Four months ago, hundreds of high school seniors took a small step toward a bigger future by applying to become a Greenhouse Scholar. Ambitious leaders relentless in the pursuit of their dreams, these applicants share a common trait—a desire to positively and indefinitely impact the families and communities in their midst.

We are grateful to the 400+ volunteers from our community that spent over 5,000 hours poring through applications, joining in-person discussions and serving on interview panels with the finalists. It is with their help that we identify the students that truly demonstrate our core values and have the greatest potential to incite generational change.

Now, it is our distinguished honor to introduce the newest Greenhouse Scholars, 27 extraordinary young leaders who will undoubtedly leave their mark and change the world for the better.

Colorado

Karina Ferrer

Creating a more just society through advocacy and policy reform.

Arrupe Jesuit High School (Denver)
College: Gonzaga University
Career Goal: Political Science, Law

Karina takes pride in her ability to overcome the major obstacles and oppression from being born and raised in an impoverished Denver community. Originally from Juarez, Mexico, her family put blood, sweat and tears into buying and fixing up their home that first came without windows or floors and covered in graffiti. It is through her struggles that she has found the strength and determination to defy expectations – seeking out a better education for herself at Arrupe Jesuit, achieving First Academic Honors all four years, and being appointed as the Philanthropy Ambassador, making her the face of the school for visitors and prospects.

Karina views college as “the opportunity to equip myself to build a better world.” She envisions obtaining a degree in political science and pursuing a career in policy to give poverty-stricken, racially-diverse communities access to greater opportunities. Karina has unlimited resolve and determination yet recognized, as soccer team captain, that her impact was not measured in number of wins, but in the number of times she was able to motivate her team to keep going.

Leadership:

  • Student Council Secretary
  • Varsity Team Captain
  • Philanthropy Ambassador at Arrupe Jesuit

Hanan Mohammed

Providing adequate and affordable healthcare to people in developing nations.

Overland High School (Aurora)
College: Colorado College
Career Goal: Neuroscience, Pre-Med

As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, Hanan developed an acute appreciation of how vital education is to a well-developed community after an eye-opening visit to her homeland. Upon her return, Hanan made the decision to focus on her studies and to reconnect with her African Muslim heritage. She joined AVID and went from a B-student in middle school to graduating in the top 1% of her class. Concurrently, Hanan dedicated herself to lifting up the less fortunate in a number of volunteer roles while challenging herself to achieve a varsity position on the tennis team.

Hanan will attend Colorado College and aspires to become a physician so she can transform healthcare in developing nations and disenfranchised communities. She has seen firsthand the devastating outcomes from lack of basic healthcare, which she aims to change, saying “I plan to create lasting impact by providing better doctor-community relationships that ultimately make the community healthier as a whole.”

There are many other scholarships are out there, they mostly provide only funding. A college education that comes with additional support and guidance is vital to succeeding.

Leadership:

  • Co-founder of Africans United

Jerimiah Rodriguez

Creating community change through equal opportunity and advocacy for the marginalized.

Centauri High School (La Jara)
College: Regis University
Career Goal: Nursing

Ever-optimistic and selfless, Jerimiah is fully committed to making a positive difference in the lives of others. After his elderly grandparents fell ill, Jerimiah made the decision to take a CNA course so that he could support his family financially while also obtaining the skills needed to provide in-home care to his grandparents. While his new schedule presented significant challenges, he learned how to manage his time and priorities, ultimately making him a better student and giving his life greater purpose.

After suffering several traumatic experiences related to self-doubt and discrimination, Jerimiah has overcome his grief and has now pledged his life to enlightening those who are under-represented and advocating for equal opportunity in his community. “Living in a rural community where the new generation’s ideas are frowned upon, individuality has lost its capacity to flourish…my goal is to illustrate that individuality is true beauty, and that young people are capable of achieving their dreams through hard work and dedication, while still maintaining distinctiveness of character-regardless of any situation.”

Holly Wenger

Combating negativity and violence by bolstering mental health.

