Meet the Scholars

Since 2005, Scholars from across the United States and Africa have raised awareness and mobilized action in their communities and beyond. As Bezos Scholars, students and educators have inspired change on issues such as mental health awareness and advocacy, civic engagement, STEM education, environmental justice, refugee and immigrant rights, and much more.

2016 Bezos Scholars

Ana Acevedo & Camille Edwards-Thomas
New Rochelle High School, NY

Anna Schumacher & Karin Fritz-Staley
Detroit Lakes High School, MN

Casey Chaffin & John Divelbiss
West Salem High School, OR

Cole Robbins & Dr. Erica Bauer
Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, IL

Debora Gonzalez & Jeff Dearing
School for Advanced Studies, FL

Faris Qubain & Molly Diallo
Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School, FL

Jacob Urbina & Cody Mitchell
Elkhart High School, TX

Michael Mireles & Marcos Silva
IDEA Quest College Preparatory High School, TX

Peter Yang & Dan Maloney
James Madison High School, WI

Shubham Pai & Jill McNulty
The Connecticut IB Academy, CT

Tonaysia Price & Okemia June
Northwest School for the Arts, NC

Yabundu Conteh & Teng Yang
Democracy Prep Charter High School, NY

Andreia Marcelo, Joel Baraka, Josphat Lowoi, Marubini Muswede, Smangaliso Mbili & Melissa Mbazo
African Leadership Academy

