help others and to grow." While many young men begin their missions immediately after high school, his parents encouraged him to do a semester of school first in order to "get out of the house and be more independent," so he's not "too shocked" when he does venture out on his own. He said he plans on returning to school after his mission. Kendon also plays the trombone in his school's marching band, bowls for the school team and is working toward earning his Eagle Scout badge.

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ANNA OPPENHEIM
Age: 18
Hometown: Jonesboro
High School: Bay High School
Parents: Tim and Lisa Oppenheim
College plans: Columbia University

A conscientious leader, Anna Oppenheim uses her voice to make fellow Bay High School students heard. Her community-driven work ethic has come through in her service as student council president and senior class president. She's also used her voice as editor of the school newspaper to connect students and tell their unique stories, such as the feature she wrote about an eighth-grade boy who rescued his family — including his young siblings and stepmother, who had a broken leg — from their burning house. As a learner, Anna has always been interested in taking things apart and reassembling them. As a child, she was fascinated with the human skeleton and memorized every bone. "I know that sounds weird," she said. But her natural aptitude for science and medicine blossomed at an orthopedic surgery program through the Perry Initiative for women in medicine, where she performed a mock orthopedic surgery. After being handed a bone model, a bone saw and a few screws and rods, she was told to break the bone model, then figure out how to put it back together. Anna credits her success in that orthopedic exercise to her background in art, explaining that her artistic disposition helped her creatively place the rods and screws into the bones. Anna hopes to become a doctor, but said art will always be a part of her life. "Throughout my life, art has been a unifying thread, and I never want that passion to die," she said. She's auctioned her artwork to benefit various charities, like the Northeast Humane Society, the American Heart Association and the St. Bernards Health and Wellness Institute.

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FELIPE MORALES OSORIO
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School
Parents: Felipe and Norma Morales College plans: Undecided

Felipe Morales Osorio has a knack for learning on his own. He taught himself pre-calculus, so he could skip straight to calculus. When his world history teacher became ill and had to leave the class mid-year, he worked on the subject independently to earn a 4 (out of 5) on the World History AP exam, meaning he's likely to receive college credit for the course. He's made a habit of turning to Khan Academy, the online collection of free academic courses, to augment or supplement his studies, and it shows: He has a 4.42 GPA and is No. 1 in his class at Parkview. Perhaps his proudest learning achievement came during a Central Arkansas Library System JavaScript coding class he took when he was 12, considerably younger than most of his classmates. He struggled, but studied hard and by the end of the summer he'd created a small version of the original Nintendo "Legend of Zelda" game. He's done grander coding projects since then, but the flash drive that stores that game sits on his bedside table as a reminder of what dedication and perseverance can mean. Felipe is considering computer science as a career path, but he's been leaning toward becoming a research mathematician. "I think math is very beautiful," he said. "There's math everywhere around us. It's in the weather. It's in the seashells. It's in almost everything. It's useful in a wide variety of fields. Science is always changing. But in math, it's more concrete and more absolute. When you prove something, like a theorem, you're proving it using logical arguments. Once you prove it, it's absolute. That really appeals to me, that it has a solid foundation."

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JACKSON PARKER
Age: 18
Hometown: Paragould
High School: Paragould High School
Parents: Melanie Parker and Jonathan Lane
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville or Yale University, undecided

