The 2002 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team 

Latest group shines.

They're young Democrats and young Republicans. They're athletes and artists. They're dreamers who do. They're all smart, talented and giving. And they're the members of the 2002 Arkansas Times' Academic All-Star Team.

The program, now in its eighth year, is the only statewide recognition of scholastic excellence in Arkansas. We've given out more than $40,000 in cash prizes since the program began in 1994.

The Times sends nomination forms to all Arkansas high schools, public and private. The schools' nominees (one male and one female from each school) go through two rounds of judging. The final round, judged by a panel of professional educators, produces 20 outstanding Arkansas students.

The winners will be honored April 17 at a reception at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Merely being nominated is an honor. And if the past is any indication, expect these students to go on to even greater success.

Following are profiles of the 20 winners. Their achievements should make everyone proud.

Age: 17
Hometown: Osceola
High School: Arkansas School for Mathematics and Sciences
Parents: Amin and Naseem Amarshi
College plans: Undecided; top picks: Harvard or Princeton.

'We made an impact'

What's a straight-A student at the state's school for math and science whizzes in Hot Springs doing over in the art studio? She's creating a multimedia sculpture in wood, paint and clay of a dancer going through five dance moves. She's one of four students invited to join an advanced placement tutorial.

Jamila Amarshi is well rounded both in talents and in background: She's the daughter of east Indians from Africa who moved to Osceola from Memphis and Vancouver, Canada. Her heritage is celebrated at Math and Science, where, she says, students from different backgrounds revel in their differences. (It's quite a change from Mississippi Christian Academy, the tiny private Delta school she attended before heading for the School for Mathematics and Sciences.)

When she's not sculpting or taking courses with names like "math modeling" and "senior research lab" or working on a paper on sleep apnea and its relation to hypertension, Jamilah's doing real work in the community, as the president of the ASMS Interact Club, a Rotary Club spinoff. The new club's first independent project was throwing a Halloween carnival for 75 underprivileged children.

It's service she's proud of: "We made an impact on the lives of kids, and that in turn made an impact on me."

Jamilah's varied interests will only grow once she gets to college, she says. "I'll be exposed to so much," she says; she's not ready to declare a major. "I might end up in business, but I don't want to let go of art."

She's thinking architecture might combine her math and design skills. But where? She's applied to 12 schools — "I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket" — and has so far been accepted to Stanford, Dartmouth College, Washington University, Rhodes College, Hendrix and the University of Arkansas.

Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Central
Parent: Kay Barnhill
College plans: Accepted to Boston College, Colorado College, Pomona College and Tulane; international studies.

A big hitter

If you've had a child in the Hillcrest Girls Softball League, you probably know Colleen Barnhill. She's the sunny blonde who for five years now has been grilling the hot dogs and selling pop and candy to the little hitters when she's not playing ball herself.

She's a big hitter, herself, at high school, where last year she won the Gold Cum Laude Award on the National Latin Exam and the Advanced Placement Spanish VI Award last year.

Lately, she's been picturing herself in freshman Chinese at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., one of several colleges she's been accepted to and her current top choice. This fascination with language — she says she'd like to learn as many as possible — has translated into an interest in international studies and an eventual stint in the Peace Corps.

For now, she's balancing her academic load — tossing off papers in Spanish about Don Quixote and such — with her new role as big sister to a toddler, born in November of her junior year. "It's changed my priorities a lot," she said, working the baby into her schedule. Colleen picks up Caroline from day care most days and keeps her until mom, Kay Barnhill, gets home from work. "At first, it was no sleep allowed," Colleen said.

Still, she's maintained a 4.38 grade point and a fourth-place ranking in the senior class while taking seven AP classes at once. She's managed to keep up her volunteering with the Young Democrats, helping out when Vice President Al Gore came to Little Rock and walking for Wayne Gruber in his local judicial campaign.

And, as the girls of spring come out, she's at her concession at Allsopp Park, and stashing the cash away for college. "I would not exchange my life for that of anyone else," she says.

Age: 18
Hometown: North Little Rock
High school: North Little Rock High
Parents: Brian and Dawne Carroll
College plans: Vanderbilt, English and secondary education.

Faith generates energy

Micah Carroll's motto is John Wesley's: "Do all the good you can ... as long as you ever can."

