Tyler Merle

Ketchikan High School senior Tyler Merle was recently named a National Merit Scholarship finalist, and although he won’t know whether he is named a National Merit scholar until as late as next month, the process already has begun to present him educational and financial opportunities.

NMSC is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1955.

“Since its founding, NMSC has recognized over 3.3 million students and provided some 432,000 scholarships worth over $1.7 billion,” according to the organization’s website.

NMSC information states that the goals of the program are to “identify and honor academically talented U.S. high school students,” “to stimulate increased support for their education” and “to provide efficient and effective program management for organizations who wish to sponsor college undergraduate scholarships.”

Students can qualify for the program by scoring in the top 2% of students on the PSAT, which is administered in-school during the junior year of high school.

Tyler Merle’s score on the PSAT qualified him to be considered as a semi-finalist, according to Kayhi Junior and Senior Counselor Robert McClory.

Merle found out that he had been named a semi-finalist in October.

“It’s so weird to think that a test my junior year could affect where I go to college, but it happened, and I just was able to keep building my resume and eventually impress them enough to put me through,” Merle said during an interview with the Daily News last week.

To be recognized as a semi-finalist — and eventually, a finalist — Merle was tasked with writing an essay, in addition to sending in copies of his transcript, test scores and resume.

“(In) my essay, if I remember it right, I told an anecdote about how the National Ocean Sciences Bowl had a science camp as a fundraiser we put on, but also it was just a way for us to reach some of the local student population, as in elementary-schoolers, more about sciences and ocean sciences in particular … and I thought it was a really weird anecdote because I ended up wearing a six-foot-tall shark suit,” Merle said.

He said that he wrote about the experience as a “metaphor.”

“I thought it was a standout story,” Merle added.

Recently, Merle received the announcement that he had been recognized as a National Merit finalist.

He recalled that Kayhi Principal Jason House had called him to deliver the news while he was traveling for the NOSB team’s Tsunami Bowl competition, which was held early last month in Seward.

“I just wasn’t expecting (it) because it took so long (the process),” Merle said about receiving the news.

House also was present during the Daily News’ interview with Merle, and said that Kayhi was proud of Merle’s achievements.

“I think it’s a reflection obviously of his talent, but I think even more than that, his hard work, his commitment to his studies, to his activities, to his peer group … it's just really great that there’s a chance for us to celebrate and recognize the hard work he does,”

While Merle is still in the running to receive the National Merit scholarship, he has already received full-ride scholarship offers from Washington State University and Oklahoma State University. He told the Daily News that it will be difficult to choose between the two schools.

If he is named a National Merit scholar, he will receive a scholarship from NMSC, McClory explained. However, Merle started receiving offers for scholarships as a semi-finalist. If he is not recognized as a National Merit scholar, he will still be able to claim the scholarships he has already been offered.

Merle, who plans to study environmental engineering, said that being an NMSC finalist “opens up a lot of doors.”

“I think the greatest thing about National Merit is that it opens doors to scholarships from the colleges themselves, in terms of full rides and all that,” Merle said.

While he said that his career goal “could always change,” he was partly inspired to pursue engineering because of the activities he has participated in at Kayhi.

“I’d like to be an environmental engineer because a lot of my activities have involved STEM research … that has really opened my eyes to the careers available in sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy and stuff like that,” Merle said.

“I think as long as I have a path, I’ll be able to utilize the opportunities I’m being given,” he added.

During his time at Kayhi, Merle also has been involved with the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, the Kayhi swim team, Ketchikan Killer Whales Swim Club and the Rotary Interact club.

“It’s a lot,” Merle said of his activities. “I have a good support network and I have a lot of friends that care about me and where I go. I can always vent to them and hang out with them if I find any time outside of the activities.”

To other Kayhi students who hope to be named a National Merit scholar, Merle advises them to “start doing things earlier.”

“I only really started doing activities my sophomore year,” Merle said. “… Colleges look at everything in your resume. And it’s not about the breadth of your activities, it’s about how dedicated you are to them.”

Merle also advised other students to “work towards something, even if you don’t know where you’re going. Just work towards some kind of goal.”