WIZ KIDS: (From left) Greenwood High's Anna Johnson, Episcopal Collegiate's Adanna Mogbo and Springdale High's Ryan Espejo.

The 2021 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team, the 27th team the Times has honored, includes quiz bowl savants, budding novelists, future engineers and doctors and championship athletes. There’s rarely a B on the transcripts of these students in not just this, their senior year, but in any year of their high school careers. Read on for stories of inspiration in these troubled times. And see lists of All-Star finalists and nominees.

Traditionally, the All-Star team is made up of 10 boys and 10 girls, but this year’s class of boys was so strong our judges, retired school counselor Sam Blair and nonprofit leader and former State Board of Education member Mireya Reith, insisted on 11 boys.

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ALONDRA BAHENA

ALONDRA BAHENA
Hometown: Springdale
High School: Springdale High School
Parents: Argelia Obispo and Miguel Bahena
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville 

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The role of law enforcement in American lives has been under some intense scrutiny over the course of the last year, and Alondra Bahena has stepped into that dialogue with purpose and intention — not to mention two languages in which to carry out the conversation. “It’s such a blessing,” she said. Fluency in both English and Spanish, Alondra said, helps her feel like she “can connect and relate to twice as many people.” Alondra will graduate first in her class, and as a member of Bentonville’s Law and Public Safety Academy and a scholar in her school’s Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America, she hopes to keep making those connections as an attorney, helping people understand their rights and navigate legal systems that can present daunting barriers for people who aren’t fluent in English. “I want to help others,” Alondra said, “to represent the underrepresented, to advocate for those that cannot. … People need help when it comes to that. They need a lawyer who they can trust will have their best interests at heart.” What opened her eyes to the field of law — and the disparities in and around the field — was part fiction, part reality. In her own experience, Alondra had a close friend with whom she shared an academic trajectory, and who was equally committed to excelling in school. “It came up one day that she doesn’t have legal documentation; she’s not a United States citizen. And whenever college discussions came up, it was really upsetting to hear her not pursuing the same universities that I’d be able to, or the same scholarships, because of her status.” The other factor? Criminal justice shows on television — initially CBS’ “Criminal Minds.” Law, Alondra said, is complicated, and when the general population isn’t educated on how the law applies to them, it can sow division and tension. “I want to be a mediator,” she said, someone who can instead sow trust. SS

SHIULI BATRA

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SHIULI BATRA
Hometown: Bentonville
High School: Haas Hall Academy Bentonville
Parents: Sonali Batra and Samit Batra
College Plans: University of Texas-Austin 

When times get tough, the tough examine the times, evidently. Shiuli Batra’s senior AP Capstone Project was titled “The Negative Mental Health Impacts of Social Isolation in Teenagers,” inspired by real-life experiences she and her peers had as a result of the pandemic. “Adults were affected economically, obviously — jobs were taken away, which is obviously awful. But for teenagers, we’re in such a fragile part of our life where our brains are sort of being molded and formed, if something so impactful happens, it could have a long-term effect on our mental health and how we end up behaving as social creatures.” One section of her project examines social media behaviors. Before the pandemic, Shiuli said, “social media was sort of an escape. But now that school and everything is online, too, the line between the virtual world and reality has been blurred.” Shiuli was raised in India as the daughter of a military officer, and lived there until she was 15, when her family moved to the United States. During her early education, she was introduced to economics, and fell in love. “Not like algebra. When am I ever going to use the quadratic formula in the real world? Economics’ basic principles play into so many everyday things,” she said. Shiuli will pursue a degree in business with a minor in psychology, though her studies have ranged far and wide; she concluded a virtual undergraduate degree in a type of classical Indian dance called Kathak, she’s a varsity tennis player, a member of Girls Who Code and a dedicated volunteer who’s organized blood drives, clothing drives and service projects with a local children’s shelter as vice president of her school’s Interact program. “My mom is in the corporate world, so just looking at her, my dream is to become a strong female leader figure, an executive of some sort. Particularly, I’d like to pursue international business.” SS

CLAYTON BOOTHE

CLAYTON BOOTHE
Hometown: Maumelle
High School: Maumelle High School
Parents: Kelly and Tom Boothe
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville 