North Little Rock's third-ranked student lives up to Wesley's exhortation: She works with STARS (Service Today for At-Risk Students) mentoring a couple of 4-year-olds at Redwood Elementary in a project she calls "closest to my heart." She delivers groceries to low-income seniors for Carelink.

She puts in four hours a month volunteering in a variety of activities for the Mayor's Youth Council. She's collecting teddy bears for a State Police youth program. She's sung in nursing homes, raised funds for cancer research, run the arts and crafts room at the Museum of Discovery.

Micah calls it a "lifestyle of service," and says "I like the feeling of helping people, of knowing I've made a difference along the way."

She's busy at school, too, teaching Spanish classes for a month and a half while the school searched for a replacement Spanish teacher, heading up the math fraternity Mu Alpha Theta, playing oboe in the school band and keyboard in the jazz band.

The music skills sent her to seven European countries last summer, with the Arkansas Ambassadors of Music; her Spanish will help her this summer, when she'll make a church mission trip to Chicago.

Where does the energy come from? Her faith, which she calls a "major factor in my life" and something that has helped her be true to herself, a lesson she recently passed on in the girls Bible study class she teaches at Park Hill Baptist Church. Her teaching there foreshadows the career she hopes to make teaching high school English; it was Vanderbilt's secondary education program that attracted her to that college, where she was accepted last fall.

Age: 17
Hometown: Hot Springs
High school: Lakeside
Parents: Rex and Kathleen Casey
College plans: University of Arkansas, creative writing.

Searching for the right word

Lakeside High writing teacher Tim Flynn tells this story about Erin Casey. His students spend a semester in a computer lab, cramming hard drives with creative words — children's books, short stories, takeoffs on mythology.

When the semester came to an end, the supervisor of the lab said of the accumulated work on the computers: "Delete everybody's except Erin's. I want to save it for a long time. It's that good."

Another teacher describes Erin as a "very exacting writer," always searching for the right word. She'll continue the search in the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas, where she's won a Chancellor's Scholarship, good for a free ride, plus.

Writing alone didn't win Erin her scholarship or all-star recognition. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, she carries a 4.3 grade point at Lakeside where she's the top clarinet out of 34 in the band and also a member of the jazz band. She's been in the all-region band two years as well as president of the French Club and recipient of the DAR's Good Citizen award.

And in her spare time? Erin teaches religious education at St. John's Catholic Church and reads just about anything, but particularly the classics. Her teachers also credit her with pitching in to help her parents look after her four younger siblings.

Erin professes a "dreamy-eyed" interest in writing her own novel, but she's also mindful of the need for a job. So she hasn't ruled out journalism or technical writing as a career option. Still, she says, "I love when my stories make people laugh. And I love when my poems make people think."

Age: 17
Hometown: Fayetteville
High school: Fayetteville
Parents: Rick Couvillion and Ramona McLean
College plans: Undecided

Renaissance man

As far back as first grade, Jeremiah Joseph "J.J." Couvillion, 17, stood out among his peers.

Barbara Prichard, director of Fayetteville High School's Gifted and Talented program, has known him since then. She recently reviewed his file and ran across these comments by Couvillion's first-grade teacher: "J.J. was constantly involved, enthusiastic and interested in all class activities."

Teachers aren't the only ones impressed with Couvillion, Prichard said.

"Other kids follow him because he's fun, and he has a sense of humor," she said. "He handles his capability and accomplishments with a nice touch of humility."

First in his Fayetteville class of 478, Couvillion is National Honor Society president, Student Council parliamentarian, the varsity soccer captain, a Knowledge Master competitor, and a member of the Mu Alpha Theta math club, the Principal's Advisory Council and the Young Republicans Club.

He's also active in the community.

Couvillion has helped raise funds for the homeless, helped in fund drives for a disabled Fayetteville High graduate and for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

His work in the classroom is no less distinguished.

In 2001, he won a Chancellor's Scholarship at the University of Arkansas and was named AP Scholar with Honor and Rotary Club Superior Student.

Couvillion is a candidate for the President's Scholar Program at Georgia Tech University and a finalist for the UA's Bodenhamer Fellowship.

Couvillion says he's leaning toward attending the University of Arkansas, majoring in electrical or mechanical engineering.

