Bonita High School alumna and current Cornell University student, Verena Padres, was named a 2023 Cornell University National Merit Scholarship winner. She is the first student from Bonita High School to receive the award. 

Padres, whose dream is to work at NASA, was one of approximately 840 students across the United States to be named a National Merit Scholar. Padres graduated from Bonita High School in La Verne in 2022 and began her freshman year at Cornell in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, where she is conducting research for Alpha CubeSat, a light sail-carrying, cube-shaped satellite designed to be a stepping stone to our nearest star systems.

“We decided on Cornell because of the opportunities,” Padres said. “It’s a really great engineering school, they have research labs and project teams that you can get involved with, even as an undergraduate, with hands-on experience that can lead to internships and jobs in the industry.”

The National Merit Scholarship is an annual academic competition for high school students based on their preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test scores. Padres graduated from Bonita High a year early and was already enrolled as a freshman at Cornell when she received the scholarship. 

“At a time when her former schoolmates are getting ready to receive their diplomas, Verena Padres has already completed a year of college and is involved with a space exploration project that could greatly enhance what we know about our solar system,” Bonita High School Principal Kenny Ritchie said. “Congratulations to Verena on receiving a National Merit Scholarship. She and Ashley (Verena’s sister) serve as role models for all students who want to achieve at the highest levels.”

Approximately 1.5 million high school students enter the National Merit Scholarship program each year. Previous award winners include U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan, and former Microsoft CEO and current Los Angeles Clippers owner, Steve Ballmer.

Padres is majoring in mechanical engineering and working toward a career in space exploration.