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EHS senior's semifinalist for scholarship program

An Ellsworth High School senior is a semifinalist for the annual National Merit Scholarship Program.

Conrad Knutson scored high enough on a preliminary test he took a year ago to qualify for semifinalist, according to EHS Guidance Counselor Laurel Kozitza. Kozitza said he's the only local student in the recent past to have achieved this distinction.

"I was surprised I was in the running for this," Knutson said Thursday, remembering learning his PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) result, although believing at the time he'd done "pretty well."

He now has an opportunity to continue in competition for some 8,200 scholarship awards worth $33 million, to be offered next spring, information provided by Kozitza states. Approximately 90 percent of the semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing after fulfilling several requirements. Around half of the finalists will be selected as scholarship winners, earning the Merit Scholar title.

Knutson said his grades have been mostly low As and high Bs during his school career. English and some math are easier subjects for him; he's never taken shop.

"I like to read," he said, noting his family has a lot of books at their home on a crop farm in rural Ellsworth. The son of Wendy and Larry Knutson said he also enjoys computer games, especially "Dungeons and Dragons."

He took the PSAT with other juniors in the EHS choir room in October of last year, he said. The test, lasting a couple of hours, involved multiple-choice questions. He didn't have any difficulty completing it in the allotted time.

"It wasn't horrible," he said of its degree of difficulty.

Knutson was notified of his result a month or so later, he said. The test is considered preparatory for the SAT, preferred by many eastern seaboard colleges when deciding acceptance. He took that one in Menomonie this spring.

"It was longer, lasting three-to-four hours," he said. Multiple-choice with an essay question, it covered a similar range of material as the PSAT.

After six-to-eight weeks, he received his results on this test, he said. He declined to tell his specific scores, but Kozitza indicated they were excellent.

That was also the case when he took the American College Testing (ACT) exam twice, in the fall of his sophomore year and the fall of his junior year, though he said he "did better" the second time. Like most students, he didn't study for any of these tests, despite there being preparatory programs available for the ACT.

"There's a huge book I never used," he said, spreading his thumb and forefinger wide apart to illustrate its thickness.

Knutson is in such classes as physics and advanced placement history this term, he said. Aside from academics, he's on the EHS wrestling team, in the 189-to-215 pound weight class, plays saxophone in the EHS band and is a member of the pit band for the upcoming "42nd Street" musical production at the school.

He foresees a career in chemical engineering, saying he'd like to attend either Lawrence University in Appleton or the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.

More than 1.4 million juniors in nearly 21,000 high schools entered the 2007 National Merit Program by taking the 2005 PSAT qualifying test, the information from Kozitza states. The nationwide pool of semifinalists, representing less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest scoring entrants in each state. The number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state's percentage of the national total of graduating seniors.