He credits his success to good planning. But even planning can't substitute for solid study.

"I end up staying up late every now and then," he says.

His ultimate career goals are still a little fuzzy. But Couvillion says he's sure about one thing.

"I always wanted to be in a position to make positive change," he says.

Age: 18
Hometown: Fort Smith
High School: Northside
Parents: Ngoc and Hong Hoang
College plans: Undecided

Hurdler, scholar, volunteer

Jill Hoang, 18, of Northside High School in Fort Smith counts among her many achievements "the ability to balance my time and my commitment."

That's no small accomplishment. Often she finds herself literally running from activity to activity, she says.

She is a top student, a community volunteer, a champion track athlete and a dancer.

"I try to be a really organized person. I'm really into this planner business," she says, laughing. "I'm always writing things down."

Hoang has narrowed down her college choices to the University of Arkansas and Southern Methodist University.

Guidance counselor Brenda Partin credits Hoang's success to self-discipline, patience and a winning personality.

"She's a real people person. She is extremely well-liked by the student body. If you sat and talked to her she would leave you smiling. She's a compassionate person too," Partin says.

A straight-A student, Hoang was the only female member of the school's 2001 national championship Quiz Bowl team and is third in her class of 441. She is a member of the National Honor Society, the Mu Alpha Theta math club, Partners in Christ, the Chemistry Club and the chorus.

She is a lector and a member of the chorus and dance ensemble member at her Vietnamese church and a volunteer reading tutor.

As an athlete and performer, Jill Hoang is not only an achiever, but also a leader.

Hoang is captain of the school's cross-country team and co-captain of the varsity track team. She placed first in hurdles and long jump competition in 1999 and fifth in state hurdling competition in 2001. She is a member of the Big Bad Jittacatz Performance Troupe and performs at charity events benefiting Alzheimer's and cancer groups.

"I love to perform," she says. "I love how it frees your mind."

Hoang took first place at the Star Rise Youth Talent Contest in 2000, won the Discover Tribute Award in 2001 and was junior and senior homecoming maid at Northside.

"Jill is an academic winner in every respect," Partin says. "She is an example of petite power — on the track, on the homecoming court and in the classroom."

Age: 15
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Central
Parents: Dr. Pippa Simpson and Dr. Kou Huang
College plans: Undecided

Ultimate Toby

Not only is Toby Huang at the head of his class at Little Rock's Central High School, but he is also ahead of his classmates.

At age 15, the Central senior is a few years younger than many of his peers.

"But he ranks first among the group," says guidance counselor Linda M. Porter. "He is a real scholar. His motivation comes from within. He loves learning."

He has finished four years of high school in three years, a time packed with straight-A studies and activities ranging from the Creative Writing Club to Chinese traditional martial arts and Ultimate Frisbee.

An All-State swim team member, he was an Outstanding Student for the Little Rock School District in Spring 2001 and is a National Merit Scholarship finalist and an AP Scholar with Distinction. Huang is also winner of a Harvard Book Award and CalTech Signature Award. He tied for first place in the Arkansas Calculus ACTM test and was among the top eight Arkansas students in the International Chemistry Olympiad in Spring 2001.

A top debater, Huang is also a member of the National Honor Society, the Future Problem Solvers, the Latin Club, the Science Club, Mu Alpha Theta math club and the Beta Club. He also attended the Arkansas Governor's School.

And service is as important as scholarship.

Huang was a math tutor, a member of Students Against Hunger and has taken part in readings for disadvantaged children.

So what does he do with his spare time?

Huang plays the piano and is a volunteer usher at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

Huang now faces a hard college choice — Harvard, MIT, CalTech or Princeton.

Asked about the difficulties of attending one of the world's greatest universities at such a young age, Huang is philosophical.

"It is definitely scary. But I think it would be scary no matter how old I was," he says. "But I think of it this way, I'll have the same education as anyone else who goes there as an undergraduate."

Age: 17
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Mount St. Mary Academy
Parents: Ron and Tonya Lambert
College plans: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Hendrix College

'An unencumbered heart'

A pop psychology term has popped up in recent years: emotional intelligence. If it exists, Amy Lambert has it — that and the kind of intelligence revealed through grades and standardized tests.

