16-year-old earns National Merit Scholarship following freshman year at Carnegie Mellon | TribLIVE.com

16-year-old earns National Merit Scholarship following freshman year at Carnegie Mellon

Patrick Varine
Elena Swecker, 16, of Murrysville in her teaching assistant role. Swecker recently completed her first year at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

For Carnegie Mellon University students in the “Fundamentals of Programming and Computer Science” course, it may have taken a little time to adjust to a teaching assistant two years their junior.

On the other side of the equation, that 16-year-old teaching assistant, Elena Swecker of Murrysville, was also adjusting to her first year at Carnegie Mellon.

“It’s been wonderful,” Swecker said. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity to find out what I’m interested in and what I want to do after college.”

Swecker will be aided in that pursuit by a National Merit Scholarship that was announced in late July. The $1,500 scholarship is renewable each year. Swecker and fellow Franklin Regional student Meghna Iyengar were both recipients of corporate-sponsored National Merit Scholarships.

That makes four Panther students to receive National Merit recognition this year: Jaden Seman of Delmont and Clare McCarthy of Murrysville were named scholarship recipients in the spring.

For Swecker, the biggest challenge of her freshman year at CMU was making college living arrangements as a 15-year-old.

“Some colleges don’t allow students under 16 to live on campus,” she said. “So this past year, I lived just slightly off-campus with my cousin. Then I moved into student housing during the second semester.”

Swecker got some more new living arrangements this summer — performing an internship at Sandia National Laboratories just east of San Francisco Bay in northern California.

“This summer, I’ve transitioned to using computers,” she said. “Instead of doing experiments in a lab, I’m writing code that analyzes data for us.”

Swecker created a streamlined process to obtain large data sets, in this case the genome sequences Sandia researchers use in their work.

Swecker is pursing a degree in computational biology, and said her time at Franklin Regional was crucial in preparing her.

“This was a tough decision to make, because I don’t have a lot of that life experience,” she said. “I just feel so fortunate. I wouldn’t have any of these opportunities without the wonderful school system I grew up in, and the (National Merit) Scholarship is providing me with more support to help reinforce that the path I chose is the right one.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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