The University of West Florida welcomed three National Merit Finalists this fall.

Diana Hanks, Hannah Funk and Cara Womacks were among 1,500 students across the country to meet the requirements for finalist standing, out of more than 1.6 million students who entered the 2017 National Merit Scholarship Competition. They were awarded full tuition, room and board, a $600-per-semester book stipend and a research stipend to attend UWF — a total value of more than $50,000.

“We are delighted that Diana, Hannah and Cara chose the University of West Florida,” said UWF President Martha Saunders. “They may be the first National Merit Finalists to attend UWF, but I don’t think they will be our last. UWF has nationally competitive academic programs that give our students the opportunity to challenge themselves while preparing for their careers or for graduate school. UWF also provides our undergraduate students with opportunities to participate in research from the moment they enroll. Our focus on high-impact learning for our students is one of the things that sets us apart.”

Hanks, a mechanical engineering major who graduated from Pace High School in Pace, said she chose to attend UWF after enjoying her experience in the dual enrollment program for the last two years. She said she plans to become an aerospace engineer, ideally for Boeing.

“UWF will help me by giving me a solid start on my education,” Hanks said. “Because UWF is a smaller school, I'll be able to interact more with my professors and have more opportunities for research and internships.”

A homeschool graduate from St. Louis, Womacks credited the National Merit Finalist Scholarship with making her college dreams come true.

Funk, a graduate of Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach, said she was looking for the right university that was close to home and offered a quality education to help her pursue her dream of becoming a nurse practitioner.