Yes, Amy has a 4.276 GPA, and, yes, she has scored well on college preparatory exams. But Sister Joan, a counselor at the Mount, sees past that. Amy Lambert "has a very unencumbered heart," Sister Joan says. "She sees straight into situations. She has no agenda at all, which is very unusual in an adolescent."

Amy, Sister Joan says, "has worked four years in this school without applause. She doesn't draw attention to herself. She's just one of those rare kids that doesn't need approval or fanfare. She know what she wants to do and does it."

Amy loves working with children and has had a lot of exposure to autistic and other disabled children. Among her numerous volunteer efforts is working at Camp Aldersgate.

She wanted to test the effect of animals on autistic children for a science project. It was a lengthy and complicated project, but, Amy says, "to my delight, all the children responded favorably to the animals. Many had longer attention spans, and all exhibited renewed interest in their therapy."

Amy's proudest moment during the project probably came when one of the most severely autistic children spoke. It was just one word, "cage," but he'd made the connection after Amy had shown the boy canaries in a cage. The boy had communicated.

She received a special UAMS Neuroscience Award as well as numerous other honors for the project.

Amy is not consumed by do-good or educational projects. She plays tennis, reads, plays with her 15-year-old sister and the family's 6-year-old triplets and loves the outdoors.

She's not sure what career she'll pursue, but "I know I want to work with children." That could mean becoming a pediatrician or entering the field of gene therapy.

Sister Joan says the world is and will be better for having Amy in it. One day, she says, the whole world will know Amy Lambert's name.

Age: 18
Hometown: Corning
High School: Corning
Parents: Elizabeth Lucy
College plans: MIT, Stanford or Princeton

Hoop dreams

Lindell Lucy's counselor and coaches at Corning High School say he is motivated and goal-oriented. "He sets his mind on something and works toward it," says high school counselor Pam Elders. "His goal long ago was that he was going to be at the top and he has been. Of course, he's not happy with anything less than perfection."

So, it must have been difficult — and Lindell admits it was — to be part of a basketball team that didn't win a game this season. They came close often, including the night he scored a career-high 49 points in a triple-overtime loss to Harrisburg. At 6-foot-1, Lindell was the tallest player and the captain on a sophomore-dominated team.

"He really inspired the other kids," says Elders, who has known Lindell since the sixth grade. "He's as hard on himself on the basketball court as he is in the classroom."

Lindell been high-point man in all of Corning High as well, securing valedictorian honors. He's president of the school's National Honor Society and participated in Quiz Bowl.

Lindell plans to visit Boston twice this month — to look over MIT and to return the next week to run in the Boston Marathon.

"I've been training at night. The other night I ran 13 miles," says Lindell, who runs distance races on the high school track team. He's played baseball in the past and this year took up tennis.

Elders says, "I don't know where he finds the time."

Lindell says it's no big deal and his most difficult challenge lately was filling out college applications. "I just enjoy doing all that stuff. I don't feel like it's a burden on me," he says.

Lindell wants to study particle physics in college. He's been accepted to MIT and Stanford and was waiting in early April to hear from Princeton. Wherever he ends up, Lindell says, he also wants to play college basketball, though at that level he won't be the tallest player.

But Elders will always see him as towering. "He stands head and shoulders above anyone that I've ever been associated with."

Age: 18
Hometown: Fort Smith
High School: Fort Smith Northside
Parents: Tia and Tom Marsh
College plans: College and major undecided

'A person of character'

Ryan Marsh was captain of a national championship Quiz Bowl team from Fort Smith Northside. He made a perfect score of 36 on the ACT. He recommended a book to a college professor who then began using the book to teach her students. All significant accomplishments, but not what he's proudest of.

Hard work and dedication make it possible to achieve almost anything, Ryan says. The real trick, he says, is to achieve "and then walk into your home and obey your parents as always, and treat all people as equals and old friends with respect." This he believes he has done.

Ryan's guidance counselor, Brenda Partin, says: "Ryan is well liked. Confident and competitive, he is not haughty. He has a sly sense of humor, an easygoing style with people. With a decidedly philosophical mind and the ability to verbalize considered opinion, he equally evidences concern for other people. He is a person of character."