Jackson Parker speaks in a measured and self-assured tone that usually only comes with older age. He's good under pressure, evidenced by his many performance-based academic accolades, including scoring a perfect 36 on the ACT, winning the Arkansas State Spelling Bee in 2015, and earning Most Valuable Player in the Arkansas State Quiz Bowl in 2016. Concentrating for long stretches of time will serve him well as a heart surgeon, which he hopes to become one day. "I like the hands-on approach of surgery," he explained. It's an approach Parker has taken to further many of his interests, including his favorite subject, chemistry (he's an alumnus of the summer health program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences); music (he plays flute in the high school band and is a student of music theory), fine art (he draws inspiration from 19th century American landscape painter Thomas Cole) and architecture (American Gothic is his favorite style). "I want to apply myself toward everything I care about like a true Renaissance man," Parker said, adding a personal philosophical view that the arts and sciences, when paired, are fundamental to "understanding the greater physics of the universe." He is a burgeoning Renaissance humanist: While many high school students would rather follow the norm, at least socially and politically, Parker doesn't hesitate to sit at the empty table. Inspired by his grandmother, he's been active with the Greene County Democratic Party, which is so small, Parker said, "it can be hard to feel like you're making a difference." He continues to volunteer with the party because "it's important to start somewhere. You need to have the other side of the moral compass present." In fact, Parker expects to have a career in politics in some way, although he's not sure how. He just knows that "politics affect our lives daily, and if we want our problems to be solved, we have to play an active role."

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NOAH BLAKE RABY
Age: 18
Hometown: Newport
High School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts
Parents: Jennifer Raby, Angela Lawson and the late Jerry Raby
College plans: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Last summer, Noah Raby spent six weeks in Chengdu, China, as part of a National Security Language Initiative for Youth program. He'd decided to take Mandarin at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts because, of all the foreign language options, it was the one he "was most uncomfortable with." That willingness to throw himself into the unfamiliar served him well while living with his host family and being served rabbit skull, with its brain, tongue and tendons that hold the jaw to the rest of skull still intact. "Despite how disgusting that might sound, it was actually pretty good," Noah said. Still, eating in the famously piquant Sichuan province wasn't a picnic for Noah, who describes himself as "not really a man of spiciness." Noah plans on minoring in Mandarin at M.I.T. while he's majoring in computer science. The combo could allow him to score a computer-engineering job with a Chinese company down the line. He got his love for computers from his late father, Jerry Raby, a longtime cable installer for Suddenlink who died of cancer just before Noah enrolled in the ASMSA. Noah remembers spending weekends with his dad working on tech projects: fixing a broken Xbox, making flammable thermite from material they bought on eBay, and doing various computer science projects. Noah built his first computer at age 11. His computer-related innovations have made an impact on ASMSA. His science fair project on texturizing ceramic additive manufacturing inspired the school to buy its own ceramic 3D printer.

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ADAM SIWIEC
Age: 17
Hometown: Rogers
High School: Rogers Heritage High School
Parents: Ashley and Tomek Siwiec
College plans: Stanford University or University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Adam Siwiec knows there's power in language. When he sits at a computer, coding language lets him create websites, software testing metrics and a laundry list of other things most of us have never heard of. When he sits at his typewriter, though, the language of poetry lets him explore a whole other world — where nature, consciousness and inner reflection dominate the landscape. Adam has pursued both languages with an ambitious determination. He's a National Merit Semifinalist, ranked first in his class, is the All-State Programming Champion, placed second at the University of Arkansas Hackathon and founded his school's computer science club. He's also self-published two books of poetry, the most recent through Amazon's publishing service. "That was a really big deal for me," he said. "I got a box of a hundred books with my name on it sent to my door, and I didn't know what to do with them. So I started handing them out, then selling them. That was fun, adding in the business side of it, too." After he read an article about internet censorship in China, he combined his two interests to create a website that pulled in the poems he had published on Instagram so that people in China, who are not allowed access to the social media site, could read his poetry. Adam plans to study computer science in college and minor in creative writing. He already has some professional coding experience under his belt from spending last summer in Poland working with his uncle's digital services agency. "I think that being a writer, it's really hard to succeed if you're not a New York Times bestseller," he said. "I really want to work for a large company like Google or Apple and do poetry as a hobby."

