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Foundation honors outstanding students

Jennifer Smasne, right, of East Valley High School, accepts a $4,000 grant during the Spokane Scholars Foundation awards banquet Wednesday at the Spokane Convention Center. (Colin Mulvany)
Jennifer Smasne, right, of East Valley High School, accepts a $4,000 grant during the Spokane Scholars Foundation awards banquet Wednesday at the Spokane Convention Center. (Colin Mulvany)

Twenty-four young scholars receive grants

University High School’s Ryan Linehan has been described by his school counselor as a “one in a million” student.

On Wednesday night, he was one of 134 students from 23 area high schools who were recognized for their outstanding academic achievements at the 19th annual Spokane Scholars Foundation banquet.

Linehan is “one of those rare students who combine intellectual acumen, innate curiosity, passionate ideology and emotional depth all wrapped together in a person who warms any room he enters,” the counselor said. The students were selected by school principals, counselors and teachers based on their academic achievement, including overall grade-point average, test scores, awards and achievements, and letters of recommendation.

The keynote speaker was former ambassador to Iraq and Spokane native Ryan Crocker, whose own achievements may serve as an inspiration to the students honored Wednesday.

Crocker served with the U.S. Foreign Service in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon during his 37-year career.

He said the world the students are inheriting is not without challenges and called on them to make it a better place.

“Bear in mind these scholarships are not rewards,” he said. “They are investments in your potential, your future and our future.”

One piece of advice for the students: “Go to a hard place and do hard things. Seek them out and make them better.”

A total of $60,000 in grants was awarded to 24 students, four in each of six categories: English, social studies, mathematics, science, world languages and fine arts.

The all-volunteer Spokane Scholarship Foundation raises money for the grants through donations with the hope that honoring outstanding academic achievement in such a public way will show students of all ages that the community holds academic success in high esteem, board members said.

Here are the bios of the recipients:

Caitlin Hess – University High School

Caitlin Hess earned perfect scores on both the AP English Language and AP English Literature exams (two of five perfect AP tests she has taken) and a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT. She is an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Finalist, a Washington Scholar nominee and a U.S. Presidential Scholar nominee. Caitlin’s counselor describes her as “the best of the best” and her teachers call her “insightful, logical, witty, and naturally inquisitive.” When asked why she is so passionate about English, she explains that it is “because she can express herself without rules. She can be lyrical or straightforward; language is so flexible.” Caitlin has excelled in both debate and the written word. She hopes to attend the University of Chicago, where she plans to major in English and pursue a career in journalism.

Jackson Kerschen – St. George’s School

Jackson Kerschen earned perfect scores of 800 on both the verbal and writing portions of the SAT and a perfect score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam. He is also a National Merit Semifinalist. Jackson’s English teacher states that his work is “well-varied and full of voice” and that his writing has “a clarity, an originality, and even a sense of playfulness seldom seen in college English majors.” He has been the editor-in-chief of his school’s literary magazine and its yearbook. He has written several comic strips and has also begun working on his first novel.

Hannah Damiano – Central Valley High School

Hannah Damiano has a 4.0 gpa and recorded perfect scores of 5 on both the AP English Language and AP English Literature exams. She is an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Commended Scholar. Her AP English teacher says that Hannah “writes like a graduate student” and that “she also reads, thinks, and speaks like one.” Her guidance counselor reports that she has “clarity of content, expressive dialogue, and mastery of the English language which have been recognized by community judges.” For example, she has won awards at local and state DECA competitions because of her oral and written presentations.

Kevin Ma – Mead High School

Kevin Ma has a 4.0 gpa, is the valedictorian of his class, and is an award-winning debater at the state and national levels. He writes music and he has earned top honors for his poetry at “Washington State Poetry Out Loud.” Kevin’s AP English teacher describes him as “a Renaissance man” with an “artistic soul” who “knows no boundaries” and that he “believes passionately in the right to be opinionated” and “challenges himself daily, wanting to learn and questioning every statement, thesis, or concept he reads.”

Fine arts

Jennifer Smasne – East Valley High School

Jennifer Smasne, a 4.0 gpa scholar, is multitalented with great skill in both visual arts and dance. She has won many awards in both areas including a scholarship to attend New York City Dance Alliance’s National Competition to compete for National Outstanding Dancer in New York City. Jennifer aspires to be a professional ballet dancer and continue sharing the love of art every day.

Nicholas Hendryx – Lewis and Clark High School

Nicholas Hendryx is 4.0 gpa scholar who has earned a 5 on each of four AP exams. He plays in the Spokane Youth Orchestra as well as several school groups. Nicholas has won superior ratings and gold medals in local competitions and has participated in the All-Northwest Band, All-State Wind Ensemble and All-State Symphony Orchestra. He has also performed professionally with “Allegro, Baroque and Beyond.” While setting his goal to major in biology Nicholas plans to continue playing music in college.