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One of Clayton Boothe’s proudest high school achievements came not long before the statewide school closures last spring. He was awarded first chair in trumpet at the Arkansas All-State band auditions. He’s a member of his school’s marching band, which due to the pandemic, hasn’t marched or played outside of Maumelle in 2021. Clayton writes music “constantly” and has played the piano for more than a decade. He writes solo music on the piano and also composes music for full band and orchestra. He also writes poetry and finds inspiration through travel, which he hopes to get the opportunity to do again soon after having different camps and trips canceled over the course of the past year. He plans on entering the architecture program at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where opportunities to study abroad are incorporated into the program. Some places he’d like to visit: Scandinavia, United Arab Emirates, France and California. Clayton is No. 1 in his class with a 4.32 GPA. He was a virtual attendee of Arkansas Governor’s School, captain of his school’s quiz bowl team and a National Merit Semi-Finalist. He loves math and science and has been able to attend two STEM competitions this year: the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts’ Governor’s All-State Coding Competition and the ASMSA High School Hack. His teams won first place in both. He’s also the president and founder of the chess club at Maumelle High. When playing chess, he said, you have a strategy and have to remember it for several moves to come while having other ones going. There’s a lot of internal multitasking, a skill he’s been forced to hone in his senior year. “I’ve had to do that quite a bit recently, especially with the pandemic because a lot of stuff has been on my own time instead of all together, so I’ve had to figure out when to do what and be able to juggle several things at once.” RB

ROBIN ELUVATHINGAL

ROBIN ELUVATHINGAL
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central
Parents: Renjith Davis and Reshmi Jose
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Each year growing up, Robin Eluvathingal participated in the Arkansas Kerala Association’s Onam festival to mark the yearly harvest festival in Robin’s parents’ home state of Kerala in southern India. His attire would vary by year — it might be a kurta or a ’70s disco suit, “but the purpose was the same: to put on a show.” It was with the AKA, he said, “that I learned to create, not with text or ink, but with my words and actions.” Robin is first in his class with a 4.52 GPA. He’s an AP scholar, he won the state championship at the Arkansas Ethics Bowl and he was the second-place finisher at the Arkansas State Science and Engineering Fair. But Robin’s proudest accomplishment came during the pandemic when he completed his Eagle Scout project installing fishing benches around the lake at Boyle Park. “My Eagle Scout project was the first time that I’ve used my knowledge and my experience to help other people. And the physicality of it, there’s something there that will last for a while that I have done and people will be able to use. I feel like that is pretty important.” Robin volunteered 30-plus hours a year with the National Honor Society and roughly 16 hours a week at Baptist Health North Little Rock as a part of the Volunteen program. He started a free tutoring program for kindergarten through eighth-graders in affiliation with the Thompson Library. It mimicked a program at Central but focused on younger students to give them a strong foundation for their high school careers. Robin’s plan is to major in biochemistry. “I’m definitely majoring in some STEM field. That’s something that always appeals to me. It’s sort of a way to answer the questions that the world presents.” RB

DENIZ ERDAG

DENIZ ERDAG
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Little Rock Central High School
Parents: Veysel Erdag and Gulay Ciler Erdag
College Plans: University of California, Berkeley

While her friends may describe Deniz Erdag as adventurous or spontaneous, she’s also intelligent, dedicated and ready to take on her future. Since moving to the United States from Turkey when she was in seventh grade, Deniz has succeeded not only in academics, but in Olympic-style archery using the recurve bow. Deniz has the drive to learn and the ingenuity to teach herself, whether that is improving her archery skills or teaching herself to play the flute. Her varied interests also include ballet, piano and volunteering at Camp Aldersgate. In the academic world, Deniz’s main area of interest is the sciences, and she plans to major in physics or electrical engineering in college to prepare her for studying astrophysics in graduate school. She knows the foundations of physics and the hands-on experiences of engineering will both prepare her for research in astrophysics and possibly even craft her own machinery for her future research. This love of science blossomed from a memorable lab lesson when Deniz was a freshman at Little Rock Central High School. When she realized “the fact that I saw something I couldn’t understand” in this lab lesson about the scale of the universe, Deniz knew that was the field for her. Her interest has since grown in understanding more about modern physics and the study of the universe. Deniz’s science fair project about her beloved sport of archery took her all the way to the international level of competition, giving her a chance to build confidence in her presentation skills along the way. NG

RYAN ESPEJO

RYAN ESPEJO
Hometown: Springdale
High School: Springdale High School
Parents: Kimberly and Patrick Espejo
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

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The opening line of Ryan Espejo’s All-Star student essay: “Growing up with cerebral palsy imposed many challenges in my daily life, but I was not going to let that stop me.” 

