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.



The Mississippi Capitol was host to 24 current MSMS students on Wednesday, February 6. The students were able to meet and converse with state representatives and senators while the legislature was in session on Capitol Day. Students were there to raise awareness about the significance of the school to the state and to represent the school. The day was also a laboratory in many ways for learning about the legislative process as well as government at the state level. 

Students and chaperones departed the campus at 6:00 a.m. in order to begin meeting with their legislators at 9:00 a.m. “Students were able to meet with multiple senators and representatives to both thank them for their support of the MSMS Opportunity for Excellence and to make legislators more aware of the work of our school,” said Chuck Yarborough, MSMS History instructor. “Those representatives and senators are essentially the reason MSMS exists,” said Gina Nguyen, MSMS Junior. She added, “Without the state funding, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s important that we show our thanks for their continued support and that they know we are successful.”

“We are grateful to our legislators for their continued support of MSMS,” said Dr. Germain McConnell, Executive Director. He added, “We wanted them to have the opportunity to interact with students from their areas and to hear directly from students about the life-changing experience of MSMS.  We selected students to represent various parts of the state, and of course we needed these students to be able to effectively communicate their experiences and what MSMS means to them.” “Meeting my representative was important because I had never met her before. I was able to actually talk to her and ask any questions I had. We were able to see how bills are passed in the Senate and in the House,” said Erin Williams, MSMS Senior.

Some of the legislators and alums joined the students, faculty, and staff for lunch at the Iron Horse Grill. Dr. McConnell expressed, “We were also happy to have five of our alumni present to share their experiences.”

“Overall it was awesome to experience an environment with all of the state Senators and Representatives. It also opened my eyes to how many senators and representatives don’t know what MSMS is even though we are the #1 high school in the state. I thought we did well getting our school on their radars and representing MSMS well,” said Erin Davis, MSMS Senior.

The MSMS family is appreciative of the support of our local area legislators. Dr. McConnell added, “In particular, Representatives Kabir Karriem and Cheikh Taylor and Senators Chuck Younger and Angela Turner-Ford.  Representative Steve Massengill, who is a parent of an alum, was also very helpful and has shown great support for MSMS.”

Students chosen to attend were: Samantha Anderson, Alisha Burch, Cade Burton, Devin Chen, Erin Davis, Elijah Dosda, Austin Eubank, Lori Feng, Clara Grady, Edith Marie Green, Lane Hughes, Maria Kaltchenko, Alexandra Magee, Ezra McWilliams, Bertha Mireles, Indu Nandula, Gina Nguyen, Likhitha Polepalli, Jack Shelton, Cameron Thomas, Esmond Tsang, Olivia Viguerie, Erin Williams, and Talle Wilson.

Chaperones included: Thomas Easterling, English Instructor, Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, Chemistry Instructor and 1995 alum, Chuck Yarborough, History Instructor. Also representing MSMS at the Capitol was Dr. Germain McConnell, Executive Director, Sheila Westbrook, Associate Director for Advancement, LeighAlison Jones, Coordinator for Admissions, Janie Shields, Coordinator for Public Relations, Chad Edmonson, MSMS Class of 1999, Cynthia Henderson, MSMS Foundation President, MSMS Class of 1995, Karen Clay, MSMS Class of 1998, and Ryder Taff, MSMS Class of 2006.