Amy Zhang among Mississippi's Nine U.S. Presidential Scholar Semifinalists

JACKSON, Miss. –  The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) announced today that the outgoing Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) senior student representative Amy Zhang of Starkville is one of nine Mississippi students selected as semifinalists for the 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. The program honors the nation’s most distinguished graduating high school seniors.

Amy attends the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus. She was appointed as the SBE junior representative in 2020. 

Mississippi’s other U.S. Presidential Scholar semifinalists for 2022 are listed below:

  • Dia Chawla of Pillow Academy in Greenwood
  • Kylar DeLoach of Enterprise High School in Enterprise
  • Jeffrey Jordan of Jackson Preparatory School in Jackson
  • Sarah Leroux of Madison Central High School in Madison
  • Madeline Pitre of Biloxi High School in Biloxi
  • Wesley Smalley of Florence High School in Florence
  • Ritchie Yang of Petal High School in Petal
  • Yujie Yang of Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg

Madeline and Ritchie, along with Amy, are also members of MDE’s Student Advisory Council.

Mississippi’s semifinalists were selected from among more than 5,000 candidates nationwide. A total of 620 high school seniors were selected as semifinalists for 2022. These students form the pool from which the 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars will be chosen.

The 2022 Presidential Scholars are chosen on the basis of their accomplishments in many areas – academic and artistic success, accomplishment in career and technical fields, leadership, and involvement in school and the community. The scholars represent excellence in education and the promise of greatness in America’s young people.

“Mississippi is represented well among the nation’s top high school scholars once again,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “I join with these students’ families, teachers, schools and communities in congratulating them for receiving this national recognition.”

Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program honors the nation’s top-performing students with the prestigious award given to honorees during the annual ceremony in D.C. The program was later expanded to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the arts and career and technical education fields. The 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars will be announced in mid-May.



MSMS Connects recently caught up with alumna and AAYME Assistant Director Madison Wardlaw, who graduated from MSMS in 2016. 

  1. How would you describe your time at MSMS? 

I really enjoyed my time at MSMS. My social circle was small, but that was fun because I feel like I made some quality friendships. After all these years, we are still good friends, and we talk all the time. I can also still remember participating in fun math lessons and being a part of Mu Alpha Theta, getting help from Ms. Zarandona during tutorials or being involved with Blue Diamonds step team.  

  1. After attending MSMS, what university did you attend? 

After MSMS, I went to Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and I received my bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I just recently graduated in May with my master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania.  

MSMS made me realize how much I like stem. Taking chemistry and biology here I was like, “Whoa, I actually like this. I want to major in one of these sciences.” Before coming to MSMS, I had no clue, but after taking Ms. Truitt’s chemistry class, I knew I was going to major in chemistry.  

 3. Do you think MSMS helped prepare you for your future professional endeavors? 

After graduating from MSMS, I immediately started the chemistry track, and I would even go as far to say MSMS helped me figure out I wanted to pursue my master’s in education in a roundabout way. I think this is partially because I had the chance to teach and work with rising middle schoolers and high schoolers during the MSMS Summer Enrichment Camps. 

4. What is your current profession? 

Beginning this fall, I will be teaching fourth grade STEM at Edward Gideon School for Diversity and Inclusion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In this role, I really want to give students more hands-on experiences and team building experiences to show that learning in life is a process. 

5. Why did you apply to become an Assistant Director for African American Youth of Mississippi Excelling (AAYME) Program? 

This is my seventh year being affiliated with the summer enrichment camps, so when I saw the opportunity to be an Assistant Director for MSMS’ newest camp, AAYME, I knew I wanted to be involved. I’ve always wanted MSMS to host a camp like this, so I didn’t hesitate to be part of it. 

6. Why do you think this camp is beneficial for students? 

Mississippi has an insidious like history with racism and slavery, but this camp is a way we can rectify some of these wrongs that we still feel today. Due to economic exclusion and the way school funding works, a lot of like black children in the state of Mississippi do not receive the type of education, especially the type of gifted education that we see here. So, it is important for folks to know the sky’s the limit, and those opportunities are available for them at places like MSMS.