Windermere-area students snag National Merit scholarships
Deesha Desai, of Olympia High, and Anli Chen, of Dr. Phillips High, both received corporate sponsorships as part of the National Merit Scholarship Program.
| 2:30 p.m. May 28, 2016
SOUTHWEST ORANGE National Merit scholarships are hard to come by, but five students in Orange County Public Schools have received them this year, including two in Southwest Orange County.
Deesha Desai, of Olympia High, and Anli Chen, of Dr. Phillips High, met the criteria of their corporate sponsors, which provide scholarships for finalists in the community or those who plan to pursue careers the corporations encourage. Desai was sponsored by Sagar G. Patel Memorial, and Chen by Northrop Grumman. Scholarships can be awarded in single, lump-sum payments, or in annual stipends ranging from $500 to $10,000 per year.
To be considered for a National Merit scholarship, students must be U.S. citizens, be enrolled as a high-school student and plan to enroll in college full time after, and must take the PSAT/NMSQT test before their junior year of high school. To become a finalist and earn a scholarship, many factors are considered, including academic records, the finalist’s essay and letters of recommendation.
Chen is a senior at Dr. Phillips High who plans to go into the neurobiology field and is receiving a scholarship from Northrop Grumman. Throughout her high-school career, she has taken about 18 AP classes and maintained a 4.0 GPA. She also started the school’s History Club, is president of the science honor society and is a talented artist. She will attend Harvard University this fall and plans to double major in biology and art history to explore the scientific aspect of art.
One of her current aspirations is to be involved in art therapy for Alzheimer’s disease patients, after being inspired by helping care for her grandmother, who suffers from dementia. She also spent a day volunteering at the Alzheimer’s Association in Longwood, and both of these factors sparked her curiosity.
With Alzheimer’s disease, one of the ways to slow down the onset is to think spatially and use creativity and social skills. The association in Longwood holds art therapy sessions for patients, where they use watercolor paints and get to explore colors and creativity.
“I walked in, and there was a bunch of strangers and people whose age gaps with me were over half a century, and I would talk to them and art was the common ground we shared where we can form connections,” she said. “While we were painting I’d talk to some of them and ask about their life and past and what their youth was like. I felt like I was doing something to help and from then on I was determined to see what I could do to combine art and science.”
Her advice to high-school students who aspire to follow in her footsteps of academic success is to be involved in things you love, not just the things you think will look good on a college application.
“Do what you love, not what you think will look good on a college application,” she said. “Spend your time in activities you're truly passionate about.”
Desai is a senior at Olympia High who plans to go into the medical field and is receiving a scholarship from the Sagar G. Patel Memorial. Throughout her high-school career, she has taken 16 AP classes and seven dual-enrollment courses through Valencia College. In addition to her academics, she started Olympia’s UNICEF club, has been the vice president of the National English Honor Society and had an internship in India the summer of her freshman year. Next up for Desai is an eight-year medical program at the University of Pittsburgh.
Desai already has a guaranteed spot in the medical school and will figure out what in the medical field she wants to specialize in over the next four years. One of her biggest inspirations is her brother, who is six years older and has gone through a seven-year program for medicine.
“Having his guidance and knowing someone who’s been through the same thing as you have and the challenges you’re going through, it helps,” she said. “I can call him anytime and he’s been that backbone throughout the whole process.”
For Desai, time management was an important aspect throughout her high-school career, and she held on strong knowing that while she didn’t want to let her academics or extracurriculars fall to the side, she also wanted to have her social life.
Her advice for high-school students on the path to success is to focus on the things they care about and want to be involved in, rather than having a checklist of things to do that their heart isn’t in.
“If you really follow what you want and hope to do, success will automatically follow,” she said. “Get the things you need to get done and enjoy the ride. Don’t tangle yourself up if you mess up; everything will eventually work itself out.”