Ryan's school activities include the National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta (math society), Future Business Leaders of America, TANOE club (advanced chemistry), Drama Club and the Fabian Society, a group that meets to discuss history, literature and other interests. Off-campus, he's a member of Leadership Explorer Post; cantor, altar server and lector at Christ the King and Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Churches, and a member of Teen Age Religious Education (TARE), which includes one community project night per month. He's a National Merit Scholarship finalist, Mathfax state champion, and has won academic awards for algebra, Spanish, earth science, English, geometry and physics.

Age: 17
Hometown: Plumerville
High School: Morrilton
Parents: Cindi Babcock and Wilber Moran Jr.
College plans: "Probably" Lyon College, pre-law

Quiz Bowler and Christmas helper

Quiz Bowl means a lot to Thomas Moran.

"Joining the quiz bowl team has not only helped my school performance, but it has made my overall quality of life much better," he writes. "Last year, as a junior, I was selected team captain. I developed a basic knowledge in the main academic areas and established a strong bond with each team member and coach.

"Through the course of the year, the team became like a family, and we became very close to the teams from other schools as well. Most of my best friends today are people I have been introduced to through Quiz Bowl," Thomas writes.

"Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that on the road to Morrilton's first state championship and an undefeated march through both conference and state tournaments, I was selected to both all-region and all-state teams as well as a two-time Arkansas Panasonic Quiz Bowl All-Star."

But Thomas' nominator, counselor Patty Rainey, is more impressed by the help Thomas gives his grandfather in an annual Christmas project. "Their Christmas decorations have become a local legend," she says. "They are all imagined, created and produced in his grandfather's shop. Handmade angels, Santas, reindeer, elves, etc., all greet you on their front lawn. This year, I shared the experience with my 2-year-old granddaughter, who was awestruck."

Thomas is president of the Math Club, vice president of the Thespian Club and the Beta Club, a member of the varsity soccer team, a member of the band and jazz band (trombone), Student Council reporter and a math tutor, among other school activities. Off campus, he's a member of the Conway County Community Center Youth Council, which conducts various community projects, including doing yard work for those who are unable. He's participated in trash pickups and canned food drives, and is a volunteer soccer referee.

Age: 16
Hometown: Rogers
School: Rogers High
Parents: Rashmi and Rajiv Nadkar
College plans: College undecided; computer science and information management systems.

Overcame fear

Nikhil Nadkar has received his share of awards, but his greatest achievement brought no plaque or certificate, and only he fully appreciates how significant it was.

During his junior year, Nikhil was elected parliamentarian of the Future Business Leaders of America. This required him to recite the FBLA pledge in front of his peers. He discovered a debilitating fear of public speaking. "The fear of public speaking had been absent from the early years of my life," he writes. "However, as I stood there on stage, it seemed as if this fear would dominate my life henceforth."

"This embarrassing incident left me with a strong urge for improvement. Throughout that school year, I participated in all the events that my club sponsored. Some of the events required me to further my involvement within the community. Meanwhile in school, I started speaking more on stage.

"Though I cannot pinpoint the progress made between any two consecutive speeches, my sense of despair and anxiety gradually began to assuage. I felt closer to fulfilling the expectations of my office and excited at the gain of a new confidence and self-esteem. Over my junior year, I may not have evolved as an eloquent public speaker, but I have certainly evolved as a fearless one."

School counselor Kathleen Riggs says, "Nikhil's advanced-placement chemistry teacher said that Nikhil might be the brightest student he has taught during his 27-year career. His English III teacher described him as 'intelligent but not arrogant.' He stated that Nikhil set the curve on every test yet would always ask for an explanation on each question he missed. He does this not to argue that he is right; he simply wants to know where his error is."

Nikhil is vice president of the Key Club, a member of the National Honor Society and a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist. He attended Governor's School. Off campus, he volunteered at the Rogers Public Library. "I assisted with the creation of web-based accelerated reader lists, tutored patrons about the basics of the Internet and e-mail, and cleaned monitor privacy screens and mice."

Age: 17
Hometown: Fayetteville
High School: Fayetteville
Parents: Necia Parker-Gibson and Allan Gibson and Steve Parker
College plans: Yale University

'A joyful learner'

Mary Elizabeth Parker is No. 1 in her class of 461. Her SAT and ACT scores soar. But numbers aren't Mary's love. Words are, and she knows how to use them.