He hasn’t. Ryan is third in his class and has a 4.2 GPA. He’s also captain of his school’s tennis team and gives lessons to beginners. A combination of the gifted and talented program and a field trip to Springdale High School’s Engineering Academy piqued his interest in STEM when he was in elementary school. When Ryan entered high school, he enrolled in the Engineering Academy and now mentors students in engineering. The program’s annual STEM Day was canceled this year, so Ryan took it upon himself to see it through by using grant money from the program to gather materials and do a virtual STEM Day for kids. He also tutors virtual students outside of school.“I feel like the more people you inspire to get involved in STEM [the more people] you can help,” he said. His senior project for engineering is designing a door opener that would work on a variety of door handles to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Ryan developed an interest in the stock market in elementary school and won the Economics Arkansas Stock Market Game his fourth-grade and seventh-grade years. He currently uses the Robinhood app to invest, which he plans to continue to use through college. He also wants to use A.I. to build a portfolio to fund startups around Arkansas to promote STEM. He plans to get into research and work with people with disabilities to help improve their lives and overcome their everyday challenges. “It’s really personal to me because I do have a disability, and I’ve thrived in education. So I’m going to use my abilities and what I’ve been able to accomplish to help other people who are not as fortunate as I am.” RB

MICHALE FINKENBINDER

MICHAEL FINKENBINDER
Hometown: Dardanelle
High School: Dardanelle High School
Parent: Neil Finkenbinder
College Plans: Harvard University or Swarthmore College

A self-proclaimed introvert with a fear of public speaking, Michael Finkenbinder joined the debate team his freshman year at the suggestion of his oral communications teacher. He’s now the captain of the team and has won first place in various events at Arkansas State Speech and Debate tournaments. He has competed nationally and won reserve champion at the Western National 4-H Roundup. Michael placed as a national semifinalist at Depauw University’s Ethics Bowl Invitational. He’s first in his class, scored a perfect 36 on his ACT and has been accepted to Harvard and Swarthmore College. But Michael’s proudest accomplishment of the last four years has been his work in the community. He secured donations from local businesses to construct, plant and maintain two raised-bed vegetable gardens for a food pantry that provides food for more than 1,900 nutritionally insecure families across three Arkansas counties. He collected 45 pairs of shoes for distribution in developing nations. He volunteered more than 150 hours and helped raise over $10,000 for Equestrian Zone, a nonprofit therapeutic riding center. Michael said volunteering his time and efforts has been eye-opening. “It kind of forces you to do a little bit of a double take as to what’s going on around you. You can’t necessarily be absorbed just in what’s happening in your immediate vicinity and what’s happening directly to you. It really brings in those perspectives of the people around you that are maybe a little more disadvantaged that have had challenges in their life that you haven’t had to face, and it really brings a new perspective to life as a whole.” RB

WILL FOWLKES

WILL FOWLKES
Age: 18
Hometown: Mountain View
High School: Mountain View High School
Parents: Tyler and Jennifer Fowlkes
College Plans: Vanderbilt University

