Not just a score


From left to right: Spencer Dang, Isaac Coleman, Gabi Basel, Luke Hansen, Alex Bohlken, Duncan Walter.

The National Merit Semifinalists were announced Sep. 8: six students were sent down to the office from their classes only to be told that they had scored in the top one-half percent on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. After meeting all necessary requirements, seniors Gabriela Basel, Alex Bohlken, Isaac Coleman, Spencer Dang, Luke Hansen and Duncan Walters were declared Finalists in March.

Gabriela Basel

In a sea of muted maroon, gray and black, senior Gabriela Basel walks the halls in bright pink combat boots, a multicolored shirt and a pair of yellow shorts.

“ is very dreary,” Basel said. “It’s just kind of sad to look out and see everyone in dark colors. to bring a little bit of sunshine into people’s lives so I just go on to Amazon and find the brightest colored things.”

And colorful she is: Basel was in the Sophomore Top 100, is in the International Baccalaureate program and is a National Merit Finalist.

“I had done a lot of studying ,” Basel said. “Right after I took it, I didn’t feel that great about it, especially on the vocabulary section, because I am terrible at vocabulary. Coming out of it, the first thing I thought was, ‘I could’ve done better.’”

Yet academics never stopped Basel from being involved outside the classroom; she has played the trombone for eight years, led the band as a senior drum major, stepped up as captain of the varsity girls’ cross country team, made it onto the Homecoming Court and volunteers with various organizations.

“ the one thing I’ve wanted to do more than anything is, not to improve those programs, but to make sure everyone there is enjoying themselves,” Basel said. “If you’re not enjoying yourself, what’s even the point?”

Basel found a passion for trombone as a fifth grader after playing the violin during fourth grade and disliking it.

“I was a pretty small fifth grader and there was this really big instrument called the trombone,” Basel said. “ were like, ‘I don’t think that’s the right instrument for you.’ So of course I said, ‘Okay, I think I’m going to play this one.’”

Alex Bohlken

A 20” monitor lights up senior Alex Bohlken’s face as he scrolls through lines of code, his school computer still in his backpack.

“My interest in computers probably started freshman year because that was when I started getting into video games,” Bohlken said. “I got an Xbox that year and that re-sparked my interest.”

Bohlken hopes to major in computer sciences, pursuing his passion for computers and video games. He is not as interested in the design aspect as he is in the coding aspect and aspires to learn a programming language in addition to Java.

“I think video games are really cool and I think computers are really cool,” Bohlken said. “Making software would be nice, but I hope that I don’t hit a wall with computer science because that can happen pretty easily.”

Bohlken doesn’t find studying for just a few weeks before the PSAT helpful. Instead, hopeful candidates should try doing math in their head, think critically and practice throughout their years in high school.

“I didn’t prepare for the PSAT,” Bohlken said. “That’s sort of my mentality with tests. I just sort of wing it. I just go and take a test and that’s all it is.”

Although he keeps a cool head during tests, Bohlken is just a tad unnerved by the future. Even as a National Merit Finalist, he hasn’t figured it all out yet.

“I’m really stressed out about finding a college,” Bohlken said. “I want to go to KU just so I don’t have to think about it. For me, thinking about anything that’s five years in the future is just intimidating.”

Isaac Coleman

Pictures of the semifinalists were taken the same day students were notified, so when senior Isaac Coleman was asked if he would like to take off his head-to-toe Cougar Crazie costume, he said no.

“It’s a unique picture,” Coleman said. “I like the picture because I feel like it’s important not to take ourselves seriously and not to think that we’re better than everyone else. I don’t think I’m smart. I just worked hard. ”

In addition to academics, Coleman has been playing the French horn since middle school. He aimed to learn to play the Star Wars Imperial March and since he now can, he considers his French horn career “done”.

“I started playing because I was told that I couldn’t,” Coleman said. “I was told that if you want to play the French horn, you had to start on the trumpet because it was too difficult. I proved to them all that it could be done.”

In between it all, Coleman has found the time to work at McDonalds the past two years and has recently been promoted to manager.

“ I’ll probably get a regional transfer, which is nice because I can get the same job at the same pay,” Coleman said. “If only I could find a McDonalds somewhere else.”

Coleman has wrote and created games for more than two years now. He is currently working on a text-based adventure game with many branches called “Steelarm.”

“The challenge there is to make each player feel like they played a complete story,” Coleman said. “Each has to have a beginning, middle and end, no matter what direction the player takes. That’s what’s interesting about video games to me: the level of immersion they afford.”

Spencer Dang

“I felt happy about , but it doesn’t really mean too much to me. I mean, it’s just like one test.”

