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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Natalie Barnes, Bountiful, performs in dance during Sterling Scholar judging at Woods Cross High School in Woods Cross Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012.

WOODS CROSS — Cottonwood High School senior Chris Mansfield stood next to a large instrument case and portable amplifier, waiting to be called for his interview.

He was one of 195 finalists from the Wasatch Front interviewed at Woods Cross High School on Wednesday, the final hurdle after months — and in some cases years — of preparation to be one of 13 regional Sterling Scholars.

Was he nervous?

"A little bit, but there's nothing I can do about it now," he said, seconds before a student body officer arrived to guide him to his interview room.

His statement echoed a sense of relief shared by many of the students anxiously waiting their turn before the judges. After Wednesday, their fate, for better or for worse, would be out of their hands.

"This is it, this is the finals," Sterling Scholars Director Linda Stokes said.

Stokes had nothing but praise for this year's crop of students and she said she's heard overwhelmingly positive comments from the participating judges.

"I am just amazed at what's happening in the high schools," she said.

Russell Lindberg was at Woods Cross to support his daughter, Ashley, a finalist in the computer technology category. He said she has a knack for layout and design, working for both the school newspaper and yearbook at Davis High School as well as being in charge of the family Christmas card.

He said Ashley was calm going into her interview, even while realizing the academic opportunities that being a regional Sterling scholar would open up to her.

"As a parent you couldn't be prouder," he said. "You realize all the work and preparation that has gotten her to this point."

For Jackie Rosen, a finalist in foreign language from Murray High School, that preparation began in 9th grade. The same year that she began taking classes in Mandarin, then-Sterling Scholars spoke to students about the program and it didn't take long for Rosen to make up her mind.

"They were so impressive," she said. "They did everything, it seemed like."

Since then, Rosen has taken summer courses from BYU in addition to her high school Mandarin classes. She said she felt the most nervous before her first interview, when 13 semifinalists are selected from each school, but admitted that was partly due to her having applied in four different categories.

"It was so big and it was everything," she said. "I thought I had totally failed it, but turns out I didn't."

Rosen said she hasn't made up her mind about where she wants to go to college, but plans to study industrial design with a minor in Mandarin. She was one of five finalists from Murray, who sat together and encouraged each other as their names were called.

Her schoolmate Sarah Taylor, a finalist for family and consumer science, said she didn't decide to apply for Sterling Scholar until she was encouraged by a faculty member at the end of her junior year. Since then, however, she said she's spent a lot of time preparing, including meeting after school with the other Murray semifinalists nearly every day for two months to work on her portfolio and practice interviewing.

Utah high schools are divided into five Sterling Scholars regions. For the Wasatch Front, one Sterling scholar will be named in each of the 13 categories — as well as two runners-up — at an awards ceremony March 21 at Cottonwood High School. From those 13 a General Sterling Scholar will also be named. The event is free and open to the public, Stokes said, and will feature KSL-TV's Nadine Wimmer as master of ceremonies.

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