Wednesday morning 87 judges from public and higher education, as well as the business community, will gather to consider who among the 716 Sterling Scholar nominees representing 57 public high schools from Cache County to Utah County will advance to the final competition.

Sterling Scholar coordinators from Deseret News and the KSL Broadcast Group began planning as soon as last year's program concluded to ensure that the reputation of Utah's most prestigious academic recognition program is maintained.

The semifinal judging will bring the 716 nominees to three locations: Northridge, Copper Hills and Timpview high schools. Following the first round of judging, 195 semifinalists advance to the final round on Feb. 29, which will be held at Woods Cross High School.

For more than 50 years, the Sterling Scholar program has recognized academic excellence in Utah's public high school seniors. This program began under former Deseret News education editor Lavor K. Chaffin. He envisioned a program that would raise the standard of academic excellence and felt that the Deseret News should lend both its personnel and financial resources to further the program. Deseret Management Corp., the parent company of both the Deseret News and KSL Broadcast Group, continues this philosophy today. The charitable giving arm of DMC, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation, provides the funding for the scholarships.

"We love to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of these outstanding young men and women," said Mark Willes, president and CEO of DMC.

The Sterling Scholar program covers five regions throughout the state of Utah. In today's special section are the group photographs of Sterling Scholar nominees from public high schools in the Wasatch Front region. The four other regions — Northeast, Central, Southwest and Southeast — conduct Sterling Scholar programs similar to that of the Wasatch Front program but stand alone and follow their own schedules. Neither the Deseret News nor the KSL Broadcast Group has direct involvement with these.

The process of elimination begins tomorrow for the 700-plus scholars, culminating with an Academy Awards-type program on March 21 at Cottonwood High School under the direction of Katie Oborn of KSL with KSL's own Nadine Wimmer as the master of ceremonies. Thirteen Sterling Scholars and 26 runners-up will be named during the program. From those 13 Sterling Scholars, a General Sterling Scholar will be announced. The program is free of charge, no tickets are required and there will be ample seating.

Two special awards will also be presented during the evening — the Philo T. Farnsworth Excellence in Education/Governor's Award and the Douglas F. Bates Community Service Award. A member of Gov. Gary Herbert's staff will present the Farnsworth/Governor's Award in recognition of outstanding scholarship in a technical field. The recipient will receive a statuette of Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the television. The Douglas F. Bates Community Service Award is named for the late Douglas F. Bates, longtime administrator for the Utah State Office of Education.

At the conclusion of this year's program, all candidates will have participated in one of the country's most prestigious awards program for high school students. Over the years, Utah's Sterling Scholars have gone on to successful careers throughout the state, nation and world. The 2012 winners will proudly take their place in this honored community of Deseret News and KSL Sterling Scholars.

Fifteen universities, colleges, business and technical schools also offer scholarships to winners and runners-up. Additional information about these scholarships is included on this page.