Alverno Heights Academy Seniors Victoria Chen and Melody Wu Named 2018 National Merit Semifinalists

Chen and Wu join are among the 1% of students from across the country qualified for this honor

Published : Wednesday, September 20, 2017 | 12:45 PM

Melody Wu (l) and Victoria Chen (r). Photo courtesy Alverno Heights Academy

Alverno Heights Academy seniors Victoria Chen and Melody Wu are among the semifinalists of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation for their 63rd annual National Merit Scholarship Program.

More than 1.5 million students nationwide entered the Merit Program as juniors by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. High scorers were designated Semifinalists, representing less than 1% of the state’s graduating class. In total, just over 16,000 academically talented seniors qualified nationwide.

Victoria, who is only 15 years old, is a member of the Accelerated Honors Academy at Alverno Heights Academy. She started at Alverno in the fall of 2014 at just 12 years old after skipping both the seventh and eighth grades. Despite her age, Victoria is enrolled and excels in a rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) college preparatory program at Alverno which includes AP English Literature, AP Physics: C, AP Human Geography, Honors Multivariable Calculus, Exploration in Technology, and Honors Independent Research in Science. She currently maintains a 4.5 GPA. In 2014, Victoria was recognized by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth for achieving extraordinary scores on the Center’s annual School and College Ability Test (SCAT). She scored in the 99th percentile in both the verbal and quantitative sections of the exam missing only seven questions overall. A year later, Victoria, along with two classmates, was recognized as a winner of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Cogito Research Award. The Cogito Research Award was established to enable motivated students to complete a promising research project in a science, technology, math, or engineering field. Victoria was awarded a special certificate of recognition as well as an award check for $599 to complete her research project. Last spring, Victoria earned the highest possible composite score of 36 on the ACT, the leading United States admission test that determines college readiness.

Melody, who is just 16 years old, is also a member of the Accelerated Honors Academy at Alverno Heights Academy. She started at Alverno in the fall of 2014 at 13 years old after bypassing the eighth grade. Melody carries an impressive academic course load including AP English Literature, AP Physics: C, AP Studio Art, AP US Government, Honors Multivariable Calculus, AP Human Geography, and Honors Independent Research in Science while maintaining a 4.7 GPA. Outside of the classroom, Melody is a committed musician who plays the piano and has been a member of Alverno’s choir, Alverno Singers. She serves as an Ambassador representing Alverno at school and community events as well as acting as the Secretary of the Interior in the Alverno Student Union. Melody is no stranger to academic competition either, having won First Place in the Youth Science Center Essay Contest and she was recently named the Grand Prize Winner of the Chinese Institute of Engineers (CIE) STEM 5-Star Challenge. CIE is a non-profit national organization dedicated to promoting Asian Pacific Americans in science, technology, engineering, and math in their local communities. Melody presented at their annual STEM 5-Star Challenge Presentations in March where she beat out other high school, college, and graduate students to receive the Grand Prize for her work in STEM. This past summer, Melody participated in an elite and exclusive summer research program through NeuroLab SEPA, which focused on genetics and neurology.

Both Melody and Victoria were recently named AP Scholars with Distinction for successfully completing eight AP exams with an average score of 4.5 or higher, including both earning perfect “5’s” on both the AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC exams.

At school, both Victoria and Melody are active in Alverno’s expanding STEM program participating in numerous collaborations with Caltech including the Community Science Academy (CSA) 1 and 2, Solar Energy Activity Laboratory (SEAL) for the last three years, and the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team. They were an integral part of the Alverno Heights Academy iGEM team that competed in Boston last fall. Victoria, Melody and their teammates competed against colleges and universities from around the world including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Stanford. The team project proposed using deactivated Cas9 (dCas9) as a DNA clamp to block propagation of supercoiling generated during transcription, improving the modularity, predictability, and scalability of single-vector, multi-gene synthetic systems. After many months of arduous research and commitment, Alverno’s iGEM team earned a Silver Medal in the competition and were recognized for their exceptional achievement by Congresswoman Judy Chu. Finally, both Victoria and Melody are involved in the Advanced Bioengineering Laboratory at Alverno.

“Alverno Heights Academy is so incredibly proud of Victoria and Melody’s once in a lifetime accomplishment,” said Julia V. Fanara, Head of School. “Out of students across the nation, less than 1% of high school seniors qualified for this tremendous honor and the fact that Victoria and Melody, at 15 and 16 years of age respectively, were named Semifinalists makes this achievement so much more momentous! Both were among the first students admitted to the official Accelerated Honors Academy at Alverno, which only continues to grow and expand each year, and it has been a privilege to watch them grow and thrive with it. We look forward to many more successes and providing these exceptionally gifted young women like Victoria and Melody, along with all of our students, the opportunity to grow and excel in a nurturing and college preparatory environment like Alverno.”

About Alverno Heights Academy

Alverno Heights Academy is an all-girls, independent, progressive Catholic, college preparatory school dedicated to its mission of empowering each young woman to be exactly the person she wants to be. Located on the property of the former Barlow Estate in Sierra Madre, California, Alverno Heights Academy was founded in 1960 by the Sisters of St. Francis who sought to create an environment in the San Gabriel Valley where young women could become informed and knowledgeable persons. Later renamed Alverno High School and sponsored by the Immaculate Heart Community, Alverno’s program—academic, spiritual, aesthetic, social, and physical—has been shaped by the staff, trustees, and students. As Alverno Heights Academy once again, the school remains committed to its mission by encouraging each of their young women to be who they imagine. For more information about Alverno Heights Academy, please visit






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