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CLAUDIA SMITH
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: eStem Public Charter School
Parents: Will and Sara Smith
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Finding a balance between academic priorities and sports can be tricky, but Claudia Smith manages to do this and advocate for her fellow students at eStem Public Charter School. In addition to competing on the school's soccer and cross-country teams, Claudia and a friend started the Gender and Sexuality Alliance during their junior year at eStem. She did so because she wanted to "have a place for people to meet and feel like they had friends that are facing the same kinds of problems" as they are. The Alliance also works to help the community: It recently finished raising $400 for Lucie's Place, a nonprofit that provides resources and housing for homeless LGBTQ youth. No. 1 in her graduating class, Claudia is heading to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville this fall, where she plans to study engineering. While she's "really into math" and it's her favorite subject in school, she said the engineering program will allow her to do more "hands-on" work. Because eStem is a small school, she's looking forward to being on the UA's large campus with "a wider variety of people and opportunities to pursue [that] will give me more to get involved in." Claudia said she recently took a tour of the campus and was told that the school has several noncompetitive running groups, which she plans to join to keep her cross-country skills up to speed. She said her interest in politics will travel with her to Fayetteville, and she looks forward to getting involved with social justice organizations on campus.

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CHASE MARIE SWINTON
Age: 17
Hometown: Sherwood
High School: Sylvan Hills High School
Parents: Rick and Germaine Swinton
College plans: Considering Vanderbilt University

Chase Swinton, who plans on studying neuroscience in college, has gotten just about as much hands-on experience in the field possible for a high school student. She learned about neurodegeneration in a project-based learning summer class at Washington University in St. Louis during the summer after her sophomore year. Last summer, she interned with Dr. Antiño Allen at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, working on NASA-funded research concerning "oxygen space radiation affecting hippocampal-dependent memory and cognitive function," as she described it in her All-Stars essay. In October, she was accepted to attend the Harvard Science Research Conference, where she learned about "computational advances in axon and neuron imaging." She's usually been the only African-American girl in such groups. That can be "difficult and lonely and isolating," she said, but as co-chair of the Principal's Council, a group that mentors middle school students, Sylvan Hills' valedictorian has gotten the chance to be an example for younger black female students. "One of my favorite sayings is 'representation begets representation.' If I'm a model for you, you'll be a model for someone else, and they'll be a model for someone else. That's really important in the black community, especially in STEM and for girls," she said. Chase's commitment to seeing things through shows in her soccer career. She was named all-conference as a freshman, but then sprained a ligament in her knee her sophomore year and suffered other knee injuries her junior year. Because of her UAMS internship, she couldn't have surgery to repair the knee over the summer, so she had to miss playing her senior year. But she's still the manager. "I didn't want to abandon the team," she explained.

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ETHAN STRAUSS
Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Episcopal Collegiate School
Parents: Noel and Joan Strauss
College plans: Dartmouth College

Last summer, Ethan Strauss got a rare opportunity for a high school student. He interned at Forest Hill Capital, a small Little Rock investment firm, and he didn't spend his time there getting coffee and filing documents. Tasked with modeling the financial growth of a construction materials company to determine its investment potential, Ethan "read through five years of the company's quarterly reports and synthesized its income and cash flow statements and balance sheets," he wrote in his All-Stars essay, and then "linked the spreadsheets and used linear regressions to approximate future share prices." He may continue down that path by majoring in economics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., but he's also considering international relations. He's been interested in geography since he was a child. He loves learning about different cultures. He's drawn to "the complexity of it all and being able to understand how other people think." He's particularly fascinated by unrecognized countries, areas that are self-proclaimed independent nations "and how it would be to live" in one. Pursuing a career in infrastructure investment could be a way for him to combine investments and international relations. He's sure to maintain a healthy dose of pursuits outside of his studies and work: A tennis ace, he's been half of a doubles team that's won the 3A state championship for four years in a row. He's also passionate about pingpong. His Episcopal counselor, Tricia Morgan, said he blushes when school staffers tell him pingpong "could be his Olympic sport." He's also working to share the sport with others. With the profits from a business he started reselling hard-to-find sneakers, he founded Paddle Together, a program that provides pingpong tables to homeless shelters and community centers.