She writes constantly, keeping a journal, writing fiction, essays and poetry. One of her works is 87 pages of fiction with a French title that translates, "roughly," Mary says, to "If I Could Have Your Love."

"Working on 'Amour' was the first time I realized that writing would be the rest of my life; there are so many more stories to tell," Mary writes. "Being a writer is something like being a parent: you care for the idea, discipline it with the appropriate words, send it out into the world, and hope."

Barbara Prichard, director of the gifted and talented program at Fayetteville, remembers Mary back about six years ago, studying "Beowulf." "She was even at that young age a joyful learner," Prichard says. "She just jumped into wanting to learn these Old English words with a vengeance."

Not surprisingly, Mary writes for the school literary magazine, has participated in Quiz Bowl and is a member of the National Honor Society. But she also is a member of the Association for Religious Tolerance and Education and the Gay/Straight Alliance.

Mary, in addition to completing her high school education, is taking courses at the University of Arkansas. Her literary influences are as diverse as Tolkien, Jeanette Winterson and "The Vagina Monologues," the Obie Award-winning play by Eve Ensler.

Mary, a National Merit Scholarship finalist and Presidential Scholar Nominee, also makes time for her schoolmates. "She is so accepting of diversity in others and honors that diversity by the way she treats people," Prichard says.

Age: 17
Hometown: Fort Smith
High School: Southside
Parents: Bob and Pam Raible
College plans: Hendrix or the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Mature but innocent

Dianne Jeffery, a counselor at Southside High School, calls Jennifer Raible "a very open person" and "not jaded." Jeffery says that one of Jennifer's teachers "described her as being very mature, but she still has the innocence of a little girl."

Jennifer is, in fact, an accomplished young woman with a 4.53 GPA who has won a Chancellor's Scholarship at the UA and a Founder's Scholarship at Hendrix. She's No. 3 in a class of 472.

Jeffery says that where many students seek to be admitted to Governor's School for the prestige, Jennifer sought entrance because she really wanted the experience. "She's a lot about diversity," Jeffery says. "She's very comfortable with who she is. She's very accepting of others."

Jennifer works at a ceramics store and enjoys that craft, but she also plays the guitar and the piano. "I sing and I'm in a band and we're performing in a battle of the bands next Saturday," Jennifer tells a reporter in early April. The band's name is $6 in Quarters, but Jennifer adds quickly, "I had no part in naming the band."

Jennifer is planning a double major — Spanish and biochemistry with a pre-med emphasis. After college she'd like to enter the Peace Corps.

"I don't think anything's impossible," she says. "I've always thought that I could do whatever I wanted to do. My parents are a big part of that because they always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do."

Although she describes herself as "self-driven," Jennifer thinks that "sometimes it's more important to concentrate on your family and friends."

Jeffery calls Jennifer independent. "She doesn't do the things that get the headlines. She's ambitious but she doesn't have to have the spotlight."

Somehow, we think the spotlight will find her anyway.

Age: 18
Hometown: Maumelle
High school: Oak Grove, North Little Rock
Parents: William and Janelle Rieske
College plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, industrial engineering

'A true winner'

Jeff Rieske, second in his class of 110 at Oak Grove High School, is everybody's favorite personality around the school, according to his counselor, Virginia Abrams. "He's so unassuming and likable," Abrams says, "such an odd, endearing mixture of innocence and intelligence."

Jeff anchors the high school band as a bass trombonist, and he's off to Fayetteville in the fall on a big band scholarship to trombone for the Marching Razorbacks—his older brother David also plays in the UA band — and to prepare for a career as an engineer. He's a 12-year veteran of scouting and counts his attainment of Eagle Scout status as his proudest accomplishment.

"Having been born with a congenital heart defect, I began in scouting when I was 6, soon after my second heart surgery," he writes. "Because of these surgeries, I have not always been able to do everything my friends have done... . To become an Eagle Scout, one must earn merit badges, many of which include hard physical activities such as hiking and swimming.

"These activities were hard for me because I was living with a mitral heart valve replacement. I tended to get short of breath and tired more quickly than other kids. Nevertheless, I persevered and earned the required merit badges. Soon after I turned 13, I had my third heart surgery in which my original mitral valve was replaced, and this dramatically improved my physical endurance and stamina and made the completion of the rest of my scouting requirements much easier."