Ana Acevedo
STUDENT SCHOLAR / New Rochelle High School / New Rochelle, NY
The Aspen Ideas Festival had a contagious energy and passion that I fully absorbed and will spread to others.
Ana loves Converse, plays the ukulele, and is a fan of jigsaw puzzles with lots of pieces. Her family is Colombian – and she’s just as funny in Spanish as she is in English. Ana has presented at the Annual Latino Youth Leadership Conference, and interested in pursuing a career in the field of medicine. Given the opportunity, Ana hopes to motivate and coach minority students to chase dreams, apply for the best colleges and seek out top internships and opportunities. Ana's Local Ideas Festival, Unraveling Gender, took place in 2017 and she currently attending the University of Pennsylvania.
Photo of Student Scholar Ana Acevedo
Photo of Educator Scholar Camille Edwards-Thomas
Camille Edwards-Thomas
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / New Rochelle High School / New Rochelle, NY
I think this program is a microcosm of what we need more of in this society. Providing opportunities for collaboration and creative thought amongst students and faculty.
Camille serves as a House Principal at New Rochelle High School – she brings eight years of experience in education to the program. She sees the facilitator/coach role as her preferred role of working with students, helping them to realize their own ideas. Guest speaker in Camille’s classroom? Malala – who Camille views as a strong role model for women and students of color, and a near-peer voice of inspiration.
Anna Schumacher
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Detroit Lakes High School / Detroit Lakes, MN
I am tremendously inspired by my fellow Scholars. I found that I had something to share with each of them and they, likewise, had amazing things to tell me.
Anna is an avid swimmer, extemporaneous speaker for the speech team, and Nordic skier. She enjoys staying busy and has taken on the challenge of becoming a certified MMTA Piano Instructor, joined a musical production, worked a full-time job, and kept up her responsibilities as a Girl Scout. Anna is passionate about resolving the inequality in her community related to access to human services, such as healthcare, housing, and food security, as well as educational opportunities. Anna's Local Ideas Festival, DL Thriving, took place in April 2017. She currently attends Carleton College after receiving many scholarships including The Barry Scholarship, United Way HERO Award, Dollars for Scholars: Literary Excellence Scholarship, Elizabeth Macauley Memorial Scholarship, Sanford Health Scholarship, Fritch Endowed Scholar, and William Carleton Scholar.
Photo of Student Scholar Anna Schumacher
Photo of Educator Scholar Karin Fritz-Staley
Karin Fritz-Staley
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Detroit Lakes High School / Detroit Lakes, MN
It’s not often you get the opportunity to meet others from other school districts to talk about what works well and think about possible changes to make in my own community or school.
Karin is a high school social worker at Detroit Lakes High School and advisor to the Philanthropy and Youth Club. She’s passionate about leveling the playing field for students to succeed, by helping families and students manage times of crisis, such as homelessness. A dedicated advocate, Karin is actively involved in the day-to-day life of many of her students. Outside of school, Karin is an avid gardener and snow boarder who loves to travel.
Casey Chaffin
STUDENT SCHOLAR / West Salem High School / Salem, OR
To make change, I don’t have to cure a disease, open a non-profit, or launch into space; all I have to do is be present for my fellow human beings. I can change the world—even if that world belongs to just one person.
Ask anyone to tell you about Casey and they’ll answer: journalist! Casey’s passion is journalism and getting others excited about it. She helped start her high school newspaper, The Titan Spectator, where she currently serves as editor-in-chief. She’s also a graduate of The Oregonian’s High School Journalism Institute. With the opportunity to create a Local Ideas Festival, Casey is looking to inspire enthusiasm for journalism among younger grades. Casey celebrated the first year of her Local Ideas Festival, Stories for Salem, in April 2017. She currently attends Soka University of America on a full-ride scholarship.
Photo of Student Scholar Casey Chaffin
Photo of Educator Scholar John Divelbiss
John Divelbiss
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / West Salem High School / Salem, OR
The common thread of the meta-experience in Aspen is empathy; I have looked at empathy as the appropriate response to life, whereas empathy should actually sit at the forefront of action.
John has been in the classroom for 21 years. In addition to teaching English at West Salem High School, John mentors Casey in her role of editor-in-chief and leads the Yearbook Club. In his spare time, when he’s not busy rounding up the chickens to put them back in the coop, you’ll find John cycling, running, or playing soccer.
Cole Robbins
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Walter Payton College Preparatory High School / Chicago, IL
Being able to interact in the same room with people from the southernmost tip of Texas to the northwest of the United States to Uganda was an incredible experience, and one that I doubt I will be able to replicate.
Cole’s first passion is soccer. In addition to playing for his high school team, Cole is on the Chicago Fire’s youth club team and volunteers his time as a referee. Growing up in Chicago, Cole has seen firsthand how privilege and inequality contribute to social injustice. He hopes to find ways to provide opportunity and a platform for youth to create their own solutions to the challenges they confront daily. Cole's Local Ideas Festival, The Connections Project, celebrated its first anniversary in May 2017. Cole currently attends Williams College in Massachusetts.
Photo of Student Scholar Cole Robbins
Photo of Educator Scholar Dr. Erica Bauer
Dr. Erica Bauer
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Walter Payton College Preparatory High School / Chicago, IL
The week in Aspen inspired me to invest in my personal leadership development more deeply, and helped to clarify my personal mission and vision.