If participants in the Arkansas Governor’s Quiz Bowl wore jerseys and high schools retired them, Will Fowlkes’ number would surely be hanging in the rafters of Mountain View High School. He’s had a sterling career: His team won two state championships in junior high school and and two in high school (the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic). He’s been the MVP of every tournament he’s played in since 10th grade and his career high school record was 111 wins and only 11 losses. What are his strengths? Pretty much all topics, save sports and film. That includes what’s known in the quiz bowl world as “list learning.” For example, Will can name every U.S. president, first lady and vice president. He can draw and label the periodic table from memory and name the location of every national park. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s a hungry learner with strong opinions. He led the school’s chess club, which also won a 2021 state championship, and he’s used its meetings as forum for discussion of hot button topics. In his spare time, he takes online college-level classes from The Great Courses Plus, most recently on Japanese culture and history. This summer, he hopes to teach himself Japanese and learn multivariable calculus. His future is hazy for philosophical reasons. “I really don’t have a clue what I want to do. In 10 years, I don’t want to have a clue what I want to do either. The thought of doing one thing for a plurality or even a majority of my life seems preposterous. Every few decades I want to do something new or recycle something old that really challenges me. At some point, if you keep doing the same thing over and over, it’s like your life is put on autopilot.” (Editor’s note: Ouch!) LM 

JOHNATHAN IVEY

JONATHAN IVEY
Age: 18
Hometown: Greenwood
High School: Greenwood High School
Parents: Jeff and Amy Ivey
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville  

Jonathan Ivey loves to provide a helping hand. From volunteering around Greenwood to cleaning up after a community fireworks celebration, he enjoys doing the little things to help out in his community. He even wants to pursue a career in data science rather than cyber security because he believes it provides more opportunity to impact people’s lives. “In cyber security, you can protect people’s data, but in data science, you can really make a difference in a more humanitarian effort,” Jonathan said. But he doesn’t seek attention for helping out, like the time he single-handedly cleaned up a Fourth of July celebration in the early morning hours without anyone knowing. “I cannot help but wonder how many similar stories I haven’t heard about this young man,” his AP literature and creative writing teacher Nikki Adams* said. The Greenwood senior excelled in numerous AP classes, robotics competitions and chess and helped the quiz bowl team to a second-place finish** in the state championship. Jonathan says he always gave his best no matter how difficult or easy the subject matter in a particular class might have been. “I always felt like I wanted to put in extra effort to make sure I did my best job while I was there,” he said. Ranked first in his class of 264 at Greenwood High School and with a 36 on the ACT, Jonathan will attend the University of Arkansas and major in data science, which the university added as a major last year. “I just get to jump right in to doing what I’m really interested in,” he said. “I’m really excited about that.” GC

MACY JAMES

MACY JAMES
Age: 18
Hometown: Calico Rock
High School: Calico Rock High School
Parents: Brian James and Lisa James
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

To visit with Macy James is to meet a joyful young woman passionate about music. She found her people with band in seventh grade and shortly after set a goal to become a music teacher. Being blind, Macy began to understand the elements of music education that needed accommodation for other students who are blind or visually impaired. She has had wonderful teachers and says she “could not have succeeded without band directors who were willing to accommodate for me.” While she has been able to compete and excel in both instrumentation and singing, she has also been an advocate for elements like braille music being available at competitions so that blind students can compete in every event. During the pandemic and the rise in virtual education, Macy was able to help develop content for other blind and visually impaired students throughout Arkansas. It should be no surprise that with these passions for music and learning, Macy plans to major in music education to eventually teach music at a school for the blind. Not only will she be studying music, but Macy will also be joining the Arkansas Razorbacks marching band this fall and is excited to go from a 12-piece band to the 350-piece marching band. While she has won academic awards, recognition as a musician, and the honor of singing the national anthem at many community sporting events, she says her friends along the way are what have made high school special. Macy describes the love and support in her group of friends as her biggest source of joy in high school. NG

ANNA JOHNSON

ANNA JOHNSON
Age: 18
Hometown: Greenwood
High School: Greenwood High School
Parents: Brad and Sandy Johnson
College Plans: Hendrix College

