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Two Howard County students win national education award

Two high school seniors from Howard County were named 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars on Thursday.

Bill Tong, a student at Atholton High School, and Nadine Meister, who attends Centennial, were among 161 students across the country to receive the U.S. Department of Education honor.

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Criteria for selection by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars includes academic success, essays, school evaluations, community service and leadership. The winners were picked from a pool of 5,300 students who qualified for the award based on their SAT/ACT scores or through other nominations.

Bill Tong, left, of Atholton High School was one of two high school seniors from Howard County to be named a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar. At right is classmate David Balakirskoy.
Bill Tong, left, of Atholton High School was one of two high school seniors from Howard County to be named a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar. At right is classmate David Balakirskoy.(Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Tong, of Columbia, is one of the leaders of the Bioma Project, which puts aquariums in elementary and middle school classrooms to inspire students to become stewards of the natural world.

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In 2017, Ellicott City resident Meister was a regional finalist in the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. She teamed up with Centennial classmate Andrew Zhao for a project on how modified borophene — a two-dimensional material made from the element boron — can improve processing and data storage. Earlier this year, Meister was a finalist in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the oldest science and math competition for high school seniors in the country.

Nadine Meister of Centennial High School was one of two high school seniors from Howard County to be named a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar.
Nadine Meister of Centennial High School was one of two high school seniors from Howard County to be named a 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar.(Photo courtesy)

Honorees were asked to choose an influential teacher they’ve had to be recognized as a “Distinguished Teacher.” Tong picked Philip Herdman, who currently teaches history at Mt. Hebron and previously was at Clarksville Middle School. Meister chose Centennial biology teacher Jason Piluk.

Tong and Meister were two of five seniors from Maryland recognized May 21, along with Pranav Tadikonda, who attends Richard Montgomery High School; Maria Christina Hancu, who attends Poolesville Senior High School; and Robert Wachen of Winston Churchill High School. Last year, Mt. Hebron student Chase Blanchette won the award and named Mt. Hebron economics teacher Vann Prime as his influential teacher.

A ceremony for the winners is usually held in June, but details for this year’s event are still to be determined due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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