Custer County Schools (Westcliffe)
College: Colorado College
Career Goal: Psychology

Holly is closely attuned to others’ needs and uses her remarkable leadership, organization, and planning skills to implement effective solutions. Following multiple suicides at her school, Holly was instrumental in implementing the development of a new local chapter of an organization that teaches students coping mechanisms and communication skills. As president of the student council, she led an initiative to appreciate the service of local sheriffs and fire departments. As a board member for Paca Peace Ranch for Youth, she designed a fundraising initiative to invigorate sponsors. Holly has also helped younger students as a youth mentor, an aid for children’s theater productions, and through an innovative program giving children in need the opportunity to give holiday gifts to their parents.

Holly is deeply self-aware; she thinks critically about what motivates her, what she is passionate about, and how she spends her time. Holly developed these traits after losing her older sister and role model to a sudden illness, causing her to adjust her self-perception within her family. She found her voice in theater (performing lead roles at the Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts), in singing (as a section leader in the Wet Mountain Valley Community Chorale and high school choir), and in music (both flute and bassoon for the Sangre de Cristo Community Band and high school band). She did all of this while earning straight A’s and working up to 20 hours a week serving coffee, selling newspapers, and feeding alpacas.

Leadership:

  • Paca Peace Ranch for Youth board member
  • Student council president
  • Class president
  • NHS President
  • Theater lead roles
  • Sources of Strength founding member
  • Chorale section leader
  • Children’s musical director

Sara Ahmed

Providing quality education for girls.

Overland High School (Aurora)
College: University of Colorado, Boulder
Career Goal: Medicine

Sara’s global experiences informed her passion for girls’ education: her parents escaped war in Sudan and moved to Saudi Arabia, where Sara lived until she moved to Colorado when she was 8 years old. She has volunteered in the Dominican Republic and studied in Singapore with Yale University. With three younger sisters and a single mother who were all learning English, Sara took on a parental role at home by completing paperwork, paying bills, and overseeing homework duties. Her work as a role model extends to school, where Sara volunteers as a peer ambassador and as yearbook editor, where she teaches copywriting and holds students accountable for their work.

Sara is inquisitive and thoughtful: she asks questions and seeks deeper understanding before making assumptions about important issues. These traits, combined with good organizational and planning skills, make her a strong leader. Sara was Captain of Speech and Debate, an intern at UCHealth, and an Officer of the National Honor Society. She was also a 4-year athlete in Lacrosse, a violinist in the orchestra, and a member of the Black Student Alliance — while working up to 16 hours a week at Starbucks and with Arapahoe County as a student election judge.

Leadership:

  • Yearbook editor
  • Speech and Debate captain
  • Peer Ambassador
  • NHS Officer

Iftu Abdi

Empowering youth to grow together, not apart.

Denver School of Science and Technology: Stapleton (Denver)
College: Howard University
Career Goal: Political Science

Being born in Kenya as a refugee, raised by her grandmother and then immigrating to the United States in 1st grade, Iftu holds her Ethiopian and Oromo tribe identity close to her heart while disrupting the traditional gender roles of her culture. Focusing on her academics and advocacy led Iftu to be awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations. She has found an outlet of self-expression through poetry and photography that increases understanding of her own identity and culture while allowing others to as well.

As a student at DSST Stapleton, Iftu, along with fellow Scholar, Kristen Narona, found there to be a lack of understanding between the students and staff. This led them to create People of Color, Point of View (POC POV) a student-led program that enriches academic experiences by promoting self-expression and cultivating a safe space for advocacy. “I will stand for those who can’t stand for themselves by breaking down the walls created by stereotypes and hate,” says Iftu. Her high school’s college counselor stated: “Iftu’s footprint is all over our community and she has established a legacy for other students to follow.”

Leadership:

  • Co-founder of POC POV
  • President of National Honor Society
  • Intern with University of Denver Film Department
  • Intern with Colorado Trust
  • Students Taking Action, Making Progress (STAMP)
  • Girl’s Inc. of Metro Denver Facilitator

Omar Ronquillo Medina

Increasing youth literacy to ultimately close the achievement gap.

