Chinese Calendar 2024 November

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Stars team

Just when we’re pulling out our boxes of Kleenex and donning our dark sunglasses to mourn the loss of decency and hope in the world, our new class of Academic All-Stars comes bounding into view, reminding us that all is not lost — that the kids are, in fact, alright. This year marks the 30th roster of Arkansas Times Academic All-Stars: 20 exceptional students chosen from a pool of applicants from across the state, each nominated by their high school counselor or principal. Past winners have gone on to become innovators in the fields of engineering, medicine, technology, the arts and science — like Crystal Morrison, a past All-Star we revisited in this month’s installment of Savvy. Read on and recharge your sense of optimism with our profiles of this year’s All-Stars — among them robotics whizzes, founders of nonprofits, math competition champs, budding health care trailblazers and tenacious food bank volunteers — followed by the list of finalists and nominees. 

Chinese Calendar : Gregorian to Lunar Days Converter, Lucky Day
Chinese Calendar : Gregorian to Lunar Days Converter, Lucky Day

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Joshua Ofodile

JOSHUA OFODILEAge: 18Hometown: FayettevilleHigh School: Haas Hall Academy Parents: Uche Ewelukwa and Anthony OfodileCollege plans: Yale University

Chinese Calendar , November  十一月
Chinese Calendar , November 十一月

Joshua Ofodile’s record consists of perfect marks, national merits and leadership positions in quiz bowl, basketball and tennis. He’s on track to attend Yale, and he doesn’t plan to pump the brakes on his successes any time soon. Joshua is the son of two Nigerian immigrants, and he carries an additional sense of pressure to make the most out of the opportunity his parents have given him, he said. Exposure to high school government classes and watching his mother take photos for her passport after 10 years in the naturalization process sparked Joshua’s interest in political science. “I want to amend the processes that alienate people rather than bring them together,” he said. In March, Joshua was one of two Arkansas students chosen for a trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the United States Senate Youth Program. Joshua sat in on the State of the Union address, met President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, heard from a variety of the country’s leaders and even asked Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg a question. He’s planning to use his interests in politics to further his education of the world around him and possibly as a propeller into law school. And maybe, one day down the road, Joshua might run for a local office as a way to give back to his community, he said. When he’s not busy with academics or sports, Joshua loves to watch and review movies. Ryan Gosling is his favorite actor and “La La Land,” “Whiplash” and “The Prestige” top his movie chart. MH

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Ahmad Alam

AHMAD ALAMAge: 17Hometown: Little RockHigh School: Little Rock Central High SchoolParents: Zainab Siddiqui and Muhammad AlamCollege Plans: Columbia University

Ahmad Alam knows how to have fun. He just has to schedule it first. The Little Rock Central High School senior’s schedule stays so full between multiple AP classes, Robotics Club and volunteer engagements that he keeps two calendars to keep up with it all: his online Google Calendar and a hard-copy planner. “I love to hang out with friends, bowling and playing pool, but I have to schedule it on my calendar or it won’t happen.” Ahmad is not only ranked third in his class of 531 students, but he’s also a co-author of a UA Little Rock research manuscript on sustainable materials. He spends several hours a week on the research, which has paid off by him winning multiple science fair competitions at both regional and state levels. Ahmad has made significant contributions to the Madina Afghani Resettlement Program, for which he tutors children of Afghani refugee families and helps them get accustomed to life in the U.S. He has also served as vice president of the Muslim Student Association, and helped organize several community events, including fundraisers for flood victims and food drives for the less fortunate. No doubt, all that time management will come in handy when he becomes a neurosurgeon. “I like to describe myself as someone who pushes themselves to the limit,” he said. “I work as hard as I can, but I also make sure I’m able to relax. It’s important to find a balance. That’s how I roll. I have to relax so I can keep everything rolling.” JR

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Claire Nikkel

CLARA NIKKELAge: 18Hometown: BatesvilleHigh School: Batesville High SchoolParents: Brad and Amanda NikkelCollege plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville 

