1. The Education Gradebook

Academic excellence, family struggles mark 2012 Barnes Scholar winners

The 2012 Barnes Scholarship winners are, in the words of one counselor, young people who "will simply not take 'no' for an answer in regards to future successes in life."

All of them stepped up when their families needed them, overcoming illness, poverty and tragedy. All of them have maintained the highest level of academic excellence.

The 2012 Barnes Scholarship winners, announced today by the Tampa Bay Times Fund, are Nourhan Elsayed of St. Petersburg High School in Pinellas County, Ayushe Misra of Alonso High School in Hillsborough County, Ruben Godinez of Strawberry Crest High School in Hillsborough County and Basil Jackson of Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa.

The four students are eligible to receive up to $15,000 per year for four years of study at an accredited U.S. college or university. The scholarships are sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times Fund Inc., (formerly the St. Petersburg Times Fund Inc.). They were established in 1999 to help high-achieving students who had overcome significant obstacles in their lives. The scholarships are named for Andrew Barnes, former chairman and CEO of Times Publishing Co. Since 2000, 48 students have been named Barnes Scholarship winners. The program has a 100 percent success rate for graduation on time.

The winners of the 2012 Barnes Scholarships were among 10 finalists selected from 389 applicants. The scholarship program targets high school seniors in the Times' audience area of Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

"These young people are inspiring," said Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of Times Publishing Co. "They show resilience in the face of adversity, and they just keep plugging away toward their goals. It's an honor to give their wonderful ambitions a boost" through the Barnes Scholarships.

The six runners up for the 2012 Barnes Scholarships are Morgan Metzger of Citrus High School in Citrus County; Devin Bird of Robinson High School, Julian Couture of Lennard High School, Anne-Marie Nemeth of Gaither High School, all in Hillsborough County; and Marissa Lazo of Osceola High School, and Henris Zaimaj of Pinellas Park High School, both in Pinellas County. Each will receive a one-time $1,000 award.

The winners and finalists will be honored at a luncheon on April 24 at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. The guest speaker will be Adrian Diaz, a 2005 Barnes Scholarship winner and a graduate of The Ohio State University. Diaz is an engineer with Cummins Engine in Columbus, Ind.

Nourhan Elsayed

Noura, 17, is from an Egyptian family of five children. Every member contributes to making the family business successful. They own Rudy's Fresh Market, one of the founding businesses at St. Petersburg's Saturday Morning Market.

Four years ago, Noura's father was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure from diabetes. Dialysis would help for only so long, so he needed a kidney transplant.

With her father unable to work, everyone had to step up even more. Her father received the kidney transplant, and Noura continues to work part-time and go to school. She has excelled academically. She is in the top 2 percent of the IB program at St. Petersburg High School. She is a member of the National Honor Society, the English Honor Society and the Science Honor Society. She is a Doorways Scholar through a program sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation.

An aspiring journalist, Noura writes for tb-two*, the Times' publication for teens, and her high school newspaper. She has attended summer journalism workshops at the Poynter Institute and Michigan State University on scholarships.

Noura has been admitted to Duke University and plans to major in public policy and biochemistry so that she can become a medical journalist. "I hope to one day empower people who have come from difficult situations. I hope to embody the support I've been provided with and offer it to someone else," she said.

Ayushe Misra

Their life changed in a matter of minutes. On a family visit to India last summer, Ayushe's mother died tragically. Her father remains in India. Ayushe, 17, and her sister, 10, returned to Tampa alone. They became wards of the state and live with a foster family. Ayushe's days now swirl with the demands of high school and adult decisions, including where her sister will live when Ayushe goes to college.

Despite it all, Ayushe continues to excel academically and be a leader at Alonso High School. She is valedictorian of her class, has a weighted GPA of 7.32 and is a National Merit Scholarship finalist. She is president of student government, editor in chief of the yearbook, and president of National Honor Society. She volunteers at Metropolitan Ministries and has a part-time job.

Ayushe wants to major in English or journalism in college and aspires to be an English professor. She has applied to Yale, NYU, Columbia, Cornell and the University of Chicago, and she has been accepted to the University of Florida. "The greatest contribution I can offer any institution or situation is the newfound sense of urgency that drives my life," she said.

Basil Jackson

Technically, Basil has already been to college. Abandoned by his mother at birth, he was adopted by an aunt and lived with his cousin through his toddler years in the dorms at Temple University, where his cousin had a basketball scholarship.

Basil, however, intends to be the first person in his family to be admitted to college for his academic record. His counselors and teachers at Berkeley Prep support his ambitions. "Basil is a serious, dedicated and enthusiastic student," one counselor wrote. "He has proven to be a leader inside and outside the classroom."

Basil and his aunt moved to Florida in 2006 to be closer to his cousin. At Berkeley Prep, he has a GPA of 3.79 and has made the dean's list and the headmaster's list throughout high school. He has played on the football and wrestling teams and has two part-time jobs. Basil also has volunteered at the YMCA as a summer camp counselor and with Quantum Leap, a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic riding lessons for children and adults with disabilities.

Already accepted to Drexel University, the University of Central Florida and UF, Basil is waiting to hear from the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford and Harvard. He wants to major in computer science or advertising. "I believe that the best things in life can come from the not-so-best of beginnings," he said. "I truly believe that nothing is impossible."

Ruben Godinez

Ruben's family odyssey starts in Mexico and ends in Plant City. His father was an engineer in Mexico but hoped for a better life for himself and his family in the United States. He immigrated first and has worked construction jobs throughout Florida. Ruben's mother brought him and his older sister later. They were proud to become U.S. citizens in 2008.

Ruben remembers struggling to learn English in elementary school. He "fell in love with math," however, and soon excelled in all his subjects.

He is valedictorian of his class at Strawberry Crest High school, with a weighted GPA of 7.0. Ruben is president of the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta, and he is a national AP scholar. He was named this year's MVP for his role as captain and goalie for his high school soccer team. He also plays on a travel soccer team. And he recently was voted "best all-around senior" by his classmates.

Ruben has given back to his community by helping migrant workers in the Plant City area through a program sponsored by St. Clement Catholic Church. He also has spent more than 100 hours maintaining the soccer fields at the local recreation center where he played as a child.

Ruben has applied to Stanford University, Duke, Notre Dame, the University of Miami and UCF. He has been accepted to UF. He wants to study political science and enter law school. "I wish to serve as a testimony to Hispanics throughout the United States that with hard work, dedication and a focus on education, we may also get our share of the American Dream," he said.