Arrupe Jesuit High School (Denver)
College: Santa Clara University
Career Goal: Communication

As the son of a single mother, Omar is no stranger to hard work. Fueled by his love of literature, Omar took it upon himself to approach a bookstore in Denver called Book Bar and asked to volunteer. After assisting with the creation of their youth advisory board and leading meetings, Omar began working with youth to create a community of young readers. He made such an impact that Book Bar hired him as a part-time employee. He has since started a Young Adult Book Club at the store for 8-15 year olds, saying “It’s amazing, seeing kids with a love for reading find a place they can be themselves…these small kids getting excited and having a good time, making new friends and forming a community.”

An internship with City Year, a non-profit that places teaching assistants in schools with high dropout rates, opened Omar’s eyes to the large achievement gap not being fully addressed by the public school system. Omar plans to become a literary agent and combine his professional expertise with his passion for education, opening a nonprofit similar to City Year that provides disenfranchised youth a solid foundation of literacy.

Leadership:

  • Mock Trial Mentor
  • Student Government Secretary
  • Cross Country Varsity Captain
  • Atticus Literary Magazine Editor
  • Fandom Club Founder and President
  • Catechism Teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic Church
  • Arrupe KAIROS Retreat Leader
  • Bank of America Student Leaders

Kristen Narona

Creating community and honoring culture through art.

Denver School of Science and Technology: Stapleton (Denver)
College: University of Colorado, Boulder
Career Goal: Sociology, International Studies

Artist, Connector, Advocate, Leader, First-Generation. These are just a few words that describe Kristen Narona. As a co-founder of POC POV with fellow Greenhouse Scholar, Iftu Abdi, Kristen curated a gallery in her high school that features artists of color. As a way to build community in diversity at their school, these artists would present their work to students to share their experiences as people of color.

As a child of immigrants, Kristen was raised to assimilate to American culture that resulted in the loss of her native Filipino language. Kristen recognized she was losing her culture and in response, used art as a way of connection. She began to draw Southeast Asian women to create visually represent her own story and to connect with others who feel a loss of their culture and heritage.

Leadership:

  • Co-founder of POC POV
  • Students Taking Action, Making Progress (STAMP) Curator
  • Intern at the Denver Art Museum
  • Girl’s Inc. of Metro Denver Facilitator
  • Intern at the Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Volleyball Team Manager

Vladimir Soto-Avina

Providing educational opportunity to low-income students.

Denver School of Science and Technology: Cole (Denver)
College: Swarthmore College
Career Goal: Undecided

In everything Vlad does, he aims to help others through proactive planning and action. As the first Latino member of the student Council at DSST Cole, he joined to help change the school rather than sit back and criticize it. As a member of the student board of education, Vlad advocated for better and healthier food options for his fellow classmates. As a student in chemistry, he volunteered to translate for and tutor a new student from Mexico resulting in her ability to pass the class.

Vlad is humble, determined and consistent. His civics and chemistry teacher stated he is one of the most exceptional students they have ever taught. As a first-generation American, he has fought to succeed academically but has also recognized the inherent challenges that many low-income students do not overcome. Vlad envisions helping other under-resourced youth by creating an education program that provides non-traditional, custom curriculum and direct exposure to a variety of professions that so they can see their potential in the world and are better equipped to achieve their dreams.

Leadership:

  • Intern at Denver Health
  • Student Board of Education
  • Student Council
  • National Honor Society

Paris Anderson-Moon

Improving access to mental health services for low income communities.

Hinkley High School (Aurora)
College: Colorado State University
Career Goal: Business

With an entrepreneurial and persevering spirit, Paris hopes to own her own business in the future. This spirit became evident when she founded Strong African American Female Empowerment (SAAFE) at her school. This social group provides a safe and accepting environment for African American girls in high school while equipping them to serve as mentors for middle schoolers. Paris plans the groups’ community events to discuss relevant and important social issues such as healthy relationships, mental health, and self-esteem.