“Chemistry makes the world make sense” is not the kind of thing most of us will ever mutter. But, then again, most of us are not Clara Nikkel. The top-ranked senior at Batesville High School, Clara said her fascination with chemistry started in sixth grade but really took off her sophomore year when she took Pre-AP Chemistry and Pre-AP Biology at the same time. “I was astonished by the similarities between them,” she explained. Her junior year, Clara got the opportunity to do college-level research at Lyon College, modifying tuberculosis medication to fight drug resistance. Not that chemistry or academics are the only thing Clara thinks about, mind you; her guidance counselor describes Clara as “one of the most academically and personally driven students” she’s seen in 25 years as an educator. That personal drive explains why, even with nine Advanced Placement courses in two years, Clara still finds time to run track and cross-country and coach gymnastics in her free time. “My schedule just kind of makes itself,” she said with a chuckle. That self-making schedule has worked out well for Clara, too, leading to 36 on the ACT, a 1540 on the SAT, and a 4.25 GPA and giving Clara plenty of options for where she could pursue her dream and study pharmaceutical research. Though she originally wanted to attend Washington University in St. Louis, she decided to stay in Arkansas and attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville after the school offered her an Honors College Fellowship. If keeping academic talent in-state got the same attention as landing a big football recruit, Clara’s decision to attend the U of A would be bigger news than any quarterback on The Hill in recent memory. MC

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Fiona Wolter

FIONA WOLTERAge: 18Hometown: Little RockSchool: Episcopal Collegiate SchoolParents: Dr. Keith Wolter and Dr. Jill MhyreCollege plans: Princeton University

The award for Most Self-Aware Academic All-Star of 2024 goes to Fiona Wolter, a starry-eyed physicist and toga-partying Latin speaker who hits her reset button by hanging out with kids. Fiona accepts her well-deserved accolades with a caveat: “People who seem like they have it all together are doing it with a lot of support,” she said. “You don’t have to do it by yourself.” Keeping it together certainly requires support when the load includes varsity lacrosse, quiz bowl, Latin club, piano, math tutoring and camp counseling at Aldersgate and the Museum of Discovery. That’s all on top of maintaining the highest GPA in her class. At Princeton, Fiona hopes to study “the natural sciences, as well as the social sciences,” she said. Blending politics and philosophy to focus on environmental studies and environmental policy appeals to her. She’ll get to all that in the fall. This summer, though, she’s working at the Museum of Discovery. Fiona is a serious person, and being around enthusiastic children is both fun and rewarding. Plus, she gets to geek out about astronomy and physics with little people who are as curious as she is. AG

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Keming Meng

KEMING MENGAge: 17Hometown: FayettevilleHigh School: Fayetteville High SchoolParents: Aiying Shao and Xiangbo MengCollege plans: Undecided

Keming Meng describes his father as “the hardest working person I’ve ever met,” and it sounds like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Listing Keming’s achievements in math competitions alone would require about half the space on this magazine page, and what’s left would barely leave enough room for mentions of his successes in state, regional and national quiz bowls, science bowls and physics competitions. He brought home perfect scores on the ACT and PSAT, and his French horn playing qualified him for first chair of the Symphonic Band at the Arkansas School Band and Orchestra Association. When this reporter suggested that he must be an exceptional French horn player to have attended a summer intensive at Interlochen Center for the Arts and acted as principal horn for Fayetteville High’s Wind Ensemble, Keming’s modesty was nearly comical. “I think I’m OK,” he said. Don’t mistake his reticence for dispassion, though; Keming lights up when he talks about his work with the Chinese Association of Northwest Arkansas Youth Service Club, where he’s helped coordinate an “Adopt A Street” event, assembled meal boxes for families in need through the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, and helped organize a Chinese New Year celebration at his local library where he introduced his peers to traditions like the dragon dance. When he’s not tied up with that long list of noble pursuits, Keming likes to play Tetris and Minesweeper, and is a fan of Spider-Man comic books, which, he said, are entertaining “but also have a kernel of truth to them.” His college options are bountiful, but he’ll likely commit to attending Carnegie Mellon University, where he’ll study math and computer science. SS

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Ananya Uddanti

ANANYA UDDANTIAge: 17Hometown: Little Rock High School: Little Rock Central High SchoolParents: Himabindu and Vithal Uddanti College plans: Brown University and Brown Warren Alpert Medical School

