A Hernando County student is standing in a sunny national spotlight, one that proclaims him the sole Hernando winner of a universally recognized academic competition.
The National Merit Scholarship Program, according to a related news release, “honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies.” More than 1.5 million juniors in about 21,000 high schools entered the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program when they took the 2019 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®). High-scoring semifinalists advanced to the Finalist level of the competition by fulfilling additional requirements, such as the completion of a detailed scholarship application, which included writing an essay and providing information about extracurricular activities, awards, and leadership positions. Semifinalists also had to possess an outstanding academic record, and be endorsed and recommended by a high school official for this honor. From the semifinalist group, approximately 16,000 met requirements for finalist standing, and about half of the finalists now have been named Merit Scholarship winners.
Last week, the nonprofit National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) announced more than 3,100 winners of National Merit Scholarships financed by U.S. colleges and universities. This year’s sole Hernando honoree, bound for the University of Florida in the fall, is Nature Coast Technical High School graduate Zander Litwin. A sunshine state scholar who counts computer engineering as his main field of study, Litwin holds a lifelong interest in the field of computer science. “My dad worked for AT&T and he had a gaming computer, so between him telling me about his work and playing video games, I grew pretty interested in computers,” he said.
Litwin found that his interest was nurtured and developed during his time at Nature Coast Technical. “I was a member of the IT cluster, so that gave me a couple of certifications and helped me understand the basics of how computers work. The real gem was being a member of the Tech Team, which was a group of kids who go around the school and help teachers with tech problems. That gave me a real hands-on, practical experience with fixing computers and printers. More recently, it gave me an opportunity to apply for and receive an internship with CareerSource Pasco-Hernando,” he said.
He also credits his parents, and his Hernando home, for an aura of warmth and nurturance that empowered him to pursue his dreams. “I was born in South Carolina, but I’ve lived most of my life in Spring Hill and I’d consider that my home. We only moved to Hernando Beach last year so that way when I move out, my parents have a nice retirement home. As I said before, my dad, Christopher (he prefers to go by Chris), was a big part in giving me a love of technology. My mom, Rhonda, was always my biggest advocate. Without her, there’s no way I would have gotten the scholarship, because I probably wouldn’t have known to take the PSAT National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test junior year. She was a big help in doing my college applications, particularly my FAFSA,” said Litwin.
This young scholar is poised to enter UF this fall with a solid record of academic achievement, one that stands to earn him a sound start to his collegiate career. “I’ll be going in with my Associates degree so I’ll either be a sophomore or a junior depending on how much transfers. I graduated with my Associates degree from PHSC magna cum laude (high honors, greater than 3.75 GPA). As of the last report card, my high school GPA was 4.52 weighted and either 3.92 or 3.96 unweighted,” said Litwin. “I was also given an award for excellence in the IT cluster and I was recognized at the 2021 Chamber of Commerce Student Recognition Celebration in the Career & Technical category. The National Merit Scholarship itself is $500/year for 4 years, but it makes me eligible for the Benacquisto Scholarship, which covers the full cost of attendance minus Bright Futures.”
For this aspiring computer engineer, the future does indeed seem to be as bright as sunshine. “Winning meant that I get to go to UF at no cost, and that is a great feeling,” said Litwin. “My main concern about UF was that I might have to take out loans to go there, but this means that I get to go to a very nice college for free. I’m going for Computer Engineering, and I hope that one day I’ll get to work for a company like Intel or AMD.”
Send your own good news to Hernando Sun community reporter Megan Hussey at [email protected] Show Us Your Sunshine!