Paris is passionate about meeting and connecting with new people that allow her to expand her perspective and develop new communication and leadership skills. She aims to one day address mental health in a community like hers, saying “It is my goal to create an organization that can stand as a pillar and safe haven to the community, offering free psych evaluations and financial assistance so that people struggling with mental illness know they are not alone.”

Leadership:

  • Co-Founder of Strong African American Female Empowerment (SAAFE)
  • Basketball Team Manager
  • African American Leaders of Tomorrow

Illinois

Sanah Ahmed

Finding a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

Von Steuben Metropolitan High School (Chicago)
College: Cornell University
Career Goal: Pediatrician

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Sanah strives to be a voice for young Muslims who are afraid to speak up in the face of discrimination; she declares that “we’re here to make America great too.” From serving as the Vice President of Future Medical Professionals Club and the Science Olympiad leadership board, to obtaining an internship with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Sanah’s inquisitive mind has given her a bold vision; she will find a cure for Type I Diabetes. Introduced to the disease at the age of 14, when her father’s diabetes became difficult to manage, she took the initiative to educate herself on how to best care for him. Passionate about helping those in need, her father became her first patient and ignited a flame inside her to become a physician.

The same ambition and drive motivated Sanah to establish an orphan sponsorship program through Homs League Abroad, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter, food, medical care, rehabilitation training and education to refugee Syrian women and children with nowhere else to go. Funding provides schooling, books, and supplies to the resilient orphans Sanah met in Amman, Jordan on a mission trip.

Leadership:

  • Science Olympiad, Leadership Board
  • Future Medical Professionals, Vice President
  • National Honors Society, Secretary
  • Syrian Refugee Sponsorship, Founder

Erick Castrejon

Growing practical sustainability by educating others on re-engineering used materials.

Waukegan High School (Waukegan)
College: Western Michigan University
Career Goal: Engineering

An innovator and entrepreneur, Erick has a combined passion for art, science, and his community through blacksmithing. As a self-taught blacksmith, he has demonstrated his commitment to advancing his education both inside and outside of the classroom. A proponent for environmental conservation, he relies on creativity and resourcefulness to engineer new objects exclusively from recycled materials.

As founder of The Smithers, a club focused on teaching how to forge and create art out of metal, he is solely responsible for producing the student curriculum and lesson plans. With these classes his goal is to keep his craft vital and alive by teaching how blacksmithing operates globally and educating younger generations on the history of the tools and machines we have today. He says, “Blacksmithing, in my eyes, is not only about designing swords, forged tongs or molded metal flowers. It is about forging relationships with others, molding my community into something I can be proud of and helping others design a better future no matter the materials they are handed”.

Leadership:

  • The Smithers, Founder

Fredys Ruiz

Providing medical care and critical needs to children in Honduras.

Cristo Rey St Martin College Prep (Waukegan)
College: Dominican University
Career Goal: Nurse Practitioner

Raised by his grandparents in a rustic Honduras village with no electricity or running water, Fredys understands that “higher education is the essential component I need to impact the world.” At age 7, he was sent to the United States to live with his parents, whom after years of being apart, he no longer recognized. Early life in the US was challenging; there was domestic violence at home and he was slow to learn English and adapt to American culture. Strong-willed, Fredys persevered through it all focusing on how to be selfless, take initiative, and contribute to the household. At 15, he began working 35 hours a week to assist with monthly bills; a schedule he still keeps today. His college counselor described him as a “remarkably driven, mature, and introspective young man.”

Fredys’ mission is to bring clean water, food, clothing, and medical care to children in third world countries. From his humble beginnings, he remembers the village children who would often get sick from the contaminated river water and had no recourse for treatment. As a nurse practitioner, he plans to personally provide aid where there is a lack of proper medical care.

NaKaya Short

Providing low-income, disadvantaged high school students with the tools they need to prepare for college.

