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.



Victoria Gong, Lilian Li, Michelle Luo, Helen Peng, current students at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, were recently honored at the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association’s statewide high school journalism convention in Hattiesburg with Best of Mississippi Scholastic Journalism Awards for their work on the literary magazine, Southern Voices. 2018 graduates, Kamal Bhalla, Aidan Dunkelburg, and Barrie Wright were also honored.

“Having our MSMS students’ writing and art recognized by the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association brings honor to the students, to their families, and to our school.  I know the time and effort the students spend in perfecting their work; I’m proud for them–and proud of them,” said Emma Richardson, creative writing instructor at MSMS.

The MSPA was founded in 1947 to help student journalists statewide improve their journalistic and communication skills. MSPA has over 100 member publications ranging from yearbooks, newspapers, literary magazines and broadcasts.

“MSMS continues to stand out among its peer institutions as a beacon of student expression and excellence. When we talk at the state level about empowering students to tell their own stories and the stories of others, theirs is that type program,” said R.J. Morgan, MSPA Director.

Works of art were judged based on theme and cover, overall design, fiction content, non-fiction content, and visual content. The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science took home 11 awards.

Victoria Gong, of Vicksburg, was a finalist in the short fiction category for Shaving Cream, non-fiction category for Basketball, and poem category for Leather.

Helen Peng, of Starkville, was a finalist in the short fiction category for Saigon.

Lilian Le, of Bay St. Louis, was a finalist for a hand drawn illustration.

Michelle Luo, of New Albany, was a finalist in the short fiction category for In the Snowand non-fiction category for Steamed Fish.

Kamal Bhalla, of Clinton, was a finalist in the photography category.

Aidan Dunkelberg, of Columbus, was the overall winner in the poem category for Catfish Alley.

Sarah Swiderski, of Starkville, was a finalist in the non-fiction category for Callused.

Barrie Wright, of Cleveland, was a finalist for a hand drawn illustration.

“Our MSMS students are known for their prowess in STEM disciplines, but they’re also talented in writing and the fine arts; it’s wonderful for them to have this kind of acknowledgement, too,” added Richardson.

The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science is Mississippi’s only public, residential high school specifically designed to meet the needs of the state’s most academically gifted and talented students. MSMS is ranked the no. 6 best public high school in the nation and the faculty was ranked no. 1 as the best public high school teachers in the nation by Niche.

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