Volleyball has been a passion throughout Anna Johnson’s high school career. She loves the team chemistry that develops and all the friends she made through the sport. In fact, some of her proudest moments include being voted by her peers to serve on the volleyball leadership council and later receiving an MVP award. Anna called this special award an “accumulation of three years of hard work that paid off.” Hard work is something Anna is familiar with in her academics as well. She has excelled in her coursework, standardized tests and extracurricular opportunities, including the Arkansas State Beta Convention. Beta Club has been one of Anna’s favorite organizations in high school because of all the various volunteer opportunities, like her school’s Veterans Day recognition. Combining her drive, her spirit of volunteerism and her love of sports has made coaching Little League a perfect outlet for Anna. She described loving “being around little kids’ energy and how happy and bubbly they are.” Balancing all of her commitments is possible with Anna’s steady, organized personality and her support system. Her parents, both doctors, have inspired her to combine her love of learning and helping others into her future career goal: medicine. Anna plans to study math at Hendrix College before pursuing medical school. After a high school course load full of AP classes, she is set to thrive in the next steps of her education. Her school counselor said, “The thing that impresses me the most about Anna is her kind and caring spirit. I have seen her sit with a struggling student until she is able to help that student understand. … Anna has the background and motivation to make a difference in the world of tomorrow.” NG

DAYE CATHERINE KWON

DAYE CATHERINE KWON
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts
Parents: Yeil Kwon and Changsuk Ahn
College Plans: Yale University

Daye Catherine Kwon’s resume includes a long, impressive list of achievements; she says she finds joy in learning and challenging herself. From her freshman biology class, Catherine felt drawn to the life sciences and eventually found a passion for neuroscience. She plans to study both neuroscience and art at Yale University this fall. She is well-equipped for both courses of study, having achieved excellent scores in high-level classes and academic competitions, along with winning art competitions such as the 2021 Thea Foundation scholarship. While painting is one talent Catherine possesses, she hopes to learn more about digital design in her college studies. One reason art is a passion for this 4.0 student is because it helped Catherine to connect with other students as she moved schools several times, including moving to the United States in first grade. Along with art club, opportunities like the Brain Bee neuroscience competition gave her other chances to connect with like-minded peers. She volunteers much of her time at the Korean School in Little Rock, where she co-teaches Introduction to Korean as a Language and Taekwondo. Catherine takes pride in working at the school and spreading her love for Korean culture to young children. Her persistence to excel is the characteristic Catherine is most proud of; one reason she enrolled at ASMSA for the last two years of high school was to take dynamic classes she could enjoy while truly challenging herself. NG

JADA LAWSON

JADA LAWSON
Hometown: North Little Rock
High School: North Little Rock High School
Parents: James and Danette Lawson
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

If Fred Rogers’ counsel to “look for the helpers” is good advice for difficult times, count Jada Lawson as a sharp observer. Watching the way medical professionals responded to the pandemic over the last year helped shape her path of study and her career aspirations. “That’s when something in me lit up,” Jada said. “I want to be one of those people who can actually help. But I’m not the most talkative person. So I was thinking I’d do something that deals less with communication with patients and more with the technical side, with math and science, which are my two strongest [academic areas.]” As a biomedical engineer, Jada dreams of creating and maintaining “equipment for diagnosing and treating medical problems that could possibly help save millions of lives, from coming up with new vaccines to building legs for my amputee uncle.” Jada’s school counselor, Gwen Leger, described her as “a true leader among her peers, who often look to her to set the tone. … Because she leads by example, her classmates have a great deal of respect for her unassuming, nonjudgmental manner.” Jada is a volleyball star, and a huge part of being a student athlete, she notes, “is managing your time. To play volleyball every night and then come home and do homework and study for tests, I’ve learned how to multitask and pretty much manage my time.” No doubt that skill’s been an asset to her; Jada’s also a member of the NAACP and of her high school’s chapter of Mu Alpha Theta, National Honor Society and Student Council, a mentor to pre-K children through her school’s peer leadership program and a volunteer with the school district’s Literacy Bus, a mobile tutoring program aimed at increasing literacy levels among elementary school students. SS

KEVIN LIU

KEVIN LIU
Age: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville
High School: Fayetteville High School
Parents: Linda Liu and Xiaoqing Liu
College plans: University of Pennsylvania  