Thornwood High School (Calumet City)
College: Northwestern University
Career Goal: Healthcare

Inspired by her grandmother, who never had the opportunity to attend high school, Nakaya is a determined first-generation college student. Often feeling misunderstood by her extroverted family, she describes herself as the “funniest shy person you’ll ever meet.” With her aptitude for math, Nakaya has stepped up as a leader in the classroom, regularly tutoring her peers inside and outside of school. As a competitive Mathlete, Illinois State Scholar, and one of the top 75 high school students in the Thornton Township School District, she is poised and ready to dive head first into new challenges at Northwestern.

A passionate advocate for mental health, Nakaya hopes to implement education programs and access to services at all high schools in her district. Through her own battle with depression after the loss of a loved one to lung cancer, she has a first-hand understanding of the dangerous implications of students withdrawing from society and feeling isolated. Nakaya believes on campus assistance should be the highest priority; students desperately need established resources to rely on when struggling emotionally, psychologically, or socially.

Leadership:

  • National Honors Society, Secretary

Quentin Jenkins

Creating opportunity for equal education for all.

South Shore International College Prep (Chicago)
College: Pitzer College
Career Goal: Neuroscience

Fascinated by the intricate workings of the human brain, Quentin is off to Pitzer College to study neuroscience. In high school, he completed a community awareness project on mental health and depression in the African American community. He presented his work at an annual health care summit for the Health Occupation Students of America Club, where he serves as president. Quentin is well on his way to a career in medicine, already achieving certifications in CPR, AED, and First Aid, and invited to begin clinical rotations with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Beyond his future in medicine, Quentin wants to eradicate education inequality in low-income communities like his own. He plans to create a nonprofit after-school program to teach leadership skills and promote academic achievement.

Leadership:

  • President, Health Occupation Students of America
  • Shift Lead, Subway

Isaaq Khader

Bringing people together through artificial intelligence.

Intrinsic Schools (Chicago)
College: University of Chicago
Career Goal: Computer science and mathematics

Listening, taking action, and presenting—this is how Isaaq describes his leadership style. When a group of his peers expressed interest in gaming at school, he put those principles into action. Isaaq created eSports Club, an outlet for gaming enthusiasts. He saw an opportunity to “bring like-minded people together to change narratives and give a voice to underrepresented groups.” eSports Club is now Intrinsic Schools’ largest organization at 80+ members, a thriving community that is also a source of pride for many. “I see my peers who once dodged glances in the halls now walk the building with their heads held high…we are changing the definition and connotation of ‘nerd’. We are not the socially awkward, overly studious minority—we are the impassioned, vibrant, and proud majority.”

Isaaq wants to continue to channel his passion for technology to make a positive impact. He will study computer science and mathematics, and eventually plans to change the world through artificial intelligence.

Leadership:

  • Founder and President, eSports Club
  • Captain and Student Manager, Debate Team
  • President, Collegiate Scholars Program
  • President, National Honor Society

Yocelyn Pina

Promoting responsible food and energy production and consumption.

Whitney M. Young Magnet High School (Chicago)
College: University of Southern California
Career Goal: Architecture

“I am a slam poet. Slam poetry is about telling your story: the hardships, triumphs, or struggles of your community.” Yocelyn, herself, is no stranger to hardship. After her childhood home went into foreclosure, her family moved nine times in the span of six years—often to dilapidated and unsafe neighborhoods. This constant displacement changed how Yocelyn defined home. “I found my sense of home within my intimate relationship with nature. The serenity I would feel when lying in the grass under a tree.”

These experiences helped shape Yocelyn’s desire for change, “If I could have a transformative impact in my lifetime it would be on both the housing and agricultural system. I want people to live healthier lives and to respect the planet they are living on.” Yocelyn plans to study architecture in hopes of becoming LEED licensed and certified to design affordable, sustainable apartments and homes.

Leadership:

  • Founding Member and Co-President, Dance for Change
  • Club Secretary, Poetry SLAM team

LaHannah Giles

Solving for gun violence and police brutality.

