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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Scholars Banquet: Meet the students whose love of learning impressed this year

Ferris High School senior Emily Schreiber walks to accept the $4,000 award in the category of English during the 32nd annual Spokane Scholars Foundation Awards Celebration on Monday in the Spokane Convention Center.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

On Monday, 168 Spokane-area high school seniors walked into the Spokane Convention Center. That evening, 24 of them walked out at least $1,000 richer.

The Spokane Scholars Foundation hosted its 32nd annual Spokane Scholars Banquet, honoring 168 high academically achieving seniors from 30 schools around the Spokane area. Staff at local high schools each nominated students for their prowess in one of six disciplines: English, fine arts, mathematics, science, social studies and world languages. At Monday’s banquet, the foundation decorated 24 of the young scholars by each awarding them a scholarship of $1,000 to $4,000.

“Just being a Spokane Scholar is an amazing accomplishment, and we know because we see the applications that get submitted, and it is very difficult to be a Spokane Scholar,” foundation president William Etter said in a speech at the beginning of the ceremony.

Awardee of the $4,000 scholarship in math, Varun Ambalavanan only took one year of math at Lewis and Clark. By his sophomore year, Ambalavanan earned A’s in algebra 1 and 2, geometry, Advanced Placement statistics, pre-calculus, and calculus, taking all the classes his school offered. As a sophomore, he was off to take math courses at Eastern Washington University.

A teacher said he was the most accomplished math mind Lewis and Clark had ever seen, solving complex math equations seemingly out of the air in under 15 seconds.

Recognized for her prowess in English, Emily Schreiber won the $4,000 scholarship. The senior from Ferris High School has taken 15 Advanced Placement classes in her high school career, earning nine perfect scores on accompanying tests. She brings a “deeply rooted and authentic love of learning to class,” one of her teachers said.

Decorated vocalist, writer, composer and thespian Eden Howarth of Lewis and Clark High School earned the highest fine arts award of $4,000. While a teacher said she had a naturally beautiful voice, Howarth’s work ethic and musical talents have propelled her to advance her craft throughout her high school career.

Possessing the scientific mind of a graduate student, her teacher said, Padmaja Senthil Kumar earned the $4,000 scholarship in science. The Lewis and Clark senior researched Alzheimer’s disease and sleep deprivation at a local medical school, and her research has earned her myriad awards and decorations, including a medal at the Washington State Science Olympiad and a finalist honor in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.

From Ferris High School, Anvi Sehgal claimed the $4,000 scholarship in social studies. With 14 different advanced placement courses on her transcript, she seamlessly integrates these topics into her studies and assignments in these courses, a teacher said, in a way that stimulates the learning of her peers with her poise, curiosity and infectious spirit of joy.

With 28 advanced placement and honors classes on her transcript, North Central senior Marlee Schoeffler claimed the top title and accompanying $4,000 scholarship in world languages. A student of Spanish, Schoeffler is captivated by the language and the cultures that she learns about in class. After she earns her seal of biliteracy this summer, Schoeffler will attend the University of Washington, which will match her award.

A $3,000 awardee and valedictorian of Central Valley High School, Lucy He was surprised for the nomination in the math category. Though she took Advanced Placement calculus as a sophomore, she’s always considered herself more scientifically minded, leaning into studying computer science throughout her high school career.

He’s inspiring math teacher, Brandon Mack, opened her eyes to the beauty of math.

“Math is about seeing numerical patterns in the universe,” she said. Now, math peppers her daily life and in her studies.

“I’m definitely able to just apply math, whether that’s in my science classes and my computer classes, just seeing how math fits in those applications,” she said.

She’s the captain of her school’s competitive cybersecurity team, having led her team to 3rd and 2nd place at two statewide competitions. She competes on her school’s varsity track team and is co-captain of the gymnastics team, and has been on both teams since her freshman year. She founded and led a summer program at Liberty Lake municipal library, where she leads lessons for 4th- and 6th-graders. She co-founded a club in her school district called Sisters in STEM, where she leads workshops in science, technology, engineering and math for middle school girls around her district.

“We try to make STEM a more equitable environment for women to pursue,” she said.

Her lengthy resumé includes involvement in myriad fields of study; her list of potential future career paths is equally diverse.

“I definitely think it would be cool to work maybe as a software engineer for maybe a couple years,” she said.

She plans to attend the University of Washington, where the school will match her scholarship, to study computer science in the fall. After that, maybe she’ll get a Masters of Business Administration, she said. Maybe she’ll go to law school and work to write public policy surrounding regulation of artificial intelligence, an area she’s passionate about.

“Those are kind of all possibilities,” she said.

Though high-achieving students, Spokane Scholars are not immune to the plague of senioritis; 65% of the scholars submitted their applications the day or night it was due, foundation Vice President Justin Botejue said.

An honoree of $2,000 in social studies, Ridgeline valedictorian Paige Van Buren is bound for Brigham Young University in Utah to study chemical engineering, maybe minoring in history. She finds balance in the two studies, one offering a wide scope, while the other zooms in on the finest details, down to an atomic level.

“If history is the macro perspective on things, chemistry is the micro perspective on things, and that’s why I like it,” Van Buren said. “I just really like knowing how things work.”

Van Buren scored a 1590 on the SAT and has taken nine advanced placement courses. She founded and edits her school’s newspaper and last summer, Van Buren interned in the Spokesman-Review’s Teen Journalism Institute.

One of her favorite studies in history is the 1800s, particularly the fine art, literature and music to come from the era.

“It’s just being able to look at the trends throughout history and the fact that humanity has acted the same for thousands of years,” she said. “We fall in love and get in fights and all this stuff and can predict stuff based on the past.”

Editor’s note: this article has been amended to accurately state the school Marlee Schoeffler attends. She is a senior at North Central High School.