Amanda Bilger says school has always come easy for her, but that doesn't mean she has breezed through Dulaney High School. Now a senior, she took the tough courses, helped the schools VEX Robotics Club qualify for three world competitions, sang in Dulaney's a capella chorus and tutored other kids at school.
A newly named National Merit Scholarship winner, Bilger decided only at the end of April to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia in the fall. She has set her sights on a degree in computer science with a concentration in game development. But that's not enough. She hopes to minor in animation and visual effects and maybe in music and possibly in Chinese or Japanese.
Drexel combines academics with semester-long internships and Bilger, a Lutherville resident, plans to opt for the five-year program that offers three internships. The university also offered her a full scholarship. She received a second scholarship to cover room and board and with the National Merit Scholarship, she'll have her all her college expenses paid. In addition, Bilger is a semifinalist in the U.S. Presidential Scholars program, according to her mother, Susan.
She is one of 1,000 high school seniors to win a corporate-sponsored scholarship based on her achievement as a National Merit Scholarship finalist. Some 1.4 million juniors entered the 2015 National Merit Scholarship competition when they took the Preliminary SATs last year. Of them, 15,000 were named finalists nationwide, according to a press release from Baltimore County Public Schools. National Merit Scholars receive scholarships from colleges, corporate sponsors or the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
Bilger was awarded the National Merit Northrop Grumman Scholarship, given annually to children of employees. Her father, David, is an electrical engineer at Northrop Grumman.
"I've always been self-driven," said Bilger, 17, who is called Mandy. Although she hesitates to say she's motivated by grades, she knows they are important. But learning is the real achievement, she said. "Do all the assignments, learn the material and you don't have to worry about cramming or getting perfect grades," she said. "They'll just come."
And they have for Bilger, who is ranked second in her class at Dulaney with a 4.0 grade-point average — although it's much higher when weighted. Her schedule is filled with AP courses. "You learn more," she said. "I like the faster pace."
Ask Bilger which course she likes best and she answers quickly, Chinese or math — or maybe her computer science class or music theory.
She has studied Chinese for six years, including two at Ridgely Middle School. "I've always been interested in Chinese culture," she said, adding that she hopes studying it will help when she tackles Japanese next year. Bilger is hoping Japanese will help her as she pursues a career in computer game design.
She has gotten a taste of it with the robotics club. Members have designed robots to play games. Their work has qualified for three world competitions out of the last four, Bilger said. "This year, we didn't make it. It was kind of disappointing for senior year," she said.
Bilger loves music, too. She not only studies music theory, she served as group leader for the a capella chorus this year and conducted their spring concert on April 23. "That was really exciting," she said.
She volunteers at her church, Arbutus United Methodist, where she reads scripture at services and fills in at the piano when the music minister is on vacation.
Bilger takes to the stage with two theater companies as well. "I've been involved in community theater for a long time," she said. She's performed in winter and spring productions with the Youth Theatre of North Baltimore County and in summer is active with the Artistic Children's Theatre in Parkton.
After graduation on May 27, Bilger is going to take a break. It'll be a different summer from the last two. She toured Europe singing with American Music Abroad last year and the year before studied in China, living with a Chinese family.
"This summer, it's probably going to be vacation," she said. "Probably just fun stuff for this summer."