SPHS Senior Earns National Merit Scholarship

SPHS senior Elene Wu earned a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship.
Photo by Jamilah Hah

For South Pasadena High School (SPHS) senior Elene Wu, a love for mathematics and cooking have combined into a force all its own.

In May, Wu earned the distinction of a National Merit Scholarship worth $2,500 after scoring 1510 (the perfect score is 1520) on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) and writing an essay on her activities and interests.

Of the 1.6 million National Merit entrants nationally, SPHS recognized six Semifinalists and 34 Commended Scholars in March. Semifinalists went on to compete for 7,500 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $31 million. Wu is the sole scholarship winner from SPHS.

A native of Shanghai, China, Wu balanced her responsibilities of studying for high academic marks with cooking, which she was drawn to while taking a culinary arts class at South Pasadena Middle School. Inspired, she took to baking every weekend.

“It was just really fun,” said Wu.

When at SPHS, she decided to become vegan after learning about health, the environment and the animal industry through documentaries. She took it as inspiration to start cooking customized meals for herself and eventually shared her path through an Instagram account (@vegamelon) which currently has over 70,000 followers. Pancakes, curries and desserts are some of her favorite delights to make and share recipes for. Her vividly colorful photos and recipes have been featured in Thrive Magazine and the SPHS Tiger Newspaper. She also wrote about her experiences and the lessons she learned from them in her National Merit essay.

“I found it very fun and I wanted to share my recipes online because I think there’s kind of a vegan movement these days,” said Wu. “People are starting to eat more plant-based, so I thought I could contribute to the message and share my recipes with everyone.”

During her time at SPHS, Wu participated in Math Club, tutored other students in mathematics and performed on the piano in Music Club. She plans to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, to major in mathematics and also applied for an honors program. She would like to eventually teach the subject and also sees a way to continue her passion for math and baking.

“I want to study the science of baking things and how the ingredients just go well together into making a dessert,” shared Wu.

South Pasadena resident Eli Grossman, who attends Polytechnic School in Pasadena, also earned a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship.