WOODS CROSS — Sarah-Jane Hansen has danced her way through life since she was in kindergarten.
But the West High School student still gets nervous when she's called on to showcase her talents.
Hansen, 18, performed in front of a Sterling Scholar Award panel Wednesday, hoping to stand out from her peers and take home first place in Utah's premier scholarship competition.
The nerves, she says, hit her like a brick wall in the hours leading up to her performance.
“I was especially nervous this morning,” Hansen said. “But it's been a great day because I also had a chance to (practice) dance at school. So I was able to just get into the moves and … remember how much I love it.”
Hansen was one of 195 students who gathered at Woods Cross High School on Wednesday as candidates for the 52nd annual Sterling Scholar Awards.
The students walked in supremely nervous but also confident. They had passed through two rounds of competition so far. If they managed to ace their panel interviews and excel in their three- to four-minute presentations, they could be named a Sterling Scholar in the highly competitive Wasatch Front Region.
“It feels good. It's definitely an ego boost,” said Lehi High School student Ben Parker, who brought his photography project to compete in the visual arts category. “A lot of us are fairly confident as it is, but none of us can predict the outcome.”
Students in the Sterling Scholar Program's Wasatch Front Region hail from Logan to Payson and compete in 13 academic categories. The high schools nominated their own participants, who travelled to intermediate competitions at Ben Lomond, Copper Hills and Timpview high schools.
From there, judges from all three competitions selected five students to compete in each subject at the main event.
Linda Stokes is the Wasatch Region coordinator for the Latter-day Saints Foundation, which funds the scholarships, acting as the charitable giving branch of Deseret Management Corp.
Stokes said the goal of the program is to expand scholarship criteria beyond typical GPA requirements.
“Our Sterling Scholars are not only the academic cream of the crop, but they are students who have become involved in their community," she said. "We're looking for a scholar who looks at an issue and says, 'You know what? I can fix it.'"
Students had two weeks to prepare for the final round of competition. Winners and runners-up — including the prestigious General Sterling Scholar category — will be announced March 13 at Cottonwood High School.
Until then, the students have a chance to be kids again.
“I’m going to go take a long nap,” said Andy Ho, a Taylorsville High School senior competing in business and marketing. “I’d just like to go to sleep and not think any more.”
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company