Three Carroll County Public Schools students have a few things in common. They were selected as candidates for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, they studied engineering at the Career and Technology Center and they were unfamiliar with the program until they received the good news.
Seniors Yasada De Silva of Century High School, Carrie Geisler of Westminster High School and Gabriel Szybalski of Manchester Valley High School are 2021 candidates for the national program along with 4,000 other students across the country who were selected for the first round.
A release from the school system states the program is one of the highest honors a graduating senior could have. And candidates are selected based on superior academic achievements, artistic achievements, leadership qualities, strong character and involvement in community in school activities.
The U.S. Department of Education also stated on its website that candidates could have also “scored exceptionally well” on the SAT or ACT. Most students are selected based on broad academic achievement and approximately 20 are picked based on academic and artistic scholarship. Another 20 are selected based on outstanding scholarship and accomplishment in career and technical education fields.
De Silva said he earned a perfect score on his SATs when he took them his sophomore year.
The Century High School senior said the email that told him he was selected for the program did not look recognizable. He didn’t know it existed beforehand. But his counselor, Shaunti Taylor, was happy for him.
“She’s been very helpful with everything,” he said.
De Silva said he enjoys working out, playing Dungeon and Dragons and building a robot for the robotics club he is part of.
He said learning during a pandemic hasn’t been too bad for him. He was able to attend in-person engineering classes at the tech center two days a week. His goal is to be an aerospace engineer and hopes the scholars program will lead him to a college program.
Geisler also wants to be an aerospace engineer.
“I’ve been fascinated by space for as long as I can remember,” she said.
She said she really loved the Project Lead The Way, anengineering program at the tech center.
The senior said being selected for the award “was a huge honor” and she’s grateful to have the opportunity.
A panel of educators will review the candidates. About 600 students move on as semifinalists in April, and 161 students are selected as a scholar and honored in Washington, D.C., in June.
Geisler said she had not heard of the program prior to being selected as a candidate but noted that she also scored well on her SATs. She took them in October after they were canceled “about five times before,” she said. “So I was really happy to finally take it.”
She added learning during the pandemic has been different and challenging in ways she did not expect. But her teachers have been wonderful and her parents have been supportive. She has been able to attend the tech center a couple days a week and have hands-on learning.
When she isn’t doing schoolwork, Geisler said she likes to make crafts, play guitar, sing and write songs. She also spends a lot of time volunteering, which includes making pop-up cards for the community and staff at her school.
Szybalski, like Geisler is also into music. He likes playing the piano, guitar and has been learning to play various string instruments during the pandemic. He’s also an avid runner and enjoys noticing directorial shots and styles in classic movies.
Although graduation is not until the spring, the Manchester Valley senior already has a degree. He’s dual enrolled at Carroll Community College and recently received his associate’s degree. It ‘s because he started taking classes there his freshmen year of high school, he said.
Szybalski said he was watching Netflix about two weeks ago when his mom brought in a letter addressed to him from the U.S. Department of Education. He said it caused him to pause “The Office.”
“I had no idea anything like this was coming my way,” he said.
When his teachers found out, they were pleased, he said. And he credits the teachers at the tech center since all three Carroll candidates took classes there.
“I think they’re doing something right,” Szybalski said.