University of South Florida St. Petersburg



USF St. Petersburg campus sets record with eight National Merit Scholars

8 National Merit Scholars incoming class

Overall, the University of South Florida enrolled 79 National Merit Scholars for the fall 2022 semester, the highest number ever for an incoming class. 

Last year, USF’s St. Petersburg campus welcomed a National Merit Scholar to its incoming class for the first time in school history. In fact, it welcomed five of them.

This year, the campus exceeded those numbers with eight National Merit Scholars in the 2022-23 incoming class. 

“To continue to bring such talented students to this campus is a recognition of the incredible academic reputation, personalized educational setting and vast opportunities for growth, support and engagement that we provide," said Christian Hardigree, regional chancellor of USF’s St. Petersburg campus. 

Overall, the University of South Florida enrolled 79 National Merit Scholars for the fall 2022 semester, the highest number ever for an incoming class and a more than 25 percent increase from the previous record of 62 last year. 

The scholarship program was created by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in 1955 to honor scholastically talented youth and encourage academic excellence at all levels of education.

The increased enrollment of such students at USF comes from a concerted effort by the state of Florida and public universities to bring academic talent to the state. In 2016, the newly created Benacquisto Scholarship Program helped universities recruit students by including merit scholarship benefits for high school graduates who receive recognition as National Merit Scholars.

In addition, it gives USF the ability to recruit both Florida and non-Florida National Merit Finalists by offering them full tuition waivers, on-campus housing, financial support for textbooks, study abroad aid and more.

“The scholarship did play a big part in choosing USF, but I also liked that it was a fairly modern school, that it is constantly trying to improve, evolve and progress, and I like that idea from an academic standpoint,” said Garrett Floerchinger of Rockford, Mich., who is majoring in Environmental Science and Policy because of an appreciation for the outdoors and wanting to sustain natural recourses for future generations. “I also enjoy the proximity to the water and being right next to downtown.”

In addition to Floerchinger, the National Merit Scholar students in the incoming class at the St. Petersburg campus include:

  • Madisen Hamai, Colorado, Marine Biology
  • Jared Hsu, California, Professional Sciences (Pre)
  • Riley Hunt, Missouri, Environmental Science & Policy
  • Ayush Kalia, Iowa, Biology
  • Olivia Mcaleer, Alabama, Environmental Science & Policy
  • Twisha Nadella, Missouri, Professional Sciences (Pre)
  • Ethan Nagamos, Ohio, Biology

“I’ve always had a passion for marine biology, going back to being a kid watching nature documentaries and movies like “Dolphin Tail” [a movie about a dolphin with a prosthetic tale at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium],” Hamai said, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the field in the hope of becoming a marine veterinarian. “USF will give me that opportunity to explore this major, and there are just so many opportunities in St. Petersburg to do with marine science being so close to the water.”

National Merit Scholar finalists are chosen out of more than 1.5 million students across the country who started by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarships Qualifying Test during their junior year of high school. Out of that original number, just 7,500 students are chosen to receive the national scholarship.

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