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 Jilkiah Bryant, who graduated from MSMS in 2019.

1. Why did you choose MSMS?

I opted to leave my hometown because I felt MSMS could provide me with a superior education that would equip me to pursue higher education, more resources to help me find my interests, and access to dedicated, diligent professors.

2. How would you describe your time at MSMS?

Enlightening and life-changing are two terms that come to mind when describing my time at MSMS. MSMS was crucial in shaping who I am today, and it taught me truths about myself that I would not have discovered otherwise.

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

After attending MSMS, I continued my education at the University of Mississippi where I am majoring in Public Health and Health Sciences with a minor in mathematics and I will graduate in May 2023.

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

MSMS taught me how to properly navigate academic and professional spaces by being my best authentic self. I went into college understanding the importance of studying , the value of marketing myself, and how to network in order to get where I wanted to be. I would not have been able to handle the academic demands of college while also prospering professionally if it hadn’t been for MSMS.

5. What is your current profession?

I am currently the undergraduate Co-Director of the Center for Community Engagement on campus. In this role, I lead a group of undergraduate students who seek to promote community-based learning and involvement among UM students, faculty, and community partners. I also serve as a Speaking Consultant for the UM Speaking Center, where I help UM students with a variety of speaking subjects in their Speech 102/105 classes, such as research themes, persuasive writing, and proper information acquisition.
I also work as the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization called Project Powerful, Inc., where I oversee our Service Advocate program. Our main program is the Service Advocate Program, in which students from all across Mississippi are chosen each year to uphold the organization’s pillars and act as agents of change in their communities by executing their own service project to address a need they see in their local communities.

This program is critical in leveraging our youth’s talents and knowing their perspectives on how change should be implemented. For a year, service advocates receive leadership training from our founder, board members, and guest speakers, as well as learn about community outreach and advocacy and participate in monthly peer-led discussions and workshops with other service advocates. Service advocates must submit service project proposals, learn how to fundraise, and have the opportunity to learn more about drafting sponsorship letters.

6. What inspired you to pursue this line of work? 

Having to experience being a low-income young adolescent who lost a parent, I gained the ability to relate to life-changing events and empathize with people in vulnerable positions. As an emerging public health professional, I am pleased to have had opportunities throughout my undergraduate career in community engagement and health promotion. Over time, I have developed a passion for serving in small communities and dispossessed areas.

7. Would you recommend attending MSMS? 

Attending MSMS is something I strongly suggest. There is no other place like it, and in two years I gained more than I could have anticipated. MSMS educates you to challenge yourself to become more than just a good student, but also a scholar and servant leader, by looking beyond the status quo. It provides an experience that will assist you in reaching new heights and redefining your perspective of the world and yourself.