Superintendent Theresa Axford recently announced that Key West High School’s Christina Tong, Marathon High School’s Katerina Nikiforova, and Coral Shores High School’s Alison Woltanski and Emma Kost have been selected as semifinalists in the 66th annual National Merit Scholarship Program sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. These academically talented high school seniors have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million that will be offered next spring.

Over 1.5 million juniors in about 21,000 high schools entered the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2019 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which served as an initial screen of program entrants. The nationwide pool of semifinalists, representing less than 1%  of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state. About 16,000 semifinalists nationwide were selected. 

To become a finalist, the semifinalist and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application, in which they provide information about the semifinalist’s academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment and honors and awards received. A semifinalist must have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be endorsed and recommended by a high school official, and write an essay.

From the 16,000 semifinalists, about 15,000 are expected to advance to the finalist level, and in February they will be notified of this designation. All National Merit Scholarship winners will be selected from this group of finalists. Merit Scholar designees are selected on the basis of their skills, accomplishments and potential for success in rigorous college studies, without regard to gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference.

More than half of the finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar  title. National Merit Scholarship winners of 2021 will be announced in four nationwide news releases beginning in April and concluding in July.

NMSC, a not-for-profit organization that operates without government assistance, was established in 1955. Scholarships are underwritten by NMSC with its own funds and by approximately 400 business organizations and higher education institutions that share NMSC’s goals of honoring the nation’s scholastic champions and encouraging the pursuit of academic excellence.  

Christina Tong, 
Key West High School

Christina’s academic record displays strengths across all subject areas, as well as her passion for writing. She is active in academic honor clubs, including National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Academic Challenge and Book Club. Christina is a member of the Books and Books Youth Advisory Board, Young Writers Studio, and has written articles and short stories published in multiple publications. Christina has contributed over 150 hours of community service hours as an instructor at the Key West Community Sailing Center, as well as through her volunteer work in the Monroe County Library’s Local History department. In her spare time, Christina also enjoys drawing, playing the violin and learning foreign languages. Christina’s dream schools include Harvard, Princeton and Yale.  She plans to pursue a mechanical engineering major in college.

Katerina Nikiforova, 
Marathon High School

Katerina is an outstanding student at Marathon High School.  She is interested in theoretical computer science and applied mathematics.  She has been coding since 8th grade and, in the past few years, she has focused on algorithmic programming, although she is not above making some rather ridiculous and pointless apps just for fun. In her free time, Katerina started a tech club at MHS and a web development business where she builds websites using raw code. She also enjoys building/engineering random projects and playing around with microcomputers whenever she has additional free time. Outside of computer science, Katerina is on the school’s varsity cross-country team and plays the saxophone in the marching band, where she also doubles as the drum major. Katerina’s dream would be to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Cal-Tech, because both schools focus on theory and proof-based mathematics. 

Alison Woltanski, 
Coral Shores High School

Alison is on track to graduate summa cum laude from Coral Shores High School.  She is the editor-in-chief of the school’s yearbook, an active member of Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society, and UNICEF Club. She also serves on a Youth Advisory Council for Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Outside of school, Alison is the captain of Coral Shores’ varsity track and cross country teams, a member of the weightlifting team, and dances year round at On Your Toes Dance Studio. She loves photography and film, and has produced videos for the 2020 graduation, this year’s orientation, community events and various school assemblies. Alison hopes to attend Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service next fall, and most likely major in science, technology and international affairs; with the career goal of working to encourage sustainable development in Eastern Africa.

Emma Kost, 
Coral Shores High School

Emma is an honors student at Coral Shores High School. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Math Club, Interact Club and Student Council. Emma is an officer of the Environmental Club, captain of the varsity cheer squad and a member of the varsity tennis and soccer teams, where she earned “Best Defender” honors her junior year. On the weekends, she volunteers at the Coral Restoration Foundation which helps to restore our local reefs. Last summer, she participated in the Yale Young Global Scholars Biological and Biomedical Sciences program which focused on epidemiology.  Emma dreams of attending an Ivy League school and will be applying to several out-of-state colleges to major in biology on a pre-med track. Her goal is to become a physician, specializing in neurosurgery or infectious diseases.

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