Lakewood Ranch Herald

Three National Merit Scholars from county

MANATEE — Three area teens are among more than 2,800 winners of National Merit Scholarships financed by colleges and universities, the National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced today.

Amy Umana, an International Baccalaureate scholar from Southeast High School, is the daughter of Kim and Ralph Umana of Palmetto.

Juntao Zhu, son of Wen Tan and Hexiang Zhu, graduates this year from Lakewood Ranch High School.

Haley Tilton, a senior at St Stephen’s Episcopal School, is the daughter of Russell and Leslie Tilton of Terra Ceia.

Umana and Zhu will attend the University of Florida in Gainesville this fall. Tilton will be a freshman at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Officials of each sponsor college selected their scholarship winners from among finalists in the 2009 National Merit Scholarship Program who plan to attend their institution. The scholarship awards provide between $500 and $2,000 annually for up to four years of undergraduate study at the institution financing the scholarship.

Today’s announcement is the second round of scholarships that will be made by the corporation this year. As the daughter of a University of Florida graduate, Umana is no stranger to the Gainesville campus where she hopes to continue her studies in science and math with perhaps a major in pre-med.

Umana’s mother was not surprised by her daughter’s scholarship. “She has always been a smart kid,” Kim Umana said. “She started talking at a very young age and had quite a vocabulary. When they started standardized tests in school, Amy always scored in the 99 percentile. She is a real thinker.”

Brenda O’Connor, assistant principal in charge of the International Baccalaureate program at Southeast, described Amy as a model student whose determination to consistently excel helped her win the scholarship.

Amy on the other hand, was surprised when she got her notification letter. “I just never thought it would be me,” she said.

Lakewood Ranch Principal Mike Wilder was thrilled to hear Zhu was a merit scholar.

“Zhu is very well respected among the senior class,” Wilder said. “He is a very intelligent young man.”

Zhu plans to pursue a career in mechanical engineering.

“When I was growing up in China, my grandfather was a mechanical engineer and from him I learned to love problem and puzzle solving,” Zhu said.

Zhu’s favorite subjects are math and science. He followed his father’s footsteps by enrolling at the University of Florida.

“My father got his doctorate there and we lived there for four or five years,” he said. “I know a lot of people there.

Tilton will be doing lots of swimming this summer as a member of the YMCA Sharks club team before she heads to Tulane. Along with her national merit scholarship and her dean’s honor scholarship from Tulane, she has a partial athletic scholarship and will be a member of the Tulane swim team as a sprint free styler.

At St. Stephen’s, Tilton was a member of the swim team, the math club and math team and several honor societies during her senior year.

“I am honored to be chosen from so many to receive the scholarship,” Tilton said.

She plans to attend the college of arts and sciences and is leaning toward a degree in math and science, possibly in economics.