OHS teens named merit semifinalists

Young women looking to pursue careers in math, science


Three Oceanside High School seniors are well on their way to careers in mathematics and science, thanks to high scores in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

All three were named semifinalists last week, the first step toward winning a college scholarship from the nonprofit organization, having scored at or above 219 on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which has a maximum score of 240. Officials at the College Board, which administers the test, said the average score is around 160.

The three seniors are Marissa Colasacco, 17, Brittany Kwait, 17, and Stephanie Nagel, 16.

Nagel, who studied hard for the test, scored a 225, which makes her a good bet for a slot as a finalist. “My score was impressive, and it makes me proud,” she said. “It’s something to be in the top 1 percent in the nation on a test like that.”

Nagel told the Herald that she wants to be an actuary and work in risk management. And she doesn’t want to go away to college, looking instead to local schools such as Hofstra, Columbia and New York University, with Queens College also in the mix.

“I made my parents proud,” she added. “My mom helped me a lot by motivating me. She pointed out that the test, which is thought by many kids to be unimportant, is really important.”

Nagel finished calculus last year, and during the summer took an online advanced calculus class. At Oceanside High, she is involved with the Math League and the Hebrew Culture Club.

Colasacco, on the other hand, went into the test “underprepared,” as she described it. She said she didn’t study at all, thinking of the test as a pretest for the “real SAT” and a chance to see which areas she needed to work on. She scored 219.

Colasacco said she wasn’t surprised that she got a perfect score on the math section, but she was surprised that she did so well on the English section.

She hopes to go to either Columbia or Tufts to study mechanical engineering. Her ultimate dream is to work for NASA, helping to put vehicles into space.

Colasacco is the captain of the OHS girls’ soccer team and a member of the track team, specializing in the 400-meter dash. “Sports isn’t a priority for me in college,” she said, “but I am pretty dedicated, and run every day.”

She said that her parents were proud of her for doing so well on the test. “They say, ‘Where did you come from?’ to me,” she said with a laugh.

On the “real” SAT, which she took during her senior year, she scored a perfect 800 on the math section. “It all comes naturally to me,” she said.

Kwait also said she wasn’t surprised by her score on the test, a 226. “When the college board called me to tell me, I wasn’t surprised at all,” she said. “I thought the math part was pretty easy.”

Kwait achieved a perfect score of 2,400 later on the SATs.

She plans to attend Duke, Harvard or John Hopkins as a pre-med major, and go into either medicine or research. “I know it’s a long journey,” she said, “but I’m really excited to make it.”

She does community service work and is editor in chief of the school’s newspaper as well as a dancer, having taken lessons for years.

According to National Merit Scholarship officials, some 1.5 million juniors in more than 22,000 high schools entered the 2014 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2012 qualifying test. The nationwide pool of semifinalists, representing less than 1 percent of high school seniors, includes the highest scoring entrants in each state.

To become finalists, semifinalists and their high schools must submit detailed scholarship applications, on which they provide information about their academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment, and honors and awards they have received. A finalist must have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be endorsed and recommended by a high school official, write an essay and earn SAT scores that confirm his or her performance on the qualifying test.

Finalists will be notified early in 2014.