Perspectives/ IIT Math and Science Academy (Chicago)
College: Georgetown University
Career Goal: Political Science

LaHannah has been described as having an unparalleled passion for empowering her community and creating social change. Though she grew up surrounded by gun violence and police brutality, she didn’t let her circumstances hold her back. In fact, she used them as opportunities to better herself and her community. After seeing her sister bleeding from a gunshot wound, LaHannah resolved to funnel her distress into action. At the age of 13, she created Neighborhood Youth Creating Change, a direct-action organization for youth in violent neighborhoods and later helped plan a community innovation workshop to provide youth with alternatives to violence.

Though LaHannah is the youngest of nine, she is the first person in her family to attend college. She wants to continue to be a positive role model for her nieces and nephews. She will study political science at Georgetown University, and wants to use her spirit of activism to improve police-community relations in her Bronzeville community.

Leadership:

  • Creator, Perspectives’ Seniors’ Support Group
  • Creator, Neighborhood Youth Creating Change
  • Captain, Basketball team
  • Captain, Volleyball team

Georgia

Antaures Jackson II

Inspiring future generations to dream bigger and reach higher to accomplish their goals.

Eagle’s Landing High School (McDonough)
College: University of Pennsylvania
Career Goal: Private Equity and Philanthropy

Referred to as “the epitome of a true student-athlete” by his high school counselor, Antaures’ competitive spirit carries over into all of his endeavors. He is grateful for the support of his parents and four brothers and sisters, yet it is his internal drive that has earned Antaures a position in the top 3% of his high school class, and resulted in him being the captain of his track and cross-country teams, first chair saxophone, treasurer of the Student Government Association, and recipient of multiple prestigious mathematics awards.

The poem Invictus resonates deeply with Antaures, as he firmly believes that he is “the master of his fate: the captain of his soul.” The content of Antaures’ character is evident to his peers, teachers, counselors, and coaches. After his cross-country coach left the team due to his health, it was Antaures who stepped his junior year up to lead the team. He serves his community through his church’s mission work, and through inspiring his peers by encouraging and motivating them to reach higher. As a direct result of his encouragement, Antaures’ graduating class boasts the highest Ivy League acceptance rate of Eagles Landing High graduates in recent years.

Leadership:

  • Captain, Track team
  • Captain, Cross-Country team
  • 1st Chair Saxophone
  • Treasurer, Student Government Association
  • Treasurer, Jack & Jill of America

Zarriea Crawford

Ending the global food crisis through the creation of a World Hunger Organization focused on sustainable practices and policies.

Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School (Augusta)
College: Wake Forest University
Career Goal: Finance

“I am not an island.” Zarriea will be the first to acknowledge and appreciate the community of people that have helped her get where she is today and recognizes the necessity of working within a community to make lasting change. She also credits her hard-working parents with being the two most influential people in her life, but despite all of their hard work Zarriea and her family were still homeless for nearly 7 years starting when she was only 9 years old.

Focusing on schoolwork allowed Zarriea to cope with her circumstances and helped her become a more selfless and empathetic person. “As crazy as it is, I am actually grateful for having gone through such adversity. I have learned so much about myself. And now, I intend to dedicate my life to the service of others.” Zarriea will graduate high school with two associates’ degrees and three certifications, but feels that it is ultimately the degree in finance that will provide her with the resources to help other people. Though she aspires to become the Chief Financial Officer of a Fortune 500 company, perhaps her proudest accomplishment will be fighting to ensure that everyone has access to safe, nutritious meals.

Leadership:

  • President, Student Council
  • President, Poetry Club
  • Student Ambassador
  • Founder and President of Ted-Ed Club
  • National Honor Society

Taylor Gwinn

Empowering next generation of young black girls through building community.

North Atlanta High School (Atlanta)
College: Howard University
Career Goal: Nursing

As a first-generation college student and the daughter of a single mother, Taylor knew that the odds were stacked against her but used this as fuel for her fire. She focused on her education, leadership skills, inspiring others, and serving her community, knowing that the combination of these things would lead to bigger opportunities. Misunderstood by her parents, it was her beloved grandmother that believed in her and gave her the confidence she needed to take control of her own destiny.

