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LI dancer, science whizzes are named U.S. Presidential Scholars

United States Presidential Scholars from Long Island are,

United States Presidential Scholars from Long Island are, from left, Juliana Missano, of Lloyd Harbor, who is studying ballet at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and is enrolled in The Keystone School, based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania; Syosset High School senior Ben Rhee; and Jericho High School senior Grace Hu. All are 18. They are among 161 Presidential Scholars nationwide announced by the U.S. Department of Education on Friday, May 5, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday

Three high school seniors from Long Island are among 161 students across the country recognized as United States Presidential Scholars for academic achievements and talent in their chosen fields of study.

Grace Hu, of Jericho High School, Juliana Missano, a Lloyd Harbor resident studying ballet at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, and Ben S. Rhee, of Syosset High School, are the local honorees this year.

The students made the list of the nation’s most distinguished out of 4,000 whose SAT and ACT scores brought them to the attention of the program — an honor that has been extended by the president each year since 1964 to recognize young talent. The Presidential Scholars were announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.

Missano, 18, will start with the Atlanta Ballet in August as a company member.

She was a student in the Cold Spring Harbor district, attending Lloyd Harbor School and Cold Spring Harbor Junior-Senior High School through ninth grade. For her sophomore year, she transferred to The Rock School for Dance Education. She also takes online classes through The Keystone School based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Missano said she saw an email about the Presidential Scholars award during a dance-class break and was “really shocked and excited about it.”

“It’s a very high honor,” she said Saturday. “I was excited to be awarded it. It’s going to help me a lot in my future.”

Hu found out about the honor while in Houston, attending the International Sustainable World Engineering Energy Environment Project olympiad. She was a finalist there for her science research.

“I was in my hotel room and I saw online the release and I kind of freaked out,” said Hu, 18. “I called my roommate, I told my best friend and he also freaked out with me, and then I went to find my teacher.”

She said her accomplishment is the result of “group effort,” with parents, teachers and friends supporting her thoughout her high school years.

Rhee was “very shocked” to be selected and also credited others for his level of achievement.

“This award, it doesn’t just represent me,” said Rhee, 18. “It represents my whole community, all the people who helped me along the way, my family and school, all the people that have been there for me.”

All scholars will be honored and receive medallions at the National Recognition Program sponsored by the White House, to be held June 18 in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, in a statement, heralded the Presidential Scholars as “tomorrow’s leaders” who “will continue to be shining examples as they enter the next phase of their academic careers.”

Earlier this year, both Hu and Rhee were among Long Island students named Regeneron Scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, which honors top student researchers.

She has focused on the use of nanoparticles — gold-coated specks invisible to the naked eye — to aid in nerve-tissue regeneration, possibly to someday treat people with brain injuries or neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Hu, who will attend MIT in the fall, said the use of nanotechnology appealed to her “because it incorporated elements from chemistry and physics,” which are among her favorite subjects.

Rhee, who will go to Harvard University, targeted his research on the study of power dissipation as a better measure of the destructive power of extratropical cyclones on infrastructure and other property. He was partly inspired by a significant weather event in our region.

“So when Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island, like, even my own house was damaged,” Rhee said. “And it turns out Sandy was in an extratropical stage when it hit the East Coast and, surprisingly, many people didn’t know how bad this cyclone would get.”

Missano, who plans to take online college classes while working with the Atlanta Ballet, was a finalist in the National YoungArts Foundation’s YoungArts 2017 winners. She also won the 2017 Grand Prix award for the Youth America Grand Prix in Atlanta.

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