PROVO Some students were too nervous even to munch on the cookies heaped on platters in the school lobby.
Hundreds of students along the Wasatch Front went through the Sterling Scholar semifinals Wednesday afternoon, vying for the chance to win scholarships. The program is sponsored by the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV.
With butterflies in their stomachs and sweaty palms, students waited for their turn to appear before judges for a 10-minute interview.
Lindsay Clegg, 17, a senior at Pleasant Grove High School, said it wasn't that she was too nervous to nibble on the cookies. It was that she had just brushed her teeth and didn't want to have "cookie breath" for the judges.
Clegg entered the business/marketing category. "I love working with numbers," she said. "I'm just nerdy, I guess."
Clegg plans to attend Utah Valley State College, get her general classes out of the way, then head to Brigham Young University. She wants to be an accountant.
A total of 676 Sterling Scholar nominees gathered at Roy, Woods Cross and Provo high schools Wednesday. They met with 78 judges from public and higher education and the business community. The students displayed their portfolios and answered questions in their personal interviews.
"I've even known of math Sterling Scholars who were asked to solve math problems," said Stacey Briggs, assistant principal at Provo High School.
A total of 195 students will advance to the final round March 5 at Alta High School. Names of winners are listed online at deseretnews.com/scholars.
The awards ceremony is slated for March 26 at Cottonwood High School, where 13 scholars and 26 runners-up will be named. In addition, one student from the 13 categories, which range from music to math, will be named as Top Scholar.
Sixteen universities, colleges, and business and technical schools offer scholarships to the winners and runners-up.
The students represent 52 high schools, from Cache County to Utah County.
On Wednesday, after their interviews, teens said the judges weren't as intimidating as they thought they would be.
"We were trained to expect really scary judges," said John Sargeant, 17, a senior at Timpanogos High School in Orem. Competing in the music category, he played a Rachmaninoff Concerto on the piano and answered questions.
"They didn't ask a lot of mean questions," Sargeant said. "It wasn't like 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire.' It was like the home teachers."
He wants to attend Utah State University and eventually be a concert performer and teacher.
Jordan Staub, 17, a senior at Timpanogos High School in Orem, said, "I didn't think the interview would be that much fun."
Staub entered the business/marketing category. She plans to study psychology at the University of Utah and then go to New York University for her graduate work. She wants to be an art therapist and have her own clinic.
The judges' questions weren't horrible, agreed William Campbell, 18, a senior at Jordan High School in Sandy. He entered the fine arts category, and his portfolio included various pieces of his art, including sculpture and photography.
Judges asked Campbell what artist had influenced him. "(Alberto) Giacometti. Definitely," he said. "He is a Swiss sculptor."Campbell wants to attend Westminster College or the University of Utah and get a degree first in graphic design and then in architecture.