Biological sciences department chair Bob Cohen speaks to hundreds of students and teachers during the event on Friday.

Biological sciences department chair Bob Cohen speaks to hundreds of students and teachers during the event on Friday.
Image Credit: Photo by Ginger Foulk

CLEMSON – With minds as sharp as pencils, more than 700 eager students descended on the campus of Clemson University to attend the 39th Annual Biology Merit Exam on Friday (April 27).

The longtime mega-event, which recognizes and promotes outstanding achievement among middle and high school students in South Carolina, is sponsored by the department of biological sciences.

“The Biology Merit Exam gives students from across the state a unique opportunity to test their knowledge in biology, make new friends, and explore our beautiful campus,” department chair Bob Cohen said. “Many students and their teachers come back year after year and always seem to enjoy themselves and learn something new.”

Students came to the event to test their knowledge of biology, acquaint themselves with Clemson University, tour the campus, explore museums and attend special exhibits and demonstrations.

They also took the Biology Merit Exam, competing against students at similar grade levels for awards. The exam consisted of 40 multiple-choice questions of varying degrees of difficulty that are distributed among the major areas of biology.

“As far as I know, students from Daniel High School have been attending the Biology Merit Exam for the entirety of its existence,” said Michel Justus, a biology teacher at D.W. Daniel High School in Central. “In fact, I remember attending when I was a student at Daniel more than 25 years ago. I consistently bring my students to participate because it gives them the opportunity to gauge how much they have learned throughout the year and to witness how their knowledge compares with that of students from other schools and at other levels.”

“I began taking students to the BME about seven to eight years ago,” added Wally Blankenship, a biology teacher at Rock Hill High School. “Beginning with maybe seven students, the crowd has grown each year. I brought a bus with 44 students this year. These young people have recognized a valuable opportunity to have a college experience. I’m honored to be a part of that.”

Here are the exam winners:


High school students having completed or presently enrolled in a second year of a high school life science class.




FIRST: Jennifer Gao, D.W. Daniel High School

SECOND: Rayyan Alam, D.W. Daniel High School

THIRD (tie): Arnav Lal, home-schooled; Kevin Feng, D.W. Daniel High School

HONORABLE MENTION: Dilani Rajapakse, D.W. Daniel High School; Devon Ivester, Crescent High School; Daniel Hiott, D.W. Daniel High School; Ned Mayo, D.W. Daniel High School; Denise Schlautman, D.W. Daniel High School; Margaret Wang, D.W. Daniel High School; Qiao (Lily) Li, Seneca High School

Second honorable mention: Marshall Rice, Rock Hill High School; Jonathan Dong, D.W. Daniel High School; Adam Smith, D.W. Daniel High School; Emily Ladines, Pendleton High School; Mackenzie Kim, Rock Hill High School; Taylor Le, Rock Hill High School; Ashley Choi, D.W. Daniel High School; Moises Martinez, Seneca High School


High school students having completed or presently enrolled in their first biology course.



AVERAGE: 36.95

FIRST: Annie Buck, D.W. Daniel High School

SECOND: Vivian Dong, D.W. Daniel High School

THIRD: Case Redmond, D.W. Daniel High School

HONORABLE MENTION: Matthew Bell, Rock Hill High School; Alexis Walker, Rock Hill High School; Charlie Thrasher, Anderson 5 Career Campus; Lydia Zeller, Seneca High School; Morgan Jackson, Rock Hill High School; Mac Martin, D.W. Daniel High School

SECOND HONORABLE MENTION: Sullivan Kelley, D.W. Daniel High School; Alexis Williams, D.W. Daniel High School; Sullivan Kelley, D.W. Daniel High School; Alexis Williams, D.W. Daniel High School; Danielle Ballard, Rock Hill High School; Jonah Moore, Rock Hill High School; Sophia Morrison, Rock Hill High School; Truong Pham, Rock Hill High School; Andrew Fiorentino, D.W. Daniel High School; Adley Lawton, D.W. Daniel High School; Oliver Rancu, TL Hanna High School; Abigail Bucks, Pendleton High School; Skylar Smith, Pendleton High School; Garrick Reeder, Seneca High School


Middle school students having completed or presently enrolled in life sciences or
high school students having credit for middle school life sciences only.



AVERAGE: 28.72

FIRST: Ahan Shi, R.C. Edwards Middle School

SECOND: Carrena Spann, Dent Middle School

THIRD (tie): Liam Durham, Seneca Middle School; Ezra Simmons, R.C. Edwards Middle School

HONORABLE MENTION: Anna Brewer, Seneca Middle School; Ella Grace Cody, Seneca Middle School; Brooke Lindsay, Seneca Middle School; Landon Pitts, Seneca Middle School

SECOND HONORABLE MENTION: Aidan Mast, Palmetto Scholars Academy; Drake Denney, Seneca Middle School; Ruby Prosser, Seneca Middle School; Zoe Smith, West-Oak Middle School; Peyton Smouse, Glenview Middle School;  Elise Groff, R.C. Edwards Middle School; James Sarasua, R.C. Edwards Middle School; Dev Patel, McCants Middle School

“This is West-Oak Middle School’s 13th year participating in Clemson University’s Biology Merit Exam,” said Renee Brooks, a science teacher at the Westminster school. “Our students are enthusiastic to take the challenge of competing in the life science exam against hundreds of other students from across the state. The experience leaves our students asking, ‘When can we sign up for the next Biology Merit Exam!’ ”

“We bring our students to the Biology Merit Exam each year because we want our students to have the opportunity to be exposed to a college campus before entering high school, and we want our students to be challenged academically,” added Eddie Chavis and Deborah Belflower, seventh-grade science teachers at Seneca Middle School. “The Biology Merit Exam is a great event because it allows our students to have that college experience and provides very challenging content, all in one trip.”