Victoria Karschney – Joel E. Ferris High School

Victoria Karschney has won every regional solo and ensemble competition and placed in several state competitions. She is the principal horn with the Spokane Youth Symphony and the All-Northwest Band and has played with the All-National Wind Ensemble in Washington DC and with the Coeur d’Alene Opera. Victoria was awarded the prestigious Pearson Scholarship at Whitman College and plans to major in biology and music.

Michelle Perrier – Shadle Park High School

Michelle Perrier is a 4.0 gpa scholar who has always enjoyed singing and started voice lessons at age 7, with piano lessons starting a year later. She is active in the school choir, accompanying some concerts and competitions. Michelle also directs a fifth-/sixth-grade girl’s choir at her church. She has also performed with the Spokane Opera. Michelle plans to attend Gonzaga University this fall with a goal of performing and teaching music.


Trevin Hiebert – University High School

Trevin Hiebert is an AP Scholar with Distinction and National Merit Commended Scholar with a 3.9 gpa. His test scores are equally impressive. A perfect 800 on the SAT II Math exam, a perfect 36 on the ACT math section and two perfect 5’s on the AP exams in AB and BC Calculus. Trevin’s teachers are impressed with his dogged persistence on the most challenging of problems and his willingness to go the extra mile to help his fellow students with humility and understanding. A valued member of the wrestling and cross country teams for his school, Trevin plans on pursuing engineering at the University of Pennsylvania or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ashleigh Seely – Central Valley High School

Ashleigh Seely has a perfect gpa of 4.0, a perfect 800 on the SAT II Math Exam and perfect 5’s in both AP Exams in AB and BC Calculus. An AP Scholar with Distinction and National Merit Commended Scholar, Ashleigh is dedicated to Community Service through the Key Club and Spokane Food Bank. As a sophomore, she co-chaired a fundraiser for pancreatic cancer. Ashleigh is Secretary of DECA, an association of business and marketing students, and enjoys cross country, track and cheerleading.

Katrina Stime – Mead High School

Katrina Stime is an AP Scholar with Honor and a National Merit Commended Scholar who has achieved near perfect scores on the Math sections of both the ACT, the SAT and SAT II exams. She earned perfect 5’s on the AP Exams in AB and BC Calculus and Statistics. Recently, she served as a research assistant for Washington State University study on adolescent obesity. Katrina balances her passion for math with piano, tennis and cross country. Katrina plans on a career in biomedical engineering.

Benjamin Mega – Freeman High School

Benjamin Mega can safely be described as math obsessed. His numbers confirm scholar’s abilities including a perfect 36 on the Math Section of the ACT, a near perfect 780 on the SAT Math section and a Perfect 800 on the SAT II Math test. A regular participant in “Math is Cool” and Knowledge Bowl Competitions, Benjamin spent six weeks last summer participating in a very exclusive math workshop at the University of Washington, an experience he describes as one of the best times of his life. Benjamin supplements his academic pursuits by participating in band, cross country, baseball and tennis and wrestling.


Ryan Linehan – University High School

Ryan Linehan has a 4.0 grade point average, is class valedictorian, and has achieved perfect scores on 7 Advanced Placement Tests, including Chemistry, and is an AP Scholar with Distinction. Ryan has been captain of the school Knowledge Bowl and is a finalist for the Washington State NASA Grant. A teacher writes, “He is one of the most exceptional students I have taught in my career. He is awesome, with a brilliant, inquisitive mind that will allow him to pursue his career in physics or astronomy.” According to his counselor, Ryan is “one of those rare students who combine intellectual acumen, innate curiosity, passionate ideology, and emotional depth all wrapped together into a person who warms any room he enters. He is a one in a million students, whose scholarly attributes are matched only by his humility.”

John Gunn – St. George’s School

John Gunn has achieved all A’s in the nine Advanced Placement courses offered at St. George’s School and earned a perfect score on the AP Chemistry Advanced Placement test. He was an AP Scholar with Distinction in 11th grade. His marks include a perfect score on the AP Science Reasoning portion of the ACT test. Teachers describe John as “amazing and exceptional, able to take the concepts from the lecture portion of the course and apply them to problems in a laboratory setting; gives a best effort all the time.” John is the captain of the school robotics team, co-recipient of the Xerox Creativity Award for Robotic design, and participant for four years in the school’s robotic competition called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Another teacher writes that John “is infinitely capable in the classroom. I have no doubt this student will have a fantastic engineering career.”

Forrest Ireland – North Central High School

Forrest Ireland is, in the words of a school official, “an amazing young person, totally committed to the study of science and chemistry.” A chemistry teacher described him as “the finest student she has ever taught.” Forrest has A’s in every class attended in high school. His honors include a perfect score on the Science Reasoning portion of the ACT and a perfect score on the AP Biology Exam. What separates Forrest from others is the accomplishment of original research, including a project in genetics involving DNA sequencing of centuries old Bison. After months of study and hard work, Forrest successfully identified the DNA sequencing of ancient Bison. He is the first in the world to accomplish this.