He became an Eagle Scout at 15.

Abrams, his counselor, tells of another medical emergency at school that required Jeff's being rushed to the hospital. He was the coolest customer on the scene, she says, and managed the crisis with such quiet confidence that hardly anyone else knew what was happening.

"But don't focus on this young man's medical problems," she says. "Focus instead on his integrity and his many abilities and the great range of his community involvement. He's one of your true winners."

Age: 18
Hometown: North Little Rock
High school: Mills University Studies High, Pulaski County
Parents: James and Patricia Scott
College plans: University of Kansas at Lawrence, journalism and political science

A writer and runner

Jessica is academically second in her senior class of 195 at Mills, a National Merit Scholarship finalist, and winner of all the awards for academic excellence that her school has to offer. Her quiet demeanor belies a stunning set of college-prep test scores. Her imposing list of extra-curricular activities also shows a student whose high school tenure has been as brilliant as well rounded.

Jessica anticipates a career in journalism because she loves to write. She's been a three-year member of the school newspaper staff, and her Advanced Placement English teacher calls her one of the best readers, in the sense of critical analysis of literature, ever to come through Mills.

Jessica isn't sure what area of journalism she might wind up in, but that critical capacity is evident in her citing as her favorite newspaper work so far a critique of one of the big art shows at the Arkansas Arts Center.

The activity that's meant most to Jessica, however, has little to do with academics.

She says: "For the past two years, I have been my school's team captain for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure — for breast cancer research and awareness. I'm proud to say that race participation at my school increased 236 per cent when I became captain.

"Last year's race was a very emotional one for me. My great-grandmother, who had been a breast cancer survivor, passed away shortly before the race, and I dedicated my race to her and finished with my fastest time in the three years I have participated. I know that others I've urged to enter the race have benefited from their participation in the same way, and so my involvement in this event is my most important achievement."

Age: 18
Hometown: Conway
High school: Conway
Parents: David and Sherri Spotts
College plans: Georgia Tech, biomedical engineering.

Ahead of his time

Moving the adult world will be no problem for Chris Spotts.

"Chris loves adults," his mother Sherri Spotts says. "He likes to be in adult conversations. Even when he was 8 or 9 years old, if there were visitors at church from other countries, he'd go see them rather than play with the kids."

His mother figures this trait is part of Chris' love of a challenge.

Chris meets most challenges. Counselor Linda Hammontree says that Chris discovered halfway through the first nine weeks of his senior year that he lacked a chemistry credit necessary for admission to Georgia Tech. "He's such a bright student, he had no trouble catching up."

Chris isn't sliding through his senior year. He had to drop orchestra, however, so he could take five advanced placement courses. Says one teacher, "He's the kind of student who can see the forest and count the trees. In AP European and world history, he has consistently demonstrated mastery of the large concepts and themes while retaining a staggering command of detail."

Ranked No. 1 in a class of 544, Chris has been co-captain of a successful Quiz Bowl team (science and English monarchs are among his specialties). But he's proudest of his work last summer as a church camp counselor. He wouldn't tolerate adolescent disputes among his eighth-grade charges. He sent combatants, red-faced, skipping hand-in-hand past jeering girls' cabins. Bad behavior waned and "the boys slowly formed into a unit."

Chris has decided future challenges can be found on the frontiers of the emerging field of bioengineering. He hopes to qualify for a cooperative program at Georgia Tech in which he can both study and work.

Age: 18
Hometown: Lonoke
High School: Cabot
Parents: Ples and Patricia Spradley
College plans: Duke or Tulane

Great communicator

Some teen-agers talk just to talk. In Cabot Principal Robert Martin's opinion, Christin Spradley communicates.

"She is so mature as far as communicating and carrying on conversations, mature beyond her years," Martin says. "She is a very gifted communicator. She's going to give you good honest information and it's from the heart and it's going to be extremely accurate because she's done her homework and her research too."

Christin, a National Merit Scholarship finalist, is president of the Cabot senior class as well as being the top player on the high school tennis team.

Christin says she plans to study social sciences, either anthropology or archeology, in college. "I've always liked science and history. But I didn't just want to be a history teacher or just do something science oriented. I like working outside, going to new places and meeting new people."

