Students among nation’s best

Two LHS seniors, one FSHS senior honored as National Merit Scholars

Lawrence High School seniors Rebecca Dirks, left, and Baoqing Zhou are recipients of ,500 scholarships from the National Merit Corp. Both are considering pursuing careers in chemistry.

Free State High School senior Jing Li won a ,500 scholarship from the National Merit Corp. Li, pictured Tuesday at FSHS, will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.

Two seniors from Lawrence High School and one from Free State High School have joined one of the most exclusive scholarly clubs in the nation.

The three have been named National Merit Scholars – and each has received a $2,500 scholarship.

LHS students Rebecca Dirks and Baoqing Zhou, along with FSHS senior Jing Li, are among 2,500 students nationwide who received awards from the National Merit Corp.

The three local students, each of whom learned a few weeks ago about the award, expressed some surprise when they found out about one another.

“We all went to Southwest (Junior High) together,” Li said Tuesday afternoon while eating cake in the Free State cafeteria.

Li said it was nice to be recognized for the award.

“At the same time, money for college is always a nice thing,” Li said. She plans to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

At this point, she’s keeping her options open about a major.

“I love economics and chemistry, but at the same time, there might be majors that I haven’t studied in high school and don’t know about,” Li said.

She said her career goals were “vague” right now.

“I think that grad school is in the future,” she said.

Over at LHS, Dirks said the award was a pleasant surprise.

“I was a little more excited to become a finalist than to be a scholar – although the money is good,” Dirks said with a laugh.

The winners are judged to have the strongest combination of accomplishments, skills and potential for success in rigorous college studies, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

They were picked by a panel of college admissions officers and high school counselors.

Dirks plans to major in chemistry, “although I may change that,” she said. “I haven’t had too much exposure to science in high school. I know I want to do life science.”

Eventually, Dirks says she would like to have a career in medical research or surgery.

She plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis next fall.

“Ironically, I was considering going far away from home, to the East Coast,” she said.

But she decided on Washington because of its size, its science department and the faculty members she has met.

The other LHS winner, Zhou, said the award will help her handle tuition at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

“It’s just so expensive,” Zhou said. “But I’m glad the country has an institution that recognizes hard work academically.”

Zhou, who was one of 10 area students named to the Journal-World’s 2007 Academic All-Star Team announced in March, said her favorite field of study is science, but she hasn’t narrowed what she will pursue.

“I think most likely chemistry or physics,” Zhou said.

She said in the future she might do research and teach in a university setting.

The local students were among 32 Kansas seniors chosen from a field of about 15,000 national finalists in the 2007 National Merit Scholarship Program.

More National Merit Scholars will be announced later this month and in July.