Monroeville High School senior Benjamin Schafer recently was named a National Merit Scholar semifinalist — something the school board took time to recognize at Monday’s meeting. Norwalk High School senior Anna Little, the daughter of Jeff and Amy, also is a local semifinalist.
The accomplishment is a prestigious position received by earning one of the highest scores on the PSAT, a college-prep standardized test taken by about 1.6 million students across the nation each year. Of those students, about 34,000 of the highest scorers receive letters of commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corp. From there, the top 16 are named semi-finalists.
In the coming months, Schafer, the son of Don and Annette, will find out if he made the cut to be among the top 15,000 finalists. About 7,500 are named National Merit Scholars, earning awards, recognition and scholarships.
“I was pretty surprised with both the score and the National Merit (semi-finalist position),” Schafer said. “I’m really happy.”
“We are just so happy to see that he’s gotten this far and then anything that comes from here is just frosting on the cake,” Principal Jim Kaczor said.
Sixteen Monroeville High School students took the PSAT this year, said guidance counselor Jen Harvey, who has worked in the district for 18 years. In her time with MHS, Harvey said she’s seen just six semi-finalists.
“It was really neat this year because ... I upload our school profile and as I was uploading it, one of the questions was about National Merit Scholar (semifinalists), so I got to add 2018 to our list,” she said, adding she was “very proud” of Schafer’s achievements.
Schafer said though he’s taken the PSAT sequel, the SAT, once before, he plans to take it again in November to attempt to improve his chances of progressing in the competition.
“We’re awfully proud of you,” Superintendent Ralph Moore told Schafer at the board meeting. “One of the things we try to do here and one of the things I know the board really believes in, is athletic and academic recognition. We’re very proud of both. You see those banners hanging up in the gym; we’d love to put you up there someday.”
One of Schafer’s relatives, Adam Mastroianni, is a 2010 MHS graduate who was recognized with a banner in the Monroeville Athletic Complex (MAC) for his academic accomplishments.
For Schafer, the competition is important because he intends to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) aerospace engineering program.
“It’s all about the admissions,” he said with a laugh.
Schafer added he’s more interested in the program’s prestige than the scholarship money that comes with it, since it will be something that sets him apart from other applicants.
“The recognition — that really is the really important part,” he said. “I mean, the money is obviously great, but the recognition from the schools — they’ll give you a lot better scholarships — that’s the important thing.”
Schafer’s interest in aerospace started when he was young. Originally he was interested in the airplane design side of the industry, but gradually shifted toward the space-side of things.
“When I was growing up, my dad and I always connected over planes,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s something about it; we both kind of think in that way. Then as I got older, I got more interested in space and it just grew into something I really enjoyed and it’s what I want to do.”
Schafer’s father Don, an engineer, said both he and his son “have that engineering mindset” — something he and his wife Annette attribute to challenging their children.
“I think he’ll be a good engineer,” Don Schafer said. “We always told our boys, ‘We’ll buy anything you want to read.’ We buy them any book that they want and always encouraged them to read. It’s benefited both of our boys.”
”We’re extremely proud of him,” Annette added.
“We can’t take much credit for it other than challenging him every step along the way. He’s always had the same goal ... He’s always been pretty interested in weather and how things work. I think challenging the kids, giving them something above where they are, something to work toward, I think that made a difference.”
What is Schafer’s plan for the rest of the competition?
“Do my best and see what happens,” he said.