Continuing a 50-year tradition, Sterling Scholar directors from Deseret News and KSL 5 Television began planning as soon as last year's program concluded to ensure that the reputation of Utah's most prestigious academic recognition program is maintained.

The semifinal judging will bring 741 school nominees to three locations: Northridge, Copper Hills and Timpview high schools. Following the first round of judging, 195 semifinalists advance to the final round on March 2. Final judging will be held at Murray High School.

From the start, the Sterling Scholar program has emphasized academic recognition for Utah public high school seniors. This program began under former Deseret News education editor Lavor K. Chaffin. He envisioned a program that would raise the standard of academic excellence and felt that the Deseret News should lend both its personnel and financial resources to further the program. This philosophy continues today with the addition of KSL 5 Television as a co-sponsor.

The Sterling Scholar program includes five regions. In this special section are the photographs of Sterling Scholar nominees from public high schools in the Wasatch Front region. The four other regions — Northeast, Central, Southwest and Southeast — conduct Sterling Scholar programs similar to that of the Wasatch Front program but stand alone and follow their own schedules. Neither the Deseret News nor KSL 5 Television has direct involvement with these.

The process of elimination begins tomorrow for the 700-plus listed scholars, culminating with an Academy Awards-type program March 23 at Cottonwood High School, where 13 Sterling Scholars and 26 runners-up will be named. In addition, the prestigious General Sterling Scholar, selected from one of the 13 category Sterling Scholar winners, will be announced.

Fourteen universities, colleges, business and technical schools offer scholarships to winners and runners-up. Additional information about these scholarships is included in this section.

Sterling Scholars compete in the areas of scholarship, leadership and community service/citizenship. Soon after school begins each fall, faculty representatives and administrators of each public high school begin the process of selecting their school Sterling Scholars. The Deseret News and KSL 5 Television do not take part in the selection of nominees. This is left up to the individual schools, with the principals making the final decision.

The next step is the preparation of a portfolio using guidelines that have evolved over the past 49 years. Instead of a scrapbook, the portfolio is mostly a snapshot look at a student's accomplishments during his or her high school years. Limited to 20 pages, the portfolio's first seven — eight pages include a photograph, certified transcript, test scores, letter of recommendation and student entry forms.

These entry forms provide an opportunity for the students to express themselves about their accomplishments, goals and how they see themselves involved in their category in the future. The balance of the pages are used to exhibit the student's participation in the three areas of demonstrating citizenship, scholarship and community service/leadership.

The process of judging will begin with two to three judges in each category reviewing each of the 17-19 portfolios. Judges begin their reviews as early as 10:30 a.m. They assign some preliminary scores based on a 100-point total. Scholarship can receive 50 points, divided between overall scholarship and category scholarship. The remaining 50 points are divided between citizenship and community service/leadership, with 25 possible points for each.

At approximately 2:20 p.m., the students begin arriving and meet with their respective judges in a 10-minute private interview. While judges don't get any money for their efforts, they are rewarded with the satisfaction they receive from meeting with these outstanding students. The judges often comment on what an exhausting day it is but also how it is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable days they experience all year.

The job of each pair of judges is to advance five individuals to the next round. With three sub-locations for the day, this means that a total of 15 will advance in each of 13 categories, making the 195 finalists in all. The list of finalists will be published on the Deseret News website, deseretnews.com, that evening at approximately midnight. The finalists will be listed in the Friday edition of the Deseret News.

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On March 2, the 195 finalists come again to meet with a new panel of three to four judges who will determine the final Sterling Scholar winners and runners-up.

Finally, an elaborate awards program under the direction of Katie Oborn of KSL 5 Television will be held March 23 at 7 p.m. at Cottonwood High School. The program is free of charge, and no tickets are required. There is ample seating at Cottonwood High School.

Two special awards will also be presented during the evening, the Philo T. Farnsworth Excellence in Education/Governor's Award and the Douglas F. Bates Community Service Award. A member of Gov. Gary Herbert's staff will present the Farnsworth/Governor's Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship in a technical field. The recipient will receive a statuette of Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the television. The Douglas F. Bates Community Service Award is named for the late Douglas F. Bates, longtime administrator for the Utah State Office of Education.

At the conclusion of this year's program, all candidates will have participated in one of the country's most prestigious awards program for high school students. Over the years, Utah's Sterling Scholars have gone on to successful pursuits throughout the state, nation and world. The 2011 winners will take their place in this honored fraternity of Deseret News and KSL 5 Television Sterling Scholars.