SHERIDAN — Big Horn High School juniors Mary Nicholson and Casey Prior were named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists in a Sept. 11 press release from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

To qualify as semifinalists, the students scored in the 99th percentile on the practice SAT last October.

More than 1.5 million students took the test and approximately 16,000 semifinalists were selected nationwide.

BHHS school counselor Tami Mavrakis encouraged the students to take the PSAT as practice for other timed tests like the ACT and SAT for the chance at a scholarship.

On Thursday, the students were returning from calculus classes at Sheridan College.

In addition to in-person calculus instruction at the college, the students are both enrolled in American Sign Language online through the college.

Big Horn High School junior Mary Nicholson was announced as a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019.

Nicholson also takes American government online and receives college credit in English and chemistry, which are offered on campus at BHHS.

While Nicholson says she loves to read for her English classes, she also became interested in computer science during an introductory course at the high school last year.

“You find the problem in something and you figure out how to fix something and make it better,” Nicholson said.

She is especially interested in cyber security and hopes to take a second computer class in the spring, this time at the college. Outside of the classroom, Nicholson is on the volleyball and track teams at BHHS and plays soccer for Sheridan High School. She is a frequent volunteer at the food bank, especially during summer, and reads with elementary students through the ram mentors program.

Nicholson recounted a fifth grade parent teacher conference where her teacher said she was on track to be a National Merit scholarship if she kept working.

“I was just like, nodding along with it, not really knowing what it was,” Nicholson said. “And now I’m here.”

Prior is enrolled online in medical terminology and English through the college in addition to her calculus class. She is on the speech and debate team and student council and has been on the track team. Prior plays flute and piano in the school bands and sings in the choir.

Prior shadows a teacher at the middle school and says she is now interested in teaching music.

“I thought about being a veterinary radiologist kind of thing,” Prior said. “Kind of still exploring. Keeping my options open.”

Outside of school, Prior rides and shows horses.

“She’s probably run off to a lab somewhere,” said BHHS Administrative Assistant Mindy Reed when trying to track Prior down after calculus. “She’s kind of our star student.”

About 15,000 students will be selected as finalists in the next round of competition on the basis of an essay application and 2,500 winners will receive $2,500 scholarships.