Kevin Liu spent the summer of 2018 talking on the phone. But he wasn’t chatting with his friends. He was talking to voters in Missouri about one of the mostly hotly contested elections of the year. A native of Rolla, Missouri, Kevin interned for the U.S. Senate campaign of then-Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was locked in a reelection battle with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. Kevin called voters on the phone, knocked on their doors and worked alongside the field director and he got to see a political campaign from the inside. “It gave me a much more nuanced view of a normal voter away from how it’s depicted on major news networks,” he said. Although McCaskill lost the race, Kevin’s interest in public policy continued. He went on to serve as vice president of the Young Democrats and co-president of Model UN at Fayetteville High School. Kevin will study business economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania this fall. He excelled at FHS, where he is ranked first of 627 students in his class. He scored a 36 on the ACT, was named a National Merit Finalist, won economics competitions and qualified for the National Science Bowl. Despite his achievements, Kevin has a humble outlook on his academic success. “I think it was just a lot of work and a lot of studying, if I’m being totally honest,” Liu said. “It was just putting in the effort, making some sacrifices in terms of my time to focus on the ACT or to focus on my classes.” GC

PEDRON MANON

PEDRO MANON
Age: 18
Hometown: Springdale
High School: Har-Ber High School
Parents: Andres and Susy Manon
College Plans: Undecided

Pedro Manon’s transcript contains the usual academic excellence and extracurricular involvement of a driven young man. But it’s his appreciation for the qualities of others that sets the 18-year-old child of Mexican immigrants apart. “I go to a high school with a lot of diversity,” he said. “I’d say that our school is a lot more diverse than most in the entire country.” Har-ber High’s student body, Pedro reports, is 40 percent Hispanic, maybe 7-8 percent Marshallese. “I feel very fortunate to go to a school where there is a large mix of people. I feel proud I can go to a school where I can meet a lot of different people. Arkansas is not some enclosed area; we will eventually leave the state, maybe, or people will come to us. We will have to learn to get along with others and learn how others function outside of Arkansas. Going here has definitely exposed me to different cultures in the world and has got me excited to learn about others.” Pedro has been a straight-A student since eighth grade en route to being the top-ranked student in his class. Among his honors are National Merit Finalist, National AP Scholar, National Hispanic Recognition Scholar and Hispanic Scholar Finalist. Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Duke, Washington University in St. Louis and Texas A&M are all potential landing spots after graduation. “I want to go to one of these universities and major in computer science and hopefully become a software engineer in the future,” he said. “I believe that software engineers are going to have a lot more impact in the future than they currently do in the present. And they currently have a tremendous impact. I want to be at the forefront of this field, of this industry, so that hopefully I can make an impact on it for the better.” DH

SERGIO MARKIN

SERGIO MARKIN
Age: 17
Hometown: North Little Rock
High School: eSTEM Public Charter High School
Parents: Brandon Markin and Mariella Hernandez
College Plans: MIT or the University of Chicago

How has Sergio Markin, who will graduate at the top of his class with a 4.43 GPA and a perfect 36 ACT score, managed a near flawless academic career? There’s hard work, of course. But Sergio chalks much of it up to his disposition. “I’m lucky enough to really enjoy all the things I’ve studied in school. I’m just fascinated with almost anything. I always have too many interests, and it’s hard to divide my time.” He’s a talented artist. Science and math have always captured his attention, and, if pressed, he’ll say physics is a likely major in college, though he’s eager to explore. And writing fiction has been something he’s felt compelled to do since he was young, “the way that some people dance or play a sport,” he wrote in his All-Star essay. It’s an immersive way for him to express himself — and a way to blend passions. Some of his stories take place in a space station, others in a future world with advanced technology. Meanwhile, he’s active in eSTEM’s Quiz Bowl and robotics teams, both of which he said he joined largely because he enjoyed the company of his teammates. Outside of school, since ninth grade he’s trained at Unity Martial Arts, where he’s earned a green belt with one brown stripe. He likes the physicality of it, but it’s the philosophies that underpin martial arts he’s found especially useful. Thinking of discipline beyond its pejorative connotations has helped him not get down on himself when he makes mistakes. “When we talk about discipline at the dojo there’s more of an emphasis on thinking of it as constantly correcting yourself,” Sergio said. “Not punishing yourself if you do wrong, but always moving back to the right thing. The visual I like is … a straight path toward your goals. Sometimes you stray from your path. If you’re working out, you may have a cheat day and eat things you’re not supposed to. The point of discipline isn’t to get mad at yourself if you make those mistakes, but to come back to the path if you’ve strayed.” LM