Ananya Uddanti has been selling her homemade jewelry on Etsy since the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. But she doesn’t do it for herself. The Little Rock Central High senior uses the proceeds from the sales to support the education of two girls who live in the same part of India where her parents were raised. The girls speak Telugu, a language that Ananya can read, write and speak as well, including on her regular Zoom meetings with the two girls. The whole experience is important, Ananya said, because of the personal connections and because she knows the girls wouldn’t have the same educational opportunities without being a part of the program that brought them all together. “I’ve always valued education and I understand how privileged I am to be able to receive that,” she said. When she’s not helping people across the globe, Ananya is pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor. She’s the top-ranked student of 531 in her class and will enroll in an eight-year medical program at Brown University and Brown Warren Alpert Medical School in the fall. Ananya has also published a paper on post-colonial south India and is looking forward to the unique curriculum at Brown. Ananya said she wants to use her education and passions to make change in the world in whatever way she can. “I don’t think when I started making jewelry that I thought I’d be able to sponsor education, but here we are,” she said. GC

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Riley Sanders

RILEY SANDERSAge: 18Hometown: WynneHigh School: Wynne High School Parents: Stephanie and Tom Sanders College plans: Emory University 

Riley Sanders has won a statewide medical competition and has always liked biology, so it makes sense that she wants to enter the medical field where she can try her hand at research. Riley has already seen the inside of a microbiology lab as part of clinicals for her medical lab class where she shadowed professionals working with culture samples, blood cultures and E. coli tests. Riley’s interest in the medical field is also evidenced by her work with Future Health Professionals. Riley won the organization’s statewide competition, which consisted of a 50-question test and performing one of 10 medical skills as directed by a judge. Riley’s work with sterile surgical gloves helped land her the competition’s top prize in medical assisting. It also happens to be where Riley sees herself in the future. “I definitely think health care is going to be where I have my career,” she said. Riley is the second-ranked student in her class of 171 at Wynne High School and her 1360 on the PSAT landed her a national award for high school students from rural areas. She is looking forward to continuing her education by majoring in biology at Emory University in Atlanta, which accepted her through Questbridge with a full-ride scholarship. Riley, who scored a 35 on the ACT, said she’s always been driven to learn new things and to get into a good college. “That’s always really motivated me,” she said. GC

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Daniel Schwammlein

DANIEL SCHWAMMLEINAge: 18Hometown: FayettevilleHigh School: Thaden SchoolParents: Jen and Brian SchwammleinCollege plans: Washington University

At 18, Daniel Schwammlein has already experienced some of life’s most grueling challenges. He’s watched two of his siblings receive cancer diagnoses, and saw one of them pass away as a child. Daniel quickly learned life isn’t guaranteed, and he has vowed to live a life that’s often bold, sometimes silly and always entirely himself. This comes through in Daniel’s academic excellence, his dedication to keep the Latin language alive, vigor on the ultimate Frisbee field, passion during school plays, and creativity as the dungeon master for his Dungeons and Dragons group. (He also made it a tradition to put caramel on pizza each time his party orders a pie for game night.) Every week, Daniel pushes the boundaries of style with “fashion risk Friday” — a day when Daniel may wear a soccer ball as a hat. “I love enjoying life [and] embracing my weirdness,” he said. But Daniel isn’t all play. A man of many talents already, Daniel’s interests primarily revolve around advancing storytelling, whether this be through drawing fantasy maps or leading a D&D campaign by candlelight. His dream is to become an independent video game developer, and he plans to hone his skills with a joint degree in computer science and business at Washington University in St. Louis. And if that’s not enough to keep him busy, Daniel also plans to continue studying Latin in college, where he hopes to find a larger Latin-speaking community. MH

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Chandra Suda

CHANDRA SUDAAge: 17Hometown: BentonvilleHigh School: Bentonville High SchoolParents: Radhika and Vijaya SudaCollege plans: Undecided

Bentonville High School senior Chandra Suda is the kind of kid who spends his free time thinking about how artificial intelligence can be harnessed to solve global health problems. To call this merely a curiosity, though, would be to sell short the myriad ways in which he’s put this passion into practice. One of the many fruits of his labor is the development of a mobile application with a machine learning model that uses cough audio recorded through the microphone of a smartphone to diagnose tuberculosis. “I like finding problems and fixing them,” Chandra said. “Tuberculosis is a common bacterial lung disease that disproportionately affects those in low- and middle-income countries. There’s a cure; it’s just the [lack of] access to the cure that’s causing those millions of deaths a year.” His work on the project has led to presentations at John Hopkins University and the NWA Summit; a four-week stint at MIT’s Beaver Works Summer Institute; internships at Harvard Medical School and Walmart Global Tech; and recognition as a Rise Global Winner. He has no interest in hoarding the knowledge he’s accumulated, though. Through AIMATE — his nonprofit organization — and a YouTube channel, he offers free, educational STEM content via articles, workshops and videos “because,” he said, “as of now, there isn’t much learning for AI questions for high school students.” He also volunteers extensively with the Missouri-Arkansas chapter of the American Red Cross, where he oversees over 250 people as the team lead of the organization’s Missing Maps project. Chandra plans to major in computer science at either Harvard or Stanford and hopes to one day found a startup that he can use to “benefit humanity.” It seems pretty inevitable that he’ll do just that. DG

