Mercer Island students win National Merit scholarships

Scholarships are for $2,500 each.

A trio of Mercer Island students’ stellar academic performances caught the attention of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation and they have received $2,500 scholarships to put toward their studies in the computer science and neuroscience fields.

The organization revealed on May 8 that a pair of Mercer Island High School (MIHS) students — Davin Aoyama and Subhadra Vadlamannati — and Eastside Preparatory School’s Andrei Espelien were among its nearly 7,000 national senior scholarship winners this year chosen from a talent pool of more than 15,000 senior finalists.

According to National Merit’s press release, the students are “judged to have the strongest combination of accomplishments, skills and potential for success in rigorous college studies.” Scholars were selected to garner the accolades for their top-notch grades, high scores earned on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test and more.

MIHS’s Aoyama and Vadlamannati are leaning toward probable careers in the computer science realm.

Aoyama said he was a bit surprised to receive the scholarship and added, “I feel like it’s a culmination of my hard work up to this point. I’ve been doing test prep over the summer and whatnot, so all built up to this.”

He’ll be attending the Georgia Institute of Technology in the fall and plans to explore cybersecurity by delving into securing systems, inventing new types of photography and more. He’s participated in some competitions and has helped educate people about cybersecurity through programs.

“I’ve just been trying to build up my skills and then prepare myself for a career in the industry,” Aoyama said.

Vadlamannati is heavily involved in language translation through her nonprofit Linguistics Justice League, which advocates for low-resource languages, such as African dialects and a multitude of others. That work stemmed from her volunteer efforts with refugees and immigrants.

“It was really cool to get the award. I think it was nice how it was a mixture of both SAT and also my work outside of school with my nonprofit and other extracurriculars I’ve done. I liked how it was holistic. It was a great opportunity,” said Vadlamannati, adding that she’s been interested in STEM subjects beginning in middle school. She’ll be attending Stanford University in the fall.

Espelien, who said it feels good to receive the scholarship, plans to traverse the computational neuroscience and biomedical engineering double-major routes at Johns Hopkins University.

“In the past couple of years, not in any dramatic or sudden way, I’ve discovered that neuroscience gives me the language, a blend of ideas from math, biology, physics and philosophy, to explore the anatomy of our perception,” he said.

He’s most proud of his co-founded and co-led two-year effort to build a brain-computer interface from scratch aimed at “listening in” on electrical brainwaves in the movement center of the brain, he said, adding as an example that the signals can be interpreted externally to control prostheses.