Erica serves as Director of Student Engagement at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School. She’s driven by her passion to help students build support systems that allow them to lead engaged lives within a school setting. Erica holds a doctorate in communication with a health focus from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. When she’s not at school, you’ll find her cooking up a storm, biking, or spending time with friends.
Debora Gonzalez
STUDENT SCHOLAR / School for Advanced Studies / Miami, FL
I discovered that the best things to think of are the hardest to think about.
Debi describes herself as a Cuban-Mexican-American. Born in Cuba, she moved to the U.S. after living in Mexico for several years. While Debi is active in National Honor Society, Leadership and Management Society, and Disability Awareness Bureau, her true passion lies in the service of others. Debi’s own journey has opened her heart to under-resourced communities. She hopes to one day run a tutoring service for children of recent immigrants and struggling families, as well as providing them healthy, structured alternatives to the path of delinquency, including mental health services. Debi finds an outlet in writing poetry and prose, occasionally entering writing competitions. Her Local Ideas Festival, FLYi Fest took place in March 2017 and Debi currently attends Harvard University.
Photo of Student Scholar Debora Gonzalez
Photo of Educator Scholar Jeff Dearing
Jeff Dearing
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / School for Advanced Studies / Miami, FL
My week in Aspen reaffirmed my conviction that personal testimony puts a face on the headlines… and obligates us to act meaningfully in collaboration with those who need our help and whose help we need.
Jeff has been an educator for 17 years, both at the community college and high school level. He currently teaches English at the School for Advanced Studies: Wolfson Campus, where he also serves as the Department Head for Advanced Studies. Jeff is a fan of employing the Socratic Method in his classroom, encouraging students to think for themselves. When he’s not teaching, Jeff spends time at the movie theater or deep in a book. Perhaps it’s this combination that makes Jeff appreciate the quick wit of a good pun.
Faris Qubain
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School / Miami, FL
One of the most valuable concepts that I learned was the idea that leadership comes in different forms, and anyone can truly become a leader and act as a catalyst for change in their community and beyond.
Faris is a first-generation American born to Jordanian immigrants and speaks fluent Arabic. His work with a human rights law firm fueled his excitement for policy and supporting vulnerable populations with equitable legal due process rights. When he’s not interning with developing legal projects, judges, and human rights’ groups, both in Jordan and the U.S., you’ll find him on the golf course or at the dojo, where he is a certified first-degree black belt in Shorinji Kempo. Faris celebrated the first year of his Local Ideas Festival, Branch Out! in March 2017, and he currently attends Stanford University.
Photo of Student Scholar Faris Qubain
Photo of Educator Scholar Molly Diallo
Molly Diallo
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School / Miami, FL
I will always carry the title of Bezos Educator Scholar with great pride.
Molly is the Department Chair of Social Sciences at her school. Her truest passion may well be her little girl – a new addition to the family. Molly is passionate about connecting and humanizing marginalized members of our global society, and supporting youth in their quest to connect their skills and abilities in support of bettering our world. She also happens to be a professional harpist and blossoming amateur photographer. Molly’s top strength: Woo
Jacob Urbina
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Elkhart High School / Elkhart, TX
The experience has inspired me to be a part of this changing world; we are the people that hold the future.
Jacob has had a few significant life-changes this past year and will be the first to tell you that if you’re only focusing on the change, you’re missing out on the life. A proud member of the marching band, Jacob was promoted to Drum Major last year. He’s been involved in music since the age of five, and plays the violin, guitar, clarinet, harmonica, piano, as well as sings in his church choir. His fascination with physics has led to a new interest: learning to code. He’s the captain of his STEM and debate teams, and is ready to bring some positive change to his one-stoplight town. Jacob's Local Idea's Festival, Elkhart Discover Days, occurred in February 2017. He currently attends the University of Texas in Austin as a part of the Biomedical Engineering Honors Program.
Photo of Student Scholar Jacob Urbina
Photo of Educator Scholar Cody Mitchell
Cody Mitchell
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Elkhart High School / Elkhart, TX
My week spent in Aspen is certainly one of the highlights of my 12-year teaching career, and likely will be one of the bright spots when I decide to retire.
Cody has been teaching math and physics for the past 12 years at Elkhart High School. As a classroom teacher, Cody serves as a facilitator to encourage students to pose their own questions and then solve them, either independently or with the support of peers. He appreciates employing practical examples to bring to life some of the more theoretical concepts. When he’s not in the classroom or the gym, Cody is likely to be found working on unending home renovation projects.
Michael Mireles
STUDENT SCHOLAR / IDEA Quest College Preparatory High School / Edinburg, TX
You're never alone in your dreams. There are people all over the world who share your passion for change in an evolving world that demands awareness and action.
Michael holds a deep commitment to the betterment of his community and collaborates with peers to create positive change, which has included a donation drive collecting shoes for a local refugee center. Michael hopes to get ahead of the “pre-disposed to fail” thinking that dominates his hometown by involving young people in the civic process of local government, utilizing technology that young people are already connected to. It’s not all business for Michael though; he happens to have quite a repertoire of cow jokes. Michael's Local Idea's Festival, STXi, celebrated its first year in March 2017. Michael currently attends Brown University on a full-ride scholarship.
Photo of Student Scholar Michael Mireles
Photo of Educator Scholar Marcos Silva
Marcos Silva
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / IDEA Quest College Preparatory High School / Edinburg, TX