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Ellie Feng

ELLIE FEN­­­­­­GAge: 17Hometown: ConwayHigh School: Conway High SchoolParents: Yu Sun and Zhidan FengCollege plans: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Perfection can be a tricky thing to strive for, and when Ellie Feng scored the ACT’s golden 36 after her first attempt as a seventh-grader, she took it as a sign to not jinx it with another go. This alone was enough to earn legendary status in the Conway School District, and Ellie has gone on to share her skills and lead tutoring specific to the daunting test. She focuses a lot on inner confidence, instilling in the test taker that they’re capable of more than they think. Tutoring is more of a side gig for Ellie, however, as her real passion is mathematics. Her love sprouted in the fifth grade during a statewide math competition, and it has blossomed into starting her school’s first math club and a middle school competition team, which she also helps coach. Math club meetings vary from eating pie on March 14 for Pi Day to Ellie informing her fellow peers of a new topic she’s learned about. Ellie has already noticed the math field is dominated by men and boys, but she said she’s met plenty of wonderful girls who study math through summer programs. Ellie’s excellence is powered by her love of learning, she said. Even in her many hobbies — quiz bowl, playing viola, folding origami, drawing and dance — she gives it her all. With interests that span the gamut and opportunity for the taking, Ellie is planning for a college experience filled with computer science, math and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MH

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Chris Ablondi

CHRIS ABLONDIAge: 18Hometown: ConwayHigh School: Conway High SchoolParents: Fred and Susan AblondiCollege plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

A “tinkerer at heart,” Chris Ablondi said getting into robotics was a no-brainer. When he joined Conway High School’s robotics team at the behest of his computer science teacher during his 10th grade year, the team consisted of only sophomores. “Coming back from the [COVID-19] year, there were no upperclassmen to help,” he said. When we spoke in April, Chris was preparing for his team’s second consecutive invite to the VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas. He serves as team captain for Conway’s VEX Robotics Club and president of the Wampus Cats’ chapter of the Arkansas Technology Student Association, and this year he was elected to the ARTSA 2024 state officer team. Helping lead the school’s robotics team and grow the program has been one of his proudest high school achievements. He said he was excited to compete in his third consecutive coding hackathon competition; his team finished first in 2023 and second in 2022. Chris is on track to be Conway’s 2024 valedictorian and is an AP Scholar with Distinction. Serving as vice president of Conway’s ACT Club, Chris has mentored other students to help bring up their test scores and, in doing so, has improved his own. “Sometimes in just explaining how to do things, you cement your knowledge in it, and that’s been very fun and rewarding,” he said. At home he made a smart mirror that can tell him the weather while he’s getting ready in the morning. He also used a Shop-Vac and scrap wood to fashion a backyard forge, which he uses to cast metal into complex jewelry. “Just kind of as a hobby, nothing at the professional level,” he said, modestly. Chris plans to study computer engineering and wrote in his All-Star student essay that he looks forward to tinkering with new technologies “and finding unique solutions to the future’s problems.” RB

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Yash Vyas

YASH VYASAge: 18Hometown: Little RockHigh School: Joe T. Robinson High SchoolParents: Keyur and Kanan VyasCollege plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Yash Vyas scored a 34 on the ACT, has taken 10 AP courses, has a 4.28 GPA and is ranked first in his class, but he “doesn’t just spend his time with his nose in a book,” according to his counselor. What she means is that for Yash, immersing himself in the community — at Joe T. Robinson High School and otherwise — is just as important as academic excellence. In other words, it’s hard to find something he hasn’t at least dipped his toe into. If you looked at his volunteer contributions to the Arkansas Foodbank alone, where he spent over 70 hours last summer bagging, boxing and packaging foodstuffs, you’d probably be impressed, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A sampling of the other extracurriculars Yash has racked up over the years: Arkansas Governor’s School, quiz bowl captain, trumpet section leader in band, five separate honor societies and the Library, Science and FCCLA [Family, Career and Community Leaders of America] clubs. Outside of school, he tutors kids of all ages at Gideon Math and Reading, volunteers as an assistant girls soccer coach and is part of the youth council at the Gujarati Samaj of Arkansas. In the fall, he’ll attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with the help of an Honors College fellowship. He’s scoping out a major in biochemistry and has his eyes set on medical school. If all goes according to plan, he’ll eventually become an infectious disease specialist, just like his father. DG