EDWIN MARTINEZ

EDWIN MARTINEZ
Age: 18
Hometown: Hermitage
High School: Hermitage High School
Parents: Jose and Alicia Martinez
College Plans: University of Arkansas at Monticello

Edwin Martinez will be the first in his family to attend college. The oldest of four siblings, he’s had to blaze an academic path for all of his family in tiny Hermitage (Bradley County), population 870. That’s come through books, online research and help from teachers. Most of his advanced placement classes have been online. Still, he’s not only the first person in his family to graduate high school, he’s Hermitage’s valedictorian with a 4.1 GPA and a 33 on his ACT. His favorite class was anatomy, and it’s that impulse that has him planning a pre-med path at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, followed by medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He’s leaning toward becoming a family practitioner for the schedule flexibility and the opportunity to connect and form meaningful relationships with patients. Edwin looks after his own health by staying active in soccer and track, where he specializes in endurance events. He’s also a longtime member of the school’s quiz bowl team and has been a multiyear nominee for the Quiz Bowl Tournament of Champions. His counselor, Shelly Wolfe, said that Edwin is the pride of Hermitage High. “He can do anything he sets his mind to in the future,” she said. LM

BROOKE MAYER

BROOKE MAYER
Age: 18
Hometown: Fayetteville
High School: Fayetteville High School
Parents: Bill and Lisa Mayer
College Plans: Duke University

Asked what experience stands out from a decorated high school career, Brooke Mayer pointed to the time she spent helping others. “The heartbeat of my high school experience was the time I dedicated to volunteering,” she said. “Recognizing that I come from a background of extreme privilege, I utilized the skills that I’ve gained as a student to give back to all the people in my community, specifically through tutoring and mentoring.” Her service included working with Potter’s House, Beautiful Lives Boutique and 99 Balloons, among others. Through these organizations, she gravitated toward helping children and youth, some with special needs. “I had been poured into myself by all the teachers of my growing-up experience,” she said. “High school taught me to recognize the gifts that I have and realize how I can utilize them to help those around me.” Brooke, who ranks first in her graduating class with a 4.4 GPA, was also involved with a number of clubs and organizations, including being co-president of Model United Nations and the Interact Club, secretary of National Honor Society and attaining multiple academic honoraries. She’s also an award-winning member of her school’s speech and debate teams. Next year, Brooke will attend Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she will study either economics or public policy. She said the work ethic she developed in high school will serve her well at the next level. “The Brooke coming into high school was naive enough to think you can go pretty far on natural instinct, but I’ve learned you really have to push yourself,” she said. “I challenged myself by taking 15 AP courses throughout the course of my high school career which meant having to persevere through obstacles and manage all the things on my plate I was juggling. It’s been a busy four years of high school, but I’m really happy to be where I’m at today.” DH

ADANNA MOGBO

ADANNA MOGBO
Age: 18
Hometown: Little Rock
High School: Episcopal Collegiate School
Parents: Solomon and Ifeoma Mogbo
College: Undecided

When Adanna Mogbo joined the school newspaper staff, it was an organization just finding its legs. Thanks in part to her participation, which included serving as editor-in-chief in her junior and senior years, it’s a very different paper today. “When I first joined the newspaper, it had just started. We had never had a school newspaper before,” she said. “I think it was me, one of my best friends, and then like seven or eight other people. We really were just figuring this all out by ourselves. By 11th grade, when I became editor of the newspaper, we had 22 staff writers and we competed in the Arkansas Scholastic Press Association. We put our articles in the newspaper up for competition and we won a lot of awards. I think that’s the single thing that I’m most proud of, being able to see all of the hard work pay off.” Journalism is just one area of accomplishment for Adanna. She’s also talented in the sciences and plans to study some combination of health sciences, biotechnology and economics in college, which she’s narrowed down to Yale University, Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. “I recently have been very interested in how science intercepts with economics,” she said. “I think before, I just wanted to go to medical school and become a surgeon. But the more I realized the barriers that come with accessing health care in this country in particular, I’m considering maybe branching out and doing something in that field.” Among her many academic accolades, Adanna is a U.S. Presidential Scholar Finalist and National Merit Semifinalist. Last summer, she also landed a medical research internship for Arkansas Children’s Hospital through the Stella Boyle Smith Trust. She assisted with obesity research, much of it remotely, which was published in Critical Care Medicine, where she is listed as a co-author. DH