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SHAKIAH WILLIAMS
Age: 17
Hometown: Blytheville
High school: Blytheville High School
Parents: Sharon Harris and Africa Wells
College plans: Vanderbilt University

Mississippi County's entire population is less than that of the city of Conway. Shakiah (pronounced "Sha-kai-ah") Williams was born and raised there, in Blytheville. Some would say it's a sleepy town. Williams' high school years, however, have been quite the opposite. After school, she'd report to one of her two major extracurricular commitments: practice for the Blytheville High School cheerleading squad, or to practice and conditioning sessions as part of her membership on the Blytheville Chickasaw GymChicks gymnastics team. Add to that her membership in the school's French Club, FBLA, student council and Student Ambassadors; her time volunteering for the local chapters of both the Special Olympics and National Cancer Society; and her work with the annual Blytheville Christmas celebration "Lights of the Delta." "Honestly, this year it became stressful because of all the work I've had to get done, alongside the sports," Williams said. Part of that work, of course, was preparing to leave the high school nest. "College has always been a stressful subject for me," she wrote in her Academic All-Stars essay. "At one point in time I didn't even have the confidence to apply. I just didn't think I would make it." Her transcript shows how unfounded her fears were: Williams has a 4.22 grade point average. Her ACT score is a composite 30. Her language teacher, Lena Pierce, took her to Nashville to visit her dream school, Vanderbilt University. Williams was subsequently accepted, with just "a few thousand [dollars] a year to get covered," she wrote. "This achievement has helped me take some of the stress off of my mom. She is a single parent and having college paid for is just another weight off of her shoulders."

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MICHELLE XU
Age: 16
Hometown: College Station, Texas
High School: Little Rock Central High School
Parents: Joshua Xu and Alice Li
College plans: University of Pennsylvania

When Michelle Xu found out she'd been accepted into the University of Pennsylvania, she said it was the happiest day of her life. Last summer she attended the university's Leadership in the Business World program, an intensive four-week curriculum of Wharton School of Business classes, during which Michelle's team created a startup business plan and presented it to their classmates. Michelle said she's "liked being a leader" since she was a child, and the LBW program helped her "[connect] the dots on how as a leader you lead by putting aside your ego." She said she aspires to be a "good leader in the business world," She's the first high school member of the Arkansas Association of Asian Businesses. She's also captain of Central High School's varsity Quiz Bowl team; president of its Future Business Leaders of America chapter, president of the Beta Club; vice president of Mu Alpha Theta, the school's math club; and president and founder of the school's Economics and Finance Club. Michelle said she founded the new club so students could learn about economics, rather than the "pure business" focus of the FBLA club. As valedictorian of her class, Michelle said she uses "a lot of time management" to balance her academic workload with her extracurriculars, and has had to make some sacrifices — she danced competitively until her sophomore year and played piano until her junior year, but quit both in order to focus on her classes and leadership roles. Michelle visits her family in China every three or four years, and she said a recent trip to her parents' hometowns helped her realize that "if my parents worked this hard to get to America, I need to work this hard to show them that I will continue their work."

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RAMY YOUSEF
Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central High School
Parents: Ziad Yousef and Muntaha Yousef
College plans: Hendrix College or the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

One glance at Ramy Yousef's transcript makes it clear that he has good study skills. He's ranked seventh in his class of 550 at Central High School, with a GPA of 4.43 in classes as diverse as art, debate and pretty much every AP class ever taught. But it's a question about attending Arkansas Governor's School last summer that really gets him talking about what he loves about education. "You get to learn in an environment where you don't get grades," he said. "Making friends and just waking up and going to learn every day — it was a fun experience." Ramy's motivation to do well in high school has been, he said, simply to get into a good college and pay as little as possible for it. He's got a loftier goal for when he gets there, though: to study chemistry and eventually put that knowledge to work developing new vaccines. Science is a family pursuit. Ramy's dad is an entrepreneur, but his mother is a scientist, one sibling is in medical school and the other is in college studying biomedical engineering. Ramy does science even in his downtime, watching astronomy videos on YouTube. That interest took him to a first-place finish in astronomy at the 2017 Arkansas Science Olympiad. What's so cool about astronomy? "Just the possibility that life can exist on another planet," he said.

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