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Claire Hudnell

CLAIRE HUDNELLAge: 18Hometown: Hot SpringsHigh School: Lakeside High SchoolParents: Jason and Melissa HudnellCollege plans: Baylor University

For someone who loves broadcast journalism and aims to get a law degree, Lakeside High School’s Claire Hudnell has just the right temperament. The 18-year-old Baylor-bound student from Hot Springs remains unflappable, even as expectations and obligations ratchet up. Her mad time management skills and rare ability to stay cool under pressure are what spurred Lakeside High Principal Blake Campbell to nominate Hudnell as a 2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star. “Claire’s ability to manage her time and achieve SO much sets her apart from other students,” he said. “Claire never lets feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed show.” This praise is all the more laudable when you consider how overwhelmed and stressed most of us would be with Claire’s schedule. Six of her seven classes this year are for advanced placement, and her GPA sits at 4.9. Claire is also senior class president, an actress, and an award-winning member of both her high school press association and the swim team. She shares those all-conference and all-state swimming bona fides with the children to whom she gives lessons. The secret, she said, is doing what you like. “Yes, I’m very busy. But I also love doing all the things I do, so it doesn’t feel like work so much.” While she’s lived in Hot Springs her whole life, Claire’s horizons are broad. She turned a 10-day mission trip to the Brazilian Amazon into a video, so those who didn’t get to go on the trip could experience it, too. And while she’s not been to Syria, she’s sent some of her heart there. After hearing humanitarian Omar Alshogre speak about the Syrian civil war, Claire produced a film that the Syrian Emergency Task Force used on its social media channels. Come fall, Claire heads to Waco, Texas, where she’ll enroll in a program that will let her focus on both film and political science. AG

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star James Simpson

JAMES SIMPSONAge: 18Hometown: KeiserHigh School: Academies at Rivercrest High SchoolParent: Teresa SimpsonCollege plans: Arkansas State University

James Simpson weathers hardship with an uncommon grace and maturity. When, about four years ago, his father’s sudden diagnosis of vascular dementia forced the family to relocate from outside Nashville, Tennessee, to the less expensive pastures of rural Mississippi County in Arkansas, James grew up fast. “It’s hard as a young man to realize that your father is not going to be around. Everybody has to lose a parent at some point, but you hope it’s not going to be as early,” he said, reflecting on the fact that his father’s condition is fatal. “There’s a lot of things that haven’t exactly been permanent in my life. I stopped expecting things to be permanent and [started] more just trying to be exceptional in every opportunity that I get.” Amid the turmoil, James has excelled in the new environment, despite initially being a stranger to the Rivercrest School District and to public schooling in general (he’d been homeschooled up until the move). While Rivercrest may not offer as many AP classes as high schools in bigger cities, James compensated with coursework at Arkansas Northeastern College and will earn an associate’s degree before he even graduates from high school. When he’s not maintaining a dynamite GPA (he’s Rivercrest’s valedictorian), he plays percussion in the band, a passion that’s allowed him to mentor elementary school- and middle school-aged musicians, taken him to the Colt Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps for a whole summer of performances, and earned him a music scholarship at Arkansas State University, where he’s expecting to double major in computer science and data science. DG

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Stephen Mitchell

STEPHEN MITCHELLAge: 18Hometown: SearcyHigh School: Harding AcademyParents: Brian and Laura MitchellCollege plans: Harding University 

