Five Harford students are National Merit Scholar semifinalists

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Five Harford County Public Schools students — including four from the Science and Mathematics Academy magnet program at Aberdeen High School — have been selected as semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program’s 2018 competition.

Those five high school seniors are Shourov Kundu, Joseph Mattson, Max Nguyen and Ian Tokarchik, of Aberdeen High, and Adam Del Colliano, of C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air.

Del Colliano, 17, learned of the honor Thursday when he was called to the office of CMW Principal Michael Thatcher.

“I wasn't expecting it at all,” he said Friday. “I was excited when he told me. I had no idea.”

About 1.6 million high school students enter the National Merit Scholarship Program each year — 50,000 of those entrants are selected for recognition in the scholarship program based on their scores from the Preliminary SAT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Tests taken during junior year in high school, according to the NMS program website.

Program officials select from that group 16,000 semifinalists as the top scorers in their states.

There are 222 semifinalists in Maryland, including the five from Harford County Public Schools, according to the schools’ website.

Tokarchik, 17, of Abingdon, said the designation “doesn't really mean a lot in terms of actual scholarships yet.”

Semifinalists must apply and write an essay to be selected as finalists and eventual scholarship winners.

“It's cool to know we're four out of five semifinalists in the county,” Tokarchik said of his Aberdeen classmates.

“I think we have a pretty good shot at getting some money to pay for college,” Mattson, 17, of Fallston, added.

The 7,500 scholarship winners can receive either a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship, a corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship or a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship. The college and corporate scholarships are of varying amounts of money, according to the program website.

The five Harford semifinalists are all currently applying to college. Del Colliano said he plans to study engineering or physics, and the private Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. would be his “top choice.”

He is part of the Project Lead The Way-sponsored four-year pre-engineering program at his school, and he and his fellow seniors are planning their Capstone projects.

Del Colliano, whose father is a civilian engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground, found his passion for engineering after taking an introductory course his freshman year.

“I liked how you could basically come up with new ways to solve programs and design products to help you with those problems,” he said.

A high school physics course “was so interesting to me that I knew I had to do something with physics in it,” Del Colliano said.

He took part in the summer GEMS (Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science) program at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), where he learned about virtual reality and augmented reality technologies. Augmented reality allows the wearer of devices such as Google Glass to see data projected in front of their eyes as they view the real world, while virtual reality users can see a world that isn’t there at all, Del Colliano explained.

“I know that's going to be involved in almost any discipline,” he said of augmented reality, saying the data could eventually be viewed using a contact lens.

Del Colliano said he can envision himself working for the Army or Navy.

“I could see myself doing programming with computers or working with robots,” he said.

Del Colliano is also a member of his school’s robotics club and the cross-country and tennis teams, and he likes to play basketball and soccer with his friends.

SMA students

Max Nguyen, 17, of Bel Air, said he is interested in computer science and wants to attend the University of Maryland College Park.

Tokarchik plans to study theoretical math “and maybe music” in college. He also is considering the University of Maryland College Park as a top choice.

“I'm also going to apply to Princeton [University] just to see if I can get in,” Tokarchik said.

Mattson is considering computer science as a major. His first choice of a college would be Brigham Young University in Utah.

“I’ll try for MIT, not sure if I’ll get in,” he said of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Shourov Kundu, 17, of Bel Air, said he wants to study computer science, possibly with a focus on artificial intelligence. He wants to attend either University of Maryland College Park or MIT.

Kundu also runs for Aberdeen High’s cross-country team and studies astronomy in his spare time.

“I enjoy studying astronomy and reading up on what space organizations are doing, like NASA and SpaceX,” he said.

Mattson said he thinks the rigorous Science and Mathematics Academy magnet program, which is open to students countywide, helped prepare him to get a top score on his PSAT exam.

Nguyen agreed about the magnet program. He said he has heard from graduates who report college is “a little bit easier” compared to their high school experience.

Tokarchik said he enjoys playing guitar and piano.

“I do spend a lot of my free time researching advanced math and physics because I find it fun to learn,” he said.

Mattson is a member of the TechBrick Robotics Club at APG, and Nguyen runs an online photography blog.

The students acknowledged they are entering an era when technology is expected to take over many jobs performed by humans through means such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

Tokarchik said it could still be some time before computers are advanced enough to take on thinking through theoretical math, though.

“I’m pretty sure computers will become more advanced and have more control over our lives,” Mattson said.

Tokarchik suggested implementing a “universal basic income,” which has been promoted in recent months by politicians and business leaders.

“If robots and AI [Artificial Intelligence] are able to do more of the jobs people do, there won't be enough jobs,” he said.

Mattson questioned how that basic income would be paid for, though.

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