8 Iowa Students Chosen As Presidential Scholars Semifinalists

Eshaan S. Chandani from Johnston

By Nikoel Hytrek

May 8, 2023

Eight Iowa students have been chosen as semifinalists for the US Presidential Scholars program, a prestigious honor recognizing some of America’s most talented students.

Those students are:

  • Justin W. Berlage of Ridgeway, Decorah High School
  • Eshaan S. Chandani of Johnston, Johnston High School
  • Maya Chu of Iowa City, Iowa City West High School
  • Alaina M. Gebel of Lansing, Waukon High School
  • Claire X. Gu of West Des Moines, West Des Moines Valley High School
  • Tejas K. Gururaja of Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar High School
  • Anish Lodh of Coralville, Iowa City West High School
  • Alaina Whittington of Diagonal, Diagonal Junior-Senior High School

Eshaan and Alaina are also semifinalists for the Career and Technical Education (CTE) category.

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CTE in Iowa includes educational programs with courses to prepare students for employment in areas such as agriculture, communications, applied sciences and engineering, health sciences, human services and business or marketing.

Over 5,000 students were recognized as potential candidates in 2023 and 628 were selected. The US Presidential Scholars will be announced later in May.

The Commission on Presidential Scholars ultimately selects up to 161 finalists each year, and Presidential Scholars are awarded a medal in June.

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What is the Presidential Scholar Program?

The program started in 1964 as a way to recognize exceptionally talented students and honor the promise and potential graduating seniors.

In 1979, the program was expanded for students talented in creative arts, and in 2015 it was expanded again to include talented students in CTE.

There are three ways to become a Presidential Scholar:

  • The majority are selected because of general academic achievement.
  • About 20 are selected based on academic and artistic scholarship in visual arts, performing arts or creative writing.
  • Another 20 are selected because of accomplishment in CTE fields.

For the broad academics category, the selection is primarily based on SAT and ACT scores, and then students are invited to apply to the program. For the CTE category, students who are accomplished in these fields are nominated by a school officer and invited to apply.

Invited students submit essays, self-assessments, school reports and transcripts for review.


Nikoel Hytrek

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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