Of the more than 1.5 million U.S. students who took the Preliminary SAT last year, about 16,000 are in the running for the prestigious Merit Scholar designation. And of those 16,000 students across the country, four represent Santa Monica High School.

The local quartet is part of a talented batch of semifinalists whose high PSAT scores put them in contention for millions of dollars in scholarships. The semifinalists comprise less than 1 percent of high school seniors nationwide.

“It‚Äôs a huge honor to be in that kind of company,” Samohi senior Dean Chien said. “It felt good to receive the semifinalist award.”

Chien, Rowan Cheung, Christopher Ferrarin and Gianna Ferrarin make up the Samohi contingent this year, according to a press release from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

The four Samohi students can become finalists by submitting applications demonstrating their academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, leadership skills and other distinctions.

About 15,000 of the 16,000 semifinalists are expected to earn finalist status, according to the release, and about half of the finalists will be eligible for some $32 million in Merit Scholar funding.

“Scholarships are underwritten by NMSC with its own funds and by approximately 440 business organizations and higher education institutions that share NMSC‚Äôs goals of honoring the nation‚Äôs scholastic champions and encouraging the pursuit of academic excellence,” the release reads.

Finalists will be notified in February and Merit Scholar awardees will be announced between April and July, according to the release.

“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,” the release reads.

The Samohi semifinalists already have compiled impressive accolades for their resumes.

Chien, Samohi’s student body president, has been a member of the school’s Southern California Quiz Bowl and Science Bowl teams, the latter of which took third place in January. He was also part of the Lincoln Middle School group whose science experiment about Silly Putty was launched on a rocket to the International Space Station and is currently a member of Samohi’s entrepreneurs and investors club.

Chien can envision a career that involves science and working with other people.

“Overall, I‚Äôve been able to effectively balance my time between the schoolwork I have to do, all my extracurricular activities and then … hanging out with friends and finding some free time here and there,” he said. “It‚Äôs an essential skill to be able to do that.”

Cheung, meanwhile, participated in the 13th annual USA Biology Olympiad national finals earlier this year at Purdue University. She was also part of a Samohi team that recently competed at the annual Surf Bowl at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where students were tested on ocean science. Cheung has also played varsity tennis for the Vikings.

Christopher Ferrarin qualified for designation in the California Junior Scholarship Federation as a student at Lincoln Middle School, and he has further developed his academic and music skills over the last three years.

His sister, Gianna Ferrarin, has played saxophone in Samohi’s marching band and wind ensemble. She is active in Delians, the school’s longtime honor society. She was also a junior scholarship federation honoree.

One student from Malibu High School, Gannon Earhart, was named a semifinalist in the competition.

Former Merit Scholar honorees include Bill Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Elena Kagan.

For more information, visit www.nationalmerit.org.

jeff@smdp.com

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