- Lenoir County Public Schools
South Lenoir student athlete vying for top merit scholarship
When a pool of 2,203 talented high school seniors from across the country was reduced to a group of 495 semifinalists for the prestigious Park Scholarship to N.C. State University, Matthew Heath was naturally excited about clearing that hurdle.
But the South Lenoir High School senior, the leader of his cross country and track teams, keeps the achievement in perspective – and his ultimate goal in sight.
“I was very honored to get through the first cut and hopefully I can make it to the end,” Matthew said Friday. “I’ve already received my acceptance from N.C. State. The plan is to go for a bachelor’s (degree) in computer engineering.”
Matthew made it into the semifinalist group on the strength of his written application, his academic record and three essays required as part of the package. A 30-minute interview conducted on Zoom Jan. 9 with four members of the scholarship selection committee will help determine if he’s among the 112 finalists.
It’s a hair-splitting selection process, he knows – a challenge even for a student who is ranked No. 1 academically in a class of 179 seniors and who is one of two student athletes from North Carolina chosen as a 2020-2021 Heisman High School Scholar.
“I’m involved with a lot of different activities – sports and clubs – and I imagine all the other applicants are,” said Matthew, 17, the son of Billy and Anna Heath of Kinston. “Everyone so far has demonstrated great academic achievement, so that’s not much to mention. I guess what I hope sets me apart is my character and my activities.”
What Matthew takes part in, he typically leads – president of the school’s Student Council Association and National Honor Society chapter, a leader of TSA (Technology Student Association) and captain of his track, cross country and golf teams. He is a peer-to-peer tutor at South Lenoir through STEM Corps East and volunteered as a tutor last school year.
The tutoring, sports and clubs keep him moored to his high school – the cross-country team is running in the state finals this week – but for all of this school year and most of the last, Matthew has been a college student, taking college-level courses at Lenoir Community College through the Career and College Promise program. He’s on track to graduate with both a high school diploma and associate degree.
“Matthew is a one-of-a-kind student,” Candice Tyndall, a school counselor at South Lenoir, said. “He is intelligent, kind, compassionate, outgoing, inquisitive and incredibly driven. He is truly a hard-working young man who embodies all of the qualities of a Park Scholar, and we are all so very proud of him.”
The four-year Park Scholarship is valued at $100,000 for in-state students and includes travel opportunities, leadership seminars and a number of other perquisites available only to Park Scholars. The merit scholarship was established by the late Roy H. Park, who founded Park Communications, to reward academic success, leadership, service and character.
Matthew expects to know if he’s still in the running to be a member of the 26th class of Park Scholars by the end of the month.
Until then, it’s pretty much business as usual, he says. “I did what I could. There’s nothing more I can do now except hope for the best.”