The PSAT may not have been a big deal for senior Spencer Dang, but reading sure is. The first book Dang remembers enjoying is one he read during his kindergarten years: The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss.

“When I was younger, my parents took to the library a lot,” Dang said. “As soon as the books were due, we would go check out more.”

From a 26-page-long children’s book, Dang has become an avid reader of the works of science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

“He was really impactful in my life,” Dang said. “He taught me to really think and enjoy books more than I already did.”

He also enjoys the works of Kurt Vonnegut and Gabriel García Márquez. Dang spends a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour reading on an average school day.

“Sometimes I wish I could push all to the side and just read,” Dang said. “Sometimes I do which doesn’t turn out well.”

Dang has also played the piano – on-and-off in elementary school, but more seriously starting sophomore year. Even though he has played for over 10 years, Dang cannot cite one favorite piece to play.

“The act of just sitting down and touching the piano in general is just really relaxing for me,” Dang said. “I just like being at the piano. Sometimes I just sit there and that’s relaxing in itself.”

He found another passion in his sophomore year: slam poetry. Dang had to do something adventurous or extracurricular for a school project and decided to participate in the annual Poetry Slam.

“Since I’m usually a quieter guy, it was really nerve-racking for me the first time,” Dang said. “I think a lot of people, including myself, were really surprised I could do it.”

Dang participated again in his junior year and will be a part of the Poetry Slam for the last time his senior year (turn to page ____ for more information about the Poetry Slam.)

“I really like story-telling,” Dang said. “I really like hearing people’s stories and writing about them. Often times writing is a way for me to escape thinking about school. I can go off and think about whatever I’m trying to write.”

Dang is undecided on his future plans, but is considering majoring in chemistry at the University of Kansas – a choice inspired by his older sister’s career. He is also really close to his dad.

“A lot of people think that – you know, Asian stereotypes – my parents are really strict parents, but my parents are really chill,” Dang said. “They just made me and all my siblings read a lot. We all think that we’re pursuing graduate degrees, so we joke around that there’d be three Dr. Dangs out there.”

Luke Hansen

When semifinalists were announced, senior Luke Hansen was relieved.

“My first thought was, ‘I’m going to college,” Hansen said. “I was doubting it because there’s not a lot of money. I guess it’s just a way to show you’re high up there and colleges want to put money into people they think will leave with a degree from there and go on to do good stuff.”

Hansen hopes to study aeronautical or mechanical engineering with a minor in physics at Wichita State University. For four years, Hansen has spent countless hours building robots with the Robotics team. This year, he led the team as co-captain.

“It’s fun,” Hansen said. “I enjoy making robots.”

Hansen has been in band all four years at Northwest. He has played the trombone for eight years and the euphonium for four. His favorite piece to play is “The Time Warp.”

“It’s the piece we play after all the basketball games,” Hansen said. “That’s everybody’s favorite.”

When things get too stressful, Hansen goes fishing. Once every week or two, Hansen can be found at the Ottawa or Shawnee county lakes. His biggest catch so far is a 14-pound Channel Catfish.

Hansen is a thrower for track and field. Although not competitively, Hansen also boxes.

“When I’m having a bad day, I go to the punching bag,” Hansen said.

Duncan Walter

When senior Duncan Walter found out he was a semifinalist, he did not go out to celebrate.

“When we celebrate, there’s also this stress factor of, ‘I’ve lost three hours of homework,’” Walter said. “The other thing is, everyone’s like, ‘Wow,’ and you don’t really want to celebrate suddenly being different from everybody else. You still want to be like, ‘Hi. I’m still me. I got an award.’”

But this recognition is just another feather in Walter’s cap. He is an International Baccalaureate diploma student. For the past four years, he has thrown shot-put, javelin and discus for track and field, and yet Walter finds the time to design games as well. Two years ago, Walter started 3-D modeling and studying game theory.

“My past time has actually been this super-geeky thing,” Walter said. “I study how to make people want to play a game obsessively. I don’t think it’s a noble cause, but it is a cause.”

Walter worked on developing his game theory knowledge over the summer, spending an average of three hours a day experimenting with Excel. He spends less time now that he is back at school, but hopes to pursue computer sciences in college.

“My experience with coding is making games on game-making software which is super basic,” Walter said. “I want to learn what would be considered more industrial coding like Java-oriented coding – something that I could actually get hired to do work with.”

Walter enjoys playing video games as well as creating them and hopes to intern at video game companies such as Blizzard Entertainment to be able to do what he loves best and get paid for it.

“I don’t purely enjoy games because of that aspect,” Walter said. “When playing games, I’m very much a standard player. I make the move that looks fun and not because I have an actual strategy.”