It is our turn to impact our community.
Marcos Silva has been in the classroom for four years. He’s always seeking out ways to be more inclusive of diverse voices and scholastic examples. He now serves as a college advisory counselor, and has previously held the role of AVID Teacher and 11th Grade Team Leader, at IDEA Quest College Preparatory High School in McAllen, TX. Marcos knows that the only thing holding his students back from their greatest potential is their mindset, and encourages his students to simply “be more.” Marcos is also part of the third cohort of TED-Ed's Innovative Educator Program.
Peter Yang
STUDENT SCHOLAR / James Madison High School / Madison, WI
The skills and knowledge that I have acquired are something that I not only hope to implement during the Local Ideas Festival, but also throughout my life.
Peter’s interests and talents are wide ranging. You’ll find him competing around the nation with his debate team, tutoring his peers, competing on the math and science bowl teams, and practicing his nationally-ranked table tennis skills. Peter is the child of Chinese immigrants and he’s excited to see how his multi-cultural lifestyle can contribute to his passion of supporting the community and empowering his peers.Peter's Local Ideas Festival, Madison College Access Festival, was held in January 2017. Peter currently attends University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Photo of Student Scholar Peter Yang
Photo of Educator Scholar Dan Maloney
Dan Maloney
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / James Madison High School / Madison, WI
I truly believe I am a different person because of the Bezos Scholars Program.
Dan has been a part of the academic community for 25 years, and has served as the school guidance counselor for the past 10 years. He’s been an ardent supporter of helping students feel connected and engaged in a welcoming school environment and loves helping young people talk through plans and next-steps. During the summer holiday from school, Dan manages the local pool and plays soccer.
Shubham Pai
STUDENT SCHOLAR / The Connecticut IB Academy / East Hartford, CT
My greatest satisfaction comes through direct and noticeable change.
In addition to being a drum major and lead tenor sax in the jazz band, Shubham holds a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo. He’s passionate about coding, robotics, and chemistry, and hopes to get peers and younger students excited about FIRST Robotics and Hour of Code. His best time for solving a Rubik’s Cube is 38 seconds. Currently, he’s ruminating on the confluence of passion and wealth, and how to keep the two in balance. In his spare time, you’ll find Shubham tending to his garden of miracle fruit, balloon flowers, and avocados. Shubham celebrated the first anniversary of his Local Ideas Festival: CODE REaDy in May 2017. He currently attends the University of Connecticut after receiving the Student Leadership Scholarship.
Photo of Student Scholar Shubham Pai
Photo of Educator Scholar Jill McNulty
Jill McNulty
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / The Connecticut IB Academy / East Hartford, CT
This chance to focus on being a learner, and being part of the BSP learning community, helped to strengthen me as a teacher.
If you ask her students what kind of teacher Jill is, they’ll say, “out-of-the-textbook.” If you ask Jill what kind of teacher she is, she’ll tell you she’s “authentic.” For 16 of her 20 years of teaching, Jill was an IB Theory of Knowledge and History teacher at the Connecticut IB Academy. This year, Jill is at a new school teaching new courses, which fits in nicely with her perpetual quest to inform and invigorate herself as a learner and educator. Jill is also an artist, birdwatcher, and lover of politics.
Tonaysia Price
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Northwest School for the Arts / Charlotte, NC
I would happily relive my time in Aspen if I had the chance, because the lifelong friends and discoveries I made in that week have inspired me to change for the better and become a person that gives strength and hope to others.
Tonaysia is passionate about the field of health services, particularly biomedical engineering. She has volunteered her time with a behavioral and social services clinic. She was inspired to start her own tutoring club for grades 6 through 12 spanning all subjects and found the peer-to-peer teaching empowering not only for the person being tutored, but also for the person teaching. Tonaysia celebrated the first year of her Local Ideals Festival: Take The First Step in March 2017 and currently attends Notre Dame.
Photo of Student Scholar Tonaysia Price
Photo of Educator Scholar Okemia June
Okemia June
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Northwest School for the Arts / Charlotte, NC
The new knowledge learned at the Aspen Ideas Festival was an eye-opener... and gave a wealth of knowledge that I can take back to my community
Okemia has been teaching for six years and is currently working towards her PhD in Educational Leadership. She’s excited about helping students at Northwest School for the Arts understand that change starts with them, and thinking big is the first step in that journey. Okemia adopts a facilitator/coach teaching method in her English classroom, promoting independent and collaborative learning among students. She enjoys the challenge of designing activities that require processing and application of English content in creative ways.
Yabundu Conteh
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Democracy Prep Charter High School / New York, NY
BSP has inspired me to be a new type of leader. One that does not fear taking risks.
Yabundu appreciates the arts as a forum to communicate complex ideas, and as a platform for change. She’s been involved in multiple leadership programs, theater workshops, and works as a librarian at New York University. She’s particularly passionate about women’s rights, and supporting education and opportunity for young women to realize their strength. She loves Beyoncé and appreciate how she uses her public platform for supporting women, sexuality, and self-respect. Yabundu also happens to do a solid Beyoncé impression. She just completed the first year of her Local Idea's Festival: Harlem Shaking: Evaluating Gentrification in Harlem in May 2017. Yabundu currently attends Bryn Mawr College.
Photo of Student Scholar Yabundu Conteh
Photo of Educator Scholar Teng Yang
Teng Yang