Cooper Mellema – Lewis and Clark High School

Cooper Mellema has a perfect grade-point average of 4.0 and is valedictorian of his graduating class. He has enrolled in every Honors and Advanced Placement course the school has to offer, and test scores in Science are indicative of the his intellect and drive. Among his achievements are a score of 5 on the AP Biology Exam, a perfect score on the SAT Test in Biology, and a perfect score in the ACT Science Reasoning. Cooper’s awards include AP Scholar with Honor and Washington NASA Space Grant Scholarship Finalist. A Counselor writes that Cooper “is a true scholar who has a strong desire to learn at the highest level and is destined for greatness.”

Social Studies

Penny Zhang – Central Valley High School

Penny Zhang is described as an extra-ordinary student who combines a fascination with business and a love affair with history. She achieved a near perfect 3.96 gpa and an amazing 2360 on the SAT. She also received a perfect 800 on the SAT II in History and earned perfect 5’s on AP exams in US and European History. A National Merit Finalist, Penny will attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in the Fall.

Jeremy Dietz – Lewis and Clark High School

Jeremy Dietz is a valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 gpa and a 30 on the ACT. An AP Scholar with Honor, Jeremy has taken 10 Advanced Placement courses and scored perfect 5’s in both World and US History exams. Outside of the classroom, he builds churches in developing countries, coaches baseball teams for disabled children and delivers meals to the elderly. Jeremy has been accepted to Pacific Lutheran University and Dartmouth. He plans on a career in law or teaching.

Christopher Wagstaff – St. George’s School

Christopher Wagstaff is a National Merit Scholar with Distinction with a 33 on the ACT and a near perfect 3.98 gpa. Taking the most demanding of curriculum he has scored perfect 5’s on both the European and U.S. History AP exams. His academic versatility is evidenced by similar scores in Calculus and Chemistry. Christopher is a member of his St. George’s School’s First Place Knowledge Bowl team, an Eagle Scout and is an accomplished singer, pianist and actor.

Jacob Culberson – The Oaks Classical Christian Academy

Jacob Culberson is a National Merit Commended Scholar with a gpa of 3.9 and an SAT score of 2150, including a perfect 800 in Verbal skills. He showed extraordinary promise as a freshman when he was selected to his schools Magna Cum Laude Honor Roll, a feat he repeated his next three years. A skilled debater, Jacob has an impressive appetite for challenging research projects and is currently developing his senior thesis on the philosophical and political contrast between Conservatism and Libertarianism. He achieved a perfect score on the SAT Critical Reading exam and will take his considerable talents to Vanderbilt University in the Fall.

World languages

Marion Madsen – Central Valley High School

Marion Madsen is studying both German and Chinese. She has a 3.96 gpa while taking her school’s most rigorous classes and twice has scored in the 94th percentile in the National German Exam. Currently, she is studying Chinese at Gonzaga University. Marion teaches introductory German to local elementary school students. She was also the winner of the Thomas S. Foley International Diplomacy Debate Tournament at WSU, an event that took place entirely in the German language. Marion’s guidance counselor believes that she “has a special ability to absorb multiple languages and communicate in a fashion which is seldom attained by a high school student” while she demonstrates an “eagerness for knowledge and her passion for language make her a special individual.” Marion believes that “multilingualism is the key to peaceful communication and global cooperation” and she is certain that her “future will span across borders.”

Porscha Smith – University High School

Porscha Smith has studied French for four years in high school (she became fluent after only two years) and has added studying Spanish and Italian, as well. She would like to study Hindi and Arabic in the future. Porscha was the winner of this year’s Thomas S. Foley International Diplomacy Debate Tournament which took place entirely in French. She also spent the majority of her junior year in Belgium as a foreign exchange student, where she excelled. Porscha’s dream is to attend Brown University and major in International Relations and Developmental Studies, a field of study which focuses on current issues and how they affect communities.

Andrew Wheeler – Mead High School

Andrew Wheeler is a student of German, Spanish, French, Japanese, and Pashto (a Persian dialect that is spoken in Afghanistan) and is either fluent or nearly fluent in three of those languages. Andrew’s skill with various languages will lead him to further study at either Whitworth University or Occidental College in Los Angeles. He is also considering work in the United States Navy as an interpreter and additional training at the Defense Language Institute’s Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California.

Mariann Rickerson – John R. Rogers High School

Mariann Rickerson has studied Japanese for four years and is presently taking both Japanese and Chinese at a local college. She is also enrolled in both German and Spanish in high school. She has published an art book and is translating a childrens story she has written into Japanese, Chinese, German, and Spanish. She is a tutor at Spokane Falls Community College for students who need help with either English or Japanese. In college, Mariann plans to continue her study of various world languages and hopes to become an interpreter.