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.

2018 Bezos Scholars

Alex Bremer & Lori Flynn
Pomeroy High School, WA

Amy Exposito & Alden Reed
Amundsen High School, IL

Brandon Plowman & Aaron Atkinson
West Valley High School, CA

Christian Alexander & Victoria Kratz
Hawthorne Math & Science Academy, CA

Cindy Aguilar Castaneda & Candice McFarland Camacho
Gonzales High School, CA

Cole Fairchild & Matt Shields
Charlottesville High School, VA

Hoang Le & Kevin Varano
Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus, PA

Makayla Dawkins & Rachele Thomas
James Hillhouse High School, CT

Matthew Garcia & Jose Becerra
Harlingen School of Health Professions, TX

Mayowa Jolayemi & Christina Moreau
Gahr High School, CA

Mishka Banuri & Crystal King
West High School, UT

Style Ranger & Jake Winfield
ASU Preparatory Academy: South Phoenix, AZ

Jelissa Kamguem, Jonathan Banza, Rutendo Njawaya, Salome Maina, Samkelo Ntetha & Tsion Tesfaye
African Leadership Academy

Alex Bremer
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Pomeroy High School / Pomeroy, WA
An issue I am very passionate about is drug and alcohol abuse because