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Steve Griffin, KSL

Something in the DNA? Hillcrest High senior follows brother’s path to top Sterling Scholar award

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Mar. 17, 2019 at 8:23 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Brother, brother.

Twice in four years, two brothers have been selected General Sterling Scholar in the Deseret News/KSL's Sterling Scholar program.

To hear this year's winner, Alexander Cheng of Hillcrest High School, tell it, he was deeply honored to be among 168 finalists in the 57th annual scholarship and recognition program. He also won the science category.

"It's truly an honor to even be here so I'm truly blessed to have won and to be recognized. I'm so grateful, especially to my parents for all of their support and help. I think they're really crucial. My brother actually won General Sterling Scholar three years ago. It just goes to show the dedication and the influence they've had on us so I really thank my parents," Cheng said.

Cheng's brother Anthony won in 2016. He also attended Hillcrest High School.

To read Alexander Cheng's portfolio, his rise to the top of the 2019 Sterling Scholars program wasn't happenstance.

He was one of 80 students worldwide selected to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Research Science Institute. He ranks first in his class, has a 4.0 grade point average and earned a 35 composite score on the ACT.

His next challenge? Going into biomedical computation and devise ways to rein in the escalating cost of health care.

Alexander Cheng, of Hillcrest High School, holds flowers and his award after receiving the General Sterling Scholar Award during the Deseret News/KSL Sterling Scholar Awards ceremony at the LDS Conference Center's Little Theatre in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 15, 2019. Cheng was the winner in the science category. (Photo: Steve Griffin, KSL)

"One way we can approach this problem is through scientific research. What I want to do is use automated technology to be able to automate all the processes within the medical process so we can reduce the work that nurses and doctors need to do so we can reduce the cost of health care," he said.

Cheng has been accepted to Stanford University and is waiting to hear from another of his top picks.

The Sterling Scholar program encourages academic excellence by awarding scholarships and publicly recognizing some of Utah's top high school seniors.

Nominees were judged for their academic achievements, leadership and service to their communities.

Sterling Scholar winners receive $2,500 scholarships, and runners-up earn $1,000 each, which are awarded by the Deseret News and KSL.

As the General Sterling Scholar, Cheng receives an additional $2,500 scholarship.

They also are eligible for scholarships and tuition waivers at a number of Utah colleges and universities.

Megan Zeng, of Skyline High School, is surprised as she is named the winner in the math category during the Deseret News/KSL Sterling Scholar Awards ceremony at the LDS Conference Center's Little Theatre in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo: Steve Griffin, KSL)

Keith B. McMullin, president and CEO of Deseret Management Corporation, prior to presenting the top award to Cheng remarked on the top-drawer character and academic achievement of each of the student participants.

"If anyone is wondering where the country is headed, they only need to look to this group of scholars, don't you think?" McMullin said.

Each of the finalists was selected by their Wasatch Front high schools and advanced through progressive rounds of judging.

The final judging, held at Cottonwood High School in Murray on March 2, culminated with Friday’s award ceremony at the LDS Conference Center's Little Theater.

Students compete in 14 categories. Winners and runners up are selected in each category and among the winners of each category the General Sterling Scholar is chosen.

The finalists demonstrate high academic achievement and service and many are also innovators and entrepreneurs. One scholar has published apps and another runs a small business renting formal gowns to high school girls attending proms and other dances.

Ethan Rassmussen , winner of the skilled technical sciences category, is a top high school student at Lone Peak High School — and a rancher. Big time. He works 1,000 cattle on his family's 250,000-acre Bar 10 Ranch.

"Knowing I can spend the rest of my life with my seat in a saddle and my hands in the dirt gives me unbounded excitement," he wrote in his portfolio. He also won top honors in Utah State University's Biotechnology Academy.

The Sterling Scholar program also includes the Gail Miller Community Service Award. This year’s winner is Emily Erekson of Viewmont High School. The award includes a $2,000 prize.

Erekson wrote that volunteering for her school's Sub for Santa fundraisers opened her eyes to challenges that families with limited means experience.

"Through this experience, I quickly became aware of the financial hardships burdening so many local families. This influenced me to start a new project in my community to address these needs," she wrote

West High School senior Divyam Goel was winner of the Philo T. Farnsworth Governor's Award, which celebrates innovation. The award is named for Farnsworth, the inventor of the vacuum tube, who is considered the "father of television." Farnsworth was born in a log cabin near Beaver. The award comes with a $1,000 prize.

"My passion for the sciences, particularly the biological sciences, stems from early exposure to the world of research," Goel wrote in his portfolio. He also volunteers weekly at Salt Lake's Hindu temple.

Kenzie Wilkinson of Salem Hills High School, winner of the family and consumer science category, said placing at the top of the finalists in her group "was honestly, a little overwhelming.

"It's just an honor being placed with so many successful kids and being viewed as a success," she said.

Kenzie Wilkinson, of Salem Hills High School, wins the Family and Consumer Sciences category during the Deseret News/KSL Sterling Scholar Awards ceremony at the LDS Conference Center's Little Theatre in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Photo: Steve Griffin, KSL)

While she's chosen a challenging career path in fashion design, Wilkinson said she's known since childhood that was her career goal.

"At the age of 3, I started creating toilet paper dresses for my Barbie doll. It's something I've known I wanted to do. I've worked really hard and I've applied for scholarships and done what I can to get into schools that offer fashion programs.

"It hasn't gone exactly to plan as I've wanted it to, but I'm going to get to the point I want to be at and I'm going to become a fashion designer," a resolute Wilkinson said.


Marjorie Cortez

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