If Searcy residents spotted Stephen Mitchell’s name in the local newspaper, it might have been because he helped Harding Academy’s robotics team put on a two-day regional engineering competition that generated around $20,000 for the city in tourism revenue. Or it could be his participation in a competitive vocal ensemble called Cross Eyed (a clever nod to the school’s Christian affiliation) where he sings the lowest voice part in the choir, Bass II. And singing isn’t the only endeavor in which Stephen likes to wade into the deep end. As a future divinity major and self-described theology nerd, Stephen likes to grapple with the big questions. “I find the Bible to be a really interesting book,” he said, “and I love diving into it and looking at theology, both Christian theology and also world religions.” Faith is a huge part of his life, he told us. “It’s really got me through a lot of tough struggles,” he said, “and it’s kind of what keeps me going.” As an aspiring professional communicator, he’s aiming to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Divinity at Harding University and an accelerated Master’s in Divinity, after which he’d like to go into preaching, or perhaps teaching as a college professor. A polished conversationalist already, Stephen said a job in ministry is where he thinks he could make the most impact. “I don’t want to just do something that’s gonna earn me money,” he said, “or that I’m gonna have a whole lot of fun with. I want to do something that’s actually going out and helping people.” SS

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Karen Umeora

KAREN UMEORAAge: 18Hometown: JonesboroHigh School: Valley View High SchoolParents: Maryjoanne and OUJ UmeoraCollege plans: University of Notre Dame 

In Karen Umeora’s alphabet, as she puts it, “there were 25 letters.” Though you’d never guess it from all the public speaking she does in her capacity as president of Valley View High School’s chapter of Future Health Professionals, Karen was once terrified to speak up in class because of her difficulty pronouncing the letter R. “My teachers would talk to my parents and say, ‘Your daughter doesn’t speak; you need to get her into therapy.’ But I would speak at home normally. I was just so scared that people wouldn’t understand me.” With some coaching from her sisters and a teacher who encouraged her to enter a spelling bee, Karen leapt over that speech hurdle and became one of the most social, communicative students at her school. She’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Science Club, the Spanish Honor Society and the Crown Club and, as a “patient ambassador” for the St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, she shadows nurses and technicians, helping patients with day-to-day needs while they’re hospitalized. She’s also deeply involved in community work through programs like the Northeast Arkansas Chain Reaction Youth Council and the Mayor’s Youth Advancement Council, through which she helped organize a healthy baking class for the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas, a donation drive for hygiene kits for Northeast Arkansans in need, and a Prom Fashion Show benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She’ll put that hospital volunteer experience to work at the University of Notre Dame, following in her physician father’s footsteps on a pre-med track with a minor in Global Health and Theology. “I’m Nigerian,” she said, “and I want to help develop medical care systems for places like Nigeria, where there are people who don’t have access to medical care.” SS

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Marshall Passmore

MARSHALL PASSMORE Age: 17Hometown: North Little RockHigh School: North Little Rock High SchoolParents: Alison and Brent PassmoreCollege plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

For an AP Scholar with Distinction with a 4.3 GPA and a 34 ACT score, Marshall Passmore is modest and earnestly questioned how he made the Arkansas Times All-Star team. He knows he’s smart, but said that his experience at Arkansas Governor’s School after his junior year was eye-opening and made him feel like he was coasting into his senior year. “There were kids just coughing up 36s [perfect ACT scores] in their sleep,” he said. “So it motivated me to be better than I am and try a little harder in my life.” After speaking with him, it’s clear he’s done exactly that. Marshall has volunteered roughly 300 hours of time to community service. For the last two years, he’s served in the STARS (Serving Today’s At-Risk Students) program as a mentor for several at-risk preschool children in the district. “We play games with them, do puzzles, read books and just let them laugh a little when it might not be too easy to do that at home,” he said. He also helps fix up bicycles for Recycle Bikes for Kids, a program that puts ready-to-ride bikes back into the community. “I rode my bike a lot as a kid,” he said. “That’s like your first little sense of freedom, and I just want other kids to be able to experience that.” He began running this school year and found it to be way more difficult than he imagined. Rather than giving up, he sought advice from friends in cross country and realized it’s OK to start slow and gradually build up a pace. He completed a half-marathon this year, and succeeded in his goal of finishing in under 2 hours. In his All-Star student essay, he wrote that what it took to succeed in running is similar to what it takes to be a successful student. “The challenges you face as a learner will never be easy,” he wrote, but with a little effort, “you have the power to face every challenge in your life.” RB

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Kaleb Marshall

KALEB MARSHALLAge: 18Hometown: BentonHigh School: Benton High SchoolParents: Michael and Amanda MarshallCollege plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