JAMES QUIRK

JAMES QUIRK
Hometown: Bentonville
High School: Bentonville High School
Parents: Brendan and Leigh Quirk
College Plans: Dartmouth College

When James was a freshman in high school, his father took him to the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport to see a C-5 Super Galaxy, a massive military transport plane. It sparked his curiosity and James asked if he could take what’s called a discovery flight through Central Arkansas Flying Service to learn more about airplanes. His first flight was on a single-engine, fixed propeller Cessna 172. James loved seeing Little Rock’s landmarks and hearing the radio calls between his flight instructor and the air traffic controller. After the flight, he went home and memorized the phonetic alphabet, to prepare himself for being a pilot himself. At 17, he did just that, earning his private pilot’s license. His family moved to Bentonville after his freshman year of high school and since then he’s taken solo flights to Springfield and elsewhere in southwest Missouri. The path to becoming a pilot “taught me the merit of hard work, the responsibility I have for my actions, the importance of problem-solving, the weight of independence and the excitement that comes with learning,” James wrote in his All-Star essay. While he could see a future in aerospace engineering, he’s eager to pursue other academic paths in college. He credits his parents and older sister, Lily, for his insatiable curiosity and desire to meaningfully impact the world. “They only wanted me to make decisions because I wanted to. Some people have this looming presence from their parents: ‘You have to be the best, do the best at all times.’ ” James’ parents and sister imparted on him the idea that “you get to take your path for the reasons you want; we’re just stepping stones.” Alice Haney, Bentonville High’s post-secondary adviser, said James is a regular in her office, tutoring his peers and offering help on the college application process. “He has a brilliant mind and his brain is constantly absorbing and analyzing the world around him, but he does not allow his academic success to supersede his relationships,” Haney said.“He is wholly invested in his friends and his peers. Once he has mastered a concept, he will go out of his way to make sure his classmates understand the material, too.” LM

JENNY ZENG

JENNY ZENG
Hometown: Bentonville
High School: Bentonville High School
Parents: Aihong Wen and Pingsheng Zeng
College Plans: Johns Hopkins University

Scientific research doesn’t always go in a straight line. Sometimes it meanders. Luckily for any lab that might employ her in the future, Jenny Zeng is willing to follow it diligently to see where it goes. As a participant in Boston University’s Research in Science & Engineering program for high school seniors, Jenny spent weeks debugging code in a computational model designed to investigate hallucinations experienced by Lewy Body Dementia patients, and had to reinvent their entire project the evening before the program’s final symposium. “I walked away with valuable lessons,” Jenny said. “Research doesn’t always work out; what’s important is to keep your head up and try again.” That approach has clearly worked wonders so far; Jenny will end her senior year with multiple certifications in the health care field thanks to her enrollment in a professional studies program called Ignite. She will also have the Arkansas Seal of Biliteracy for her fluency in English and Chinese, with over 400 hours logged as a volunteer English teacher for students in underserved parts of China through the Princeton Learning Experience program. She’s sixth in her class, a National Merit Finalist and Advanced Placement Scholar, a pianist, a competitive archer and the founder of her high school’s mock trial program. Maybe most impressively, Jenny’s been able to find meaningful connections between her field of study and her cultural identity that bode well for her path in the medical world. “The importance of collectivism within Asian cultures,” Jenny wrote, “has ingrained a fear of social disapproval, giving birth to public stigmas that have discouraged psychological counseling and resulted in a deficit in proper health care” — something Jenny experienced in her own family with her father’s sister, whose mental illness, Jenny said, has been trivialized and misunderstood. In her career path, Jenny said, she wants “to become someone trying to give everyone a chance at life, both in the lab and in the clinical setting. I want to bring my dad hope.” SS

*A previous version misattributed a quote in Jonathan Ivey’s profile to Greenwood counselor Lisa Dean. **In the same profile, Ivey’s quiz bowl team was incorrectly described as state champions.