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Democracy Prep Charter High School / New York, NY
Often as an educator, I am asked to put my needs aside and tend to the nurturing of my students’ goals. This time around, it was immensely refreshing to realize that I am an individual with a lot of hopes and goals...it invigorated me to trust my own instincts on what I want for myself, my students, my community, and beyond.
Teng’s career path has taken him from the other side of the world to Harlem. After serving with AmeriCorps’ College Advising Corps, he settled into his position as Senior College Counselor at Democracy Prep Charter High School. He’s been advising students for over five years and appreciates the opportunity to inspire first-generation college students, like himself, to attend and graduate from college. A trained actor, Teng possesses an incredible talent and heart for the performing arts, which he uses to connect with students to help them articulate their own stories.
Andreia Marcelo
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Beira, Mozambique
That one week in Colorado made me think a lot about my passions and every time I attended a session, I asked myself who I am and where I want to go.
Andreia is a native Portuguese speaker from Mozambique, and a gifted opera singer who feels most comfortable expressing herself on stage. She started a tutoring program for young people in her hometown of Beira and believes the teaching platform is very similar to being on stage. She also loves to dance and plays goalie for the school soccer team. Andreia and the other ALA scholars put on their Local Ideas Festival, SAIF: Evolving Ourselves, Enhancing Our World in March. She took a gap year before going to college in 2018.
Photo of Student Scholar Andreia Marcelo
Joel Baraka
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Entebbe, Uganda/DRC
I came to have a deeper understanding that the difference between success and failure in life is not one’s background or current life position, but rather the use of one’s own positive imagination backed up with the individual’s actions.
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joel and his family moved to a refugee camp in Uganda within days of his birth due to war crisis. Growing up in the camp provided Joel with plenty of opportunity to put his entrepreneurial spirit and innovation to work, including founding a sports program for refugee youth. Joel, who loves physics and mathematics, wants to be a civil engineer and strongly believes that by helping fellow refugees through education, he’ll be able to raise more engineers to collaborate on the biggest challenges of the 21st century. Joel and the other ALA scholars put on their Local Ideas Festival, SAIF: Evolving Ourselves, Enhancing Our World in March 2017. He currently attends the University of Wisconsin Madison.
Photo of Student Scholar Joel Baraka
Josphat Lowoi
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Entebbe, Kenya
I think it is prudent and fair for me to give back through my unique story to empower both self and others; I see this as the best way to appreciate others whose stories have shaped my thoughts, decisions, and even how I view my society.
Josphat is a member of the Turkana tribe from Kenya. He enjoys public speaking, policy debate, and acting, skills he values most as he journeys into politics. He feels strongly about the importance of educating girls, especially in minority communities, and sees education as a solution out of the conflict and poverty that he and his peers face in Northern Kenya. Josphat published his own chemistry textbook to teach young girls in his community that didn’t have access to classes, and is currently working on a film to share student experiences in typical African schools as the youth ambassador of Give1 project, a Yale Global Scholar and a mentor in the Equity Group foundation. Josphat and the other ALA scholars put on their Local Ideas Festival, SAIF: Evolving Ourselves, Enhancing Our World in March 2017. He currently attends Duke University on the MasterCard Scholarship.
Photo of Student Scholar Josphat Lowoi
Marubini Muswede
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Limpopo, South Africa
The eagerness of a bunch of young adults to seek the humanity in others and to voice their own yearnings inspired me.
Marubini has lived her entire life in South Africa, and has loved stories and storytelling for just as long. She can tell you stories in five different languages and enjoys the human connections that stories create and affirm. Her passion for the empowerment of women, especially black women in South Africa, motivates her to seek ways to effect change in her school, home, and broader community. Marubini and the other ALA scholars put on their Local Ideas Festival, SAIF: Evolving Ourselves, Enhancing Our World in March 2017. Marubini currently attends Smith College in Massachusetts.
Photo of Student Scholar Marubini Muswede
Smangaliso Mbili
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Johannesburg, South Africa
I was a completely different person, changed for the betterment of my community, country, continent, and ultimately for the entire world
Smangaliso grew up in a close-knit community within Johannesburg, South Africa. Appreciative of the mentors he’s had in life, he hopes to mentor younger people from his neighborhood. Smangaliso sees entrepreneurship as a platform for responding to the injustices he and his community face, including the effects of apartheid in South Africa. His love of dance continues to be a common language for him in every social setting. Smangaliso and the other ALA scholars put on their Local Ideas Festival, SAIF: Evolving Ourselves, Enhancing Our World in March 2017. Smangaliso recently finished a gap year before going to college in 2018.
Photo of Student Scholar Smangaliso Mbili
Photo of Educator Scholar Melissa Mbazo
Melissa Mbazo
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Beira, Mozambique
There is joy in surrounding yourself with people who think differently to the way that you do; there is so much to learn from other people… big ideas are for everyone.
A native of Zimbabwe, Melissa graduated from the University of Cape Town with a bachelor’s degree in media and writing, and a focus on economics and international relations. She’s been with the African Leadership Academy since 2013 and is passionate about empowering young people to respond to issues of social inequality. Melissa is a wonderful storyteller and known by her infectious laugh; she hopes to write her own novel one day.