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The mind factory

By AMBER MOBLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008


TEMPLE TERRACE - In the next few weeks, 19 King High School seniors will learn whether they are not only the cream of the Florida academic crop, but tops in the nation. King touts the most National Achievement Scholarship semifinalists in the state and the most National Merit Scholarship semifinalists and National Hispanic Scholars in the Tampa Bay area. That means scholarship opportunities galore and additional bragging rights before graduation for National Merit semifinalists Arman Ballado, Savannah Carpenter, Sherry Chao, John Cochrane, Dudley Hall, Laura Kaufman, Alexander Kurtz, James Li, Neil Manimala, Cortland Russell, Ton Wang, Natalie Weinstein and Dean White; National Achievement semifinalists Hall, Kyle Simmons, Courtney Smith, Kheva Stenson, and Jenika Shannon; and National Hispanic Scholars Johansen Amin and Marcus Coronado. While these students' brains are arguably their best assets, the St. Petersburg Times wanted to know a bit more about them.

We all know you're smart, but what kind of hidden talent do you possess?

- "I can wiggle my ears. My friends also tell me that I make a cute impression of the Pillsbury Doughboy when they poke my tummy and I quietly laugh, 'Hee hee!'" Arman Ballado of Riverview

- "I can clear a 5-foot fence without having to touch it or climb over it." Johansen Amin, Temple Terrace

"I can make a great omelet."Neil Manimala, Valrico

- "I can stick my leg behind my head." Cortland Russell, Brandon

- "I gained the Native American name 'Snake Killer' because of my abilities with a blow-dart gun at Boy Scout summer camp against plastic snakes."Kyle Simmons, Brandon

- "I can move my left eye toward my nose while keeping the right perfectly straight." Jenika Shannon

- "I play piano and violin. I can burp the alphabet, but the performance isn't as good." James Li

- "My hidden talents include tae kwon do 3rd degree black belt and hapkido. I also play the piano and the saxophone." Dean White, Brandon

Where's your favorite place to study and why?

- "I like to go to read at Panera's with a friend. It's nice to get out of the house." Laura Kaufman, Hunter's Green

. If you had to pick one song to be the soundtrack to your life, what would it be and why?

- "I would pick the Mission: Impossible theme song because I always feel like my life is an adventure, and I can't wait to see what happens next!" Sherry Chao, Tampa Palms

- Mmmmmm Bop by Hanson - It sums up my life and reminds me of my childhood." Kheva Stenson, Temple Terrace

What is one thing about yourself that may surprise others?

- "It might surprise others that I have only been in this country for five years. I spent my first six years in the Philippines and I lived in Saudi Arabia in the following years." Arman Ballado, Riverview

- "It's very hard for me to be sociable and studious at the same time. If I don't say hi to you, I'm probably neck-deep in homework. If I get an easy answer wrong, I'm probably in a fun mood. Dudley Hall, Tampa Palms

- "I am not a nerd. I am one of those rarely sighted nerd-jocks with some athletic skill to go with my nerdiness." Johansen Amin, Temple Terrace

- "I can bake over 20 different desserts without looking at their recipes. Thanks, Mom." Cortland Russell, Brandon

- "I don't know how to blow a bubble with bubble gum."Ton Wang, Hunter's Green

- "It may surprise people to know that a patriotic person like me hates American food. My diet in large part consists of sushi, couscous, Chinese food and Cuban bread." Alexander Kurtz, Riverview

- "I am a 4-11 female ice hockey player."Natalie Weinstein, Temple Terrace

Do you have any test-taking superstitions and/or good luck charms?

- "I always wear a golden cross blessed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, but that doesn't exclusively pertain to test taking. As far as that goes, whenever I finish a test, I always go back and check No. 17. I don't know why. I started doing so in, like, third grade, and it's just been a habit ever since then." Alexander Kurtz, Riverview

- "Every time I take a major test I have to be wearing a pair of my Ginch Gonch underwear." Cortland Russell, Brandon

- "Chocolate is my own personal lucky rabbit's foot. Dark chocolate to be exact. It works wonders at keeping you focused. Just don't eat too much because the last thing you want is to be hyper, thus defeating the purpose entirely. Arman Ballado, Riverview

. In kindergarten, what did you want to be when you grew up? What do you want to be now?

- "In kindergarten I wanted to be rich. Now that's not as important. I just want to enjoy myself." John Cochrane, Lutz

- "I wanted to be a rodeo clown, but now I want to be a chemical engineer." Jenika Shannon

- "I wanted to be a pulmonary specialist because I suffered from chronic asthma and wanted to help others with the same problem. My asthma has since died down and now I wish to be an oncologist after viewing a seminar on RNA (interference) techniques to battle cancer." Courtney Smith, Riverview

- "I wanted to be a garbage man because I thought it looked really fun to be able to throw stuff all day. I actually made my grandparents get me a garbage can for Christmas one year so I could throw my toys around ... now, I want to be a lawyer and potentially a politician." Alexander Kurtz, Riverview

- "I wanted to be a scientist or an astronaut because I thought those were the coolest jobs in the world; flying through the stars, exploring planets and toying around with unstable chemical concoctions in a lab. Now I'm not really sure what to do with my life. There are just so many options to choose from out there and I can't decide on just one that I want to stick with." Marcus Coronado, Brandon

If you could be a superhero and/or obtain a super power, who would you be? What power would you have?

- "I would be Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four because I'm really short so it would be nice to be able to stretch myself out and become a little taller." Natalie Weinstein, Temple Terrace

- "I WANT BACON VISION" Jenika Shannon

- "I'd like to be indestructible." Kheva Stenson, Temple Terrace

- "I'd like to fly!" Laura Kaufman, Hunter's Green

Amber Mobley can be reached at or (813) 269-5311.

[Last modified January 11, 2008, 00:26:08]

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