National Merit Scholarship Program honors 2 McAllen ISD students

Two McAllen ISD students have been named to a prestigious group of national scholars.  

The National Merit Scholarship Program has recognized high school seniors Emil Velasquez and Kathryn Gurwitz. Velasquez is from Achieve Early College High School and Gurwitz, is a McAllen High School senior participating in the International Baccalaureate Programme at Lamar Academy. Both have been selected as Semifinalists. 

They are two of just 11 students across the Rio Grande Valley to be so honored. 

Officials of National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) announced that Velasquez and Gurwitz were two of approximately 16,000 Semifinalists in the 66th annual National Merit Scholarship Program.  

Velasquez is the first Achieve ECHS student ever selected for this honor. Achieve opened in 2008 and provides students a path to take dual-credit courses and possibly earn a college Associates Degree through South Texas College before they even graduate high school. Last year, Achieve graduates set a school record with 87.6% of seniors earning their Associates Degree through STC. 

The IB is a globally recognized, rigorous curriculum. It aims to educate all students to become lifelong learners and productive citizens in an ever-changing global society through comprehensive, academically challenging program of studies that uses technology and community resources. McAllen ISD offers the Primary Years Programme (grades 1-5), the Middle Years Programme (grades 6-10) and the Diploma Programme (grades 11-12). The Diploma Programme and part of the Middle Years Programme are based at Lamar Academy. 

The National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $30 million that will be offered next spring.  

To be considered for a Merit Scholarship® award, Semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. More than 90 percent of the Semifinalists are expected to attain Finalist standing, and about half of the Finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar® title. 

NMSC, a not-for-profit organization that operates without government assistance, was  established in 1955 specifically to conduct the annual National Merit Scholarship Program.  

Scholarships are underwritten by NMSC with its own funds and by approximately 400 business organizations and higher education institutions that share NMSC’s goals of honoring the nation’s  scholastic champions and encouraging the pursuit of academic excellence. 

More than 1.5 million juniors in about 21,000 high schools entered the 2021 National Merit  Scholarship Program by taking the 2019 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying  Test (PSAT/NMSQT®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. The nationwide pool of Semifinalists, representing less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state. The number of Semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the national total of graduating seniors. 

To become a Finalist, the Semifinalist and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application, in which they provide information about the Semifinalist’s academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards received. A Semifinalist must have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be endorsed and recommended by a high school official, write an essay, and earn SAT® or ACT® scores that confirm the student’s earlier performance on the qualifying test. 

Merit Scholar designees are selected on the basis of their skills, accomplishments, and potential for success in rigorous college studies, without regard to gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference. 

Three types of National Merit Scholarships will be offered in the spring of 2021. Every  

Finalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit® $2500 Scholarships that will be awarded on a state-representational basis. About 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards will be provided by approximately 220 corporations and business organizations for Finalists who meet their specified criteria, such as children of the grantor’s employees or residents of communities where sponsor plants or offices are located. In addition, about 180 colleges and universities are expected to finance some 4,100 college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists who will attend the sponsor institution.