Recognizing that education outside of the classroom is just as valuable as inside the classroom, Taylor teaches youth literacy every summer and as a volunteer at Piedmont Hospital, she helps reunite a patient with her estranged son. Above all, Taylor understands the value of community, founding Lean on Me Sister, an organization for African-American women that cultivates excellence and confidence to empower the next generation of leaders.

Leadership:

  • President, Interact Club
  • Vice President, Key Club
  • Senior Class Secretary
  • Lead Writer for Yearbook
  • Georgia Girls State Rep for North Georgia
  • Founder of Lean on Me Sister

Matthew Morgan

Identifying additional renewable energy-based travel options as an aerospace engineer.

Davison Fine Arts (Augusta)
College: Vanderbilt University
Career goal: Aerospace Engineering

As President of the Red Cross Youth Board, Matthew has been responsible for leading over 150 of Augusta’s youth in servicing their community, but it was in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew that his leadership skills were really put to the test. Flooded with evacuees from Savannah, he was the only minor given the responsibility of organizing two community centers for evacuees and partnered with the Salvation Army and other Red Cross volunteers to make sure that they were provided with all of the necessary resources. The experience was rewarding and educational and Matthew plans on continuing his work with the Red Cross in college.

In addition to his extensive work with the Red Cross, Matthew has spent much of his time honing his skills as a jazz and classical percussionist, which he also intends to carry over into college. Through higher education, Matthew will continue a legacy that those in his family’s generation has started and make a difference in the lives of generations that will follow in his footsteps.

Leadership:

  • President, Red Cross Youth Board
  • Section Leader & Officer, Band
  • Leader, Jazz Band
  • Vice President, Student Council

Nina Giddens

Providing accessible healthcare for all.

Westlake High School (Atlanta)
College: Xavier University of Louisiana
Career Goal: Global health

Nina believes in the importance of investing in and uplifting one’s community. After being afforded opportunities to travel internationally, she realized that many of her peers faced boundaries that prevented them from having experiences abroad. Rather than be discouraged by the limited number of resources, she created opportunities for her classmates by establishing partnerships with local organizations, one of which led to a passport scholarship program and international travel experiences for 25 students.

As a summer youth counselor, Nina witnessed African American children making disparaging remarks toward one another. Disheartened by this and proud of her African heritage, Nina started the organization Mimi Ni Afrika, to build esteem in her community—educating youth about their African American heritage by holding workshops celebrating African culture, dance, and music. Inspired by her study abroad travels, experiences serving the less fortunate in Peru, and watching her grandmother struggle to afford her cancer treatments, Nina plans to continue to invest in her global community and pursue her passion of becoming an advocate for affordable healthcare.

Leadership:

  • President: National Beta Club
  • Soloist: I Am Arts Dance Company
  • President: New Grant Chapel Young People’s Division
  • Student Representative: School Governance Council
  • Ambassador: Global Youth Ambassadors Program
  • Ambassador: 21 st Century Leaders

North Carolina

Makell Brown

Providing accessible health care to low-income communities.

East Columbus High (Riegelwood)
College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Career Goal: Public Health, Pre-Med

Growing up in a rural town in Eastern NC, Makell’s father kept him out of trouble by requiring weekly book reports and teaching him the value of hard work. It was the combination of those two things that led to Makell’s voracious appetite for learning, and it was Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands that sparked his interest in medicine. He admits that he greatly enjoys learning how to learn.

Outgoing and determined, Makell does not feel that his life is complete unless he is helping others. He founded the community service club “A Helping Hand” through which the members feed the homeless in his community. Makell states “I am not capable of hating others, but I do hate the mistreatment of others.” His strong faith in God and his desire to help the vulnerable is what motivates Makell to become a physician and hopes to one day open a nonprofit community medical office.

Leadership:

  • Founder, A Helping Hand Community Service Club
  • President, National Honor Society
  • First Baptist Homeless Ministry Leader
  • President, Beta Club
  • President, Student Council
  • Sunday School Teacher

Olivia Rice

Providing therapy and financial assistance to victims of domestic violence.