She's put her communication skills to work the past few summers with the Ozark Mission Project, a Methodist organization that meets one week to works on houses for people in need.

"Some of the work is small like building wheelchair ramps," she says. "The people they pick out to help, it's not just fixing house but talking to them. I have had some really neat experiences with that."

One such situation included meeting a woman in McGehee who lived in deplorable conditions in a trailer until the mission helped out.

"That was a different experience because I was in junior high and only worried about the jeans I had on, that kind of thing, because of peer pressure," she recalls. "To go and meet somebody who didn't have any of that stuff — it really changed the way I looked at things and the way I viewed the world."

Some communicators go the way of politics. That's likely not in Christin's future, she says. "I'm kind of put out by the whole political situation. It annoys me. But if I ran across an opportunity where I could accomplish something, I would do it hands down."

Her principal says that Christin will make an impact in whatever field she enters. "You're going to read about her doing wonderful things," Martin says. "She is an extremely impressive young lady."

Age: 17
Hometown: Fort Smith
High school: Fort Smith Southside
Parents: Thanh Tu and Nguon Thi Nguyen
College plans: University of Tulsa, engineering

Conqueror of demons

Daniel Tu, first in his class of 472 at Southside High School, is a genuine academic superstar. Southside is a formidable academic institution anyway, and Daniel's transcript is unrivaled there, with 12 Advanced Placement classes and nine Honors courses, with only A's on his record and a grade point average of 4.36.

The diversity of Daniel's interests, academic and otherwise, is what is most impressive about him, his Southside counselor Dianne Jeffery says. Among other things, he's a pianist and composer, a stalwart softball player, an award-winning newspaper reviewer, a Quiz Bowl anchor, and a debater who counts his progress as an extemporaneous speaker among his proudest accomplishments.

He overcame a stutter to make the forensics team, and he says: "Speaking in public still ranks high as one of the greater fears of the average American. Through a little coaxing and practice, I conquered that demon, and further enjoyable experiences led me to try other speaking opportunities. Truly, our greatest weakness can become our greatest strength."

His teachers like to tell stories of Daniel's great store of knowledge — for instance, the time he rattled off the names of all the countries that had been in the Soviet Union and then named all their capital cities. One of those teachers notes that Daniel did much of his most impressive work during his junior year, at the same time he was holding down a 25-hour-a-week job at a local theater. For all his academic achievement, though, Daniel's "one of the most laid-back, well-liked people you'll ever see," Jeffery says.

Daniel has won a major academic scholarship from the University of Tulsa, where he will study engineering with minors in math and history. His father, an extrusion technician, and his mother, a clerk, were refugees from the war in Vietnam, where his grandparents still reside.

Age: 17
Hometown: Cabot
School: Mills University Studies High School
Parents: Lanny and Rose Vines
College plans: University of Arkansas, math, physics and music

A harmonious formula

Justin Vines think there's a correlation among his major interests — math, physics and music. "There's a geometry in all of them in how everything fits together and it's beautiful. Sometimes people say there are no wrong answers in music. But I think there are. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. It's like math in that respect."

Justin chose the UA over Rice because the Texas school didn't offer the opportunity to major in both music and the sciences. He can triple major at UA, with the help of some 60 hours in college credit he's amassed in advanced courses.

These courses are the real thing, says physics teacher Howard Gaston, who had a career in engineering himself before becoming a teacher at Mills six years ago. Gaston tells how Justin not only solves the toughest advanced physics problems, but explains the hows and whys to his fellow classmates, sometimes coming up with conclusions deeper than the original problem.

Gaston thinks Justin is destined to produce great achievements, but that could be in music. Justin couldn't even read music in the seventh grade, when he first took up the violin. But Justin set a goal to excel and did. He has been an all-region violinist, concertmaster of the school orchestra and the Arkansas Youth Symphony and an avid bluegrass fiddle player. He also has written compositions for his chamber quartet.

Justin's realistic. He knows math and physics might offer more prosperous careers, certainly in the beginning. "But I want to keep all my options open."

A National Merit Scholarship finalist, Justin is ranked No. 1 in the Mills class of 195.


Speaking of Arkansas Times Academic All-Stars


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