It’d be reasonable to assume, looking at Kaleb Marshall’s chart-topping test scores and 4.418 grade average, that he didn’t have time for much of a social life. But for an extrovert like Kaleb, academic rigor and comradery with his classmates go hand in hand. He “can always be found in the center of laughter with a huge smile on his face,” his school counselor, Dot Zaunbrecher, wrote in her recommendation. Asked what the secret was to his vibrant friendships, Kaleb — likely positioned to be Benton High School’s 2023-24 valedictorian — said, “Sometimes all people are looking for is that kid that’s willing to smile first.” What makes Kaleb stand out, Zaunbrecher said, is that “he is more than just a brilliant mind and academically excellent. He is someone who changes lives around him and leads others to greater heights.” A soccer player since childhood and a member of the cross country and chess teams, Kaleb was among the many who volunteered time after the March 31, 2023, tornado, visiting communities with a chainsaw in hand and helping break down fallen trees. At the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, he’ll be an Honors College fellow with a double major in biology and history. After that, he says, he’ll follow his father’s footsteps into the medical field. He’s keeping his options open, but likes the idea of being a surgeon — one of the rare medical professions, he says, where you get to see the concrete results of your work right away. SS

Brian Chilson2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Nasya Choy

NASYA CHOYAge: 17Hometown: ConwayHigh School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the ArtsParents: Edmond Choy and Swee Heng AngCollege plans: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Nasya Choy’s parents accidentally altered the future of the aerospace industry when they named their daughter. “As a kid, I heard ‘NASA’ and thought, ‘that’s close to my name,” Nasya (pronounced NAH-shuh) said. That simple childhood realization fostered an interest in engineering for the self-described “robotics kid, through and through,” and she set her sights on working for NASA one day. Of course, plenty of kids dream of working for America’s space agency. What sets Nasya apart and makes her goals seem less like a dream and more like a foregone conclusion is Nasya’s academic prowess. “Academically, Nasya is unparalleled,” said Bret Valun, Nasya’s college counselor at ASMSA. Nasya is a National Merit Finalist, with a 4.375 GPA and a perfect 36 on her ACT. She was recognized nationally by the Duke University Talent Identification Program in 2019, named a World Science Scholar in 2022, won the statewide Purple Comet math competition in 2023, and qualified for the National Chemistry Olympiad exam as one of the top 10 students in Arkansas. She has multiple regional and statewide robotics competition wins, including back-to-back statewide wins for Best Robot Performance in BEST Robotics competitions. And, though science- and math-heavy homework and participating in multiple STEM-related clubs would leave most folks with no time for anything else, Nasya has also managed to co-found and participate in a dance club at ASMSA. Or, as Valun put it, “Nasya is not just a student; she is a phenomenon.” The phenom, who won’t turn 18 until November, plans to attend MIT in the fall, majoring (of course) in aerospace engineering. While she cautions that “it’s hard to get a job at NASA,” everything about Nasya Choy suggests it is only a matter of time before she makes reaching that goal look easy. MC

2024 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Chloe McNabb

CHLOE MCNABBAge: 17Hometown: MorriltonHigh School: Morrilton High SchoolParents: Cody and Carin McNabbCollege plans: Harding University 

When Chloe McNabb addressed the student body at Morrilton High in a bid for student council president, she didn’t make any promises she wouldn’t be able to keep, like telling her peers they’d be able to use their phones in class. “My pitch was, ‘I’m not going to do any of that,’” she said. But she did make a few promises: “I will always be on your side, I will listen to you and I’ll use whatever power that I do have to try to make things better.” Morrilton Principal Craig Pinion described Chloe as extremely meticulous with leadership qualities well beyond her age. Starting high school in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic gave her an opportunity to put those leadership skills into action. As class president her sophomore year, she was tasked with designing a float for the school’s first homecoming parade in years. She initially began the project by herself, she said, but over time, more and more students got involved. Now, it’s become an annual competition between classes and “one of my absolute favorite things about high school,” she said — a tradition that creates excitement in her community and brings the school together. Chloe was also instrumental in relaunching the Puppies to Dogs program, in which Morrilton High seniors mentor kindergarteners. She described her senior year as “a big organizational undertaking” to restructure the student council to “define exactly what it is that we do,” she said. She’s also found the time to ace AP calculus, AP physics, AP biology and help her basketball team reach the state finals. Chloe loves kids and said her faith in God is a big part of her life. She plans to be a pediatrician and a medical missionary. “I think [it] would just be so incredible to take medical equipment and treatment to [developing] countries that never get to experience the level of care that we have here,” she said. RB


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