Zebulon B. Vance High School (Charlotte)
College: Appalachian State University
Career Goal: Nursing

Throughout her life, Olivia has taken the initiative to overcome harsh circumstances for herself and those around her. Raised by her single mother while her father remained incarcerated, Olivia took on much of the responsibility of caring and providing for her family through part-time jobs while balancing academics, school activities, and volunteerism. Olivia earned the money needed to purchase new cleats for her youngest brother so he could try out for the football team (he made it!). “It wasn’t the material thing that helped him make the team, it was the fact that someone believed in him.”

Oliva took note that students weren’t getting the most out of their education, so through her Teacher Cadets program she led the creation of a week-long event that connected students to available school activities and opportunities. After learning of an after-school leadership development program available to students at a high school across town, Olivia rode the bus two hours across town to introduce herself, and then once again made the trip to drop off her application in-person. It was through this organization that she learned about Greenhouse Scholars.

Inspired by her single mother’s work with the disabled, Olivia is passionate about nursing as a pathway to lifting up the less fortunate. In addition, Olivia plans to launch a nonprofit for victims of domestic violence where they will receive support via therapy and financial assistance.

Leadership:

  • Hidden Valley Elementary, After School Teacher’s Assistant
  • Housing Partnership Intern
  • Marching Band Section Leader

Jessee Steele

Improving the lives of people in the Appalachian region.

North Carolina School of Science and Math (Durham)
College: Duke University
Career Goal: Environmental Anthropological Research and Service

Jessee is a leader unafraid to chart a new, more positive path for himself and others. Growing up in the Appalachian community of Bryson City, food security was a big problem for Jessee and his family, leading him to struggle with his weight and self-esteem. After moving into his residential high school, Jessee began volunteering with The Food Ark to engineer and donate hydroponics systems to food insecure counties. Jessee continues to research why government support systems such as food stamps are ineffective and how systems can benefit from a greater connection with the populations they serve. In addtion to food, NCSSM also offered Jessee the chance to explore different creative outlets, leading him to join Bailamos: Latin Dance. Through learning to dance, Jessee was able to overcome his body insecurity.

While in Durham, Jessee has been conducting environmental ecology research at Duke under Dr. Stuart Pimm.. After experiencing a lackluster Art Club his first year at NCSSM, Jessee decided to take on the revival of the club himself—his efforts increased memberships five-fold and effectively balanced the STEM-focused curriculum with creativity. Taking it a step further, Jessee founded an online Art Club program to provide students from other North Carolina schools an art education they would otherwise miss.

Leadership:

  • Duke’s Nasher Teen Council Chair
  • Art Club President
  • Native American Cultures Club Co-President
  • Bailamos: Latin Dance Co-Captain
  • Student Ambassador for NCSSM
  • The Food Ark Executive Chair and Head of Garden
  • Jigsaw Gay-Straight Alliance Founder
  • Indoor Track Team Captain
  • National History Day Mentor

Taliajah (Teddy) Vann

Working to reform the criminal justice system in the United States through education and advocacy.

Southern School of Energy and Sustainability (Durham)
College: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Career Goal: Criminal Defense Attorney

Taliajah has been a dedicated caretaker for her younger siblings while maintaining high grades and holding a plethora of leadership positions in many clubs. Her junior year of high school, Taliajah founded a free tutoring program for elementary, middle and high school students called Bright Brain Tutoring. She founded this program to provide low-income students the opportunity to increase their capacity to learn and improve their education.

With her sights ultimately set on becoming a Supreme Court Justice, Taliajah aims to pursue a law degree, practice criminal defense law, and envisions educating on and advocating for criminal justice reform. Her teacher states, “Taliajah is a powerful agent of change and exhibits leadership that I admire and desire for other students to emulate…in my experiences as a teacher, she is the rarest of finds. Her character, determination, and natural ability to lead set her apart as an example to empower other students.”

Leadership:

  • Founder Bright Brain Tutoring
  • Student Body President
  • Miss Southern High School
  • DECA President
  • SSES Glee Club Founder
  • Battle of the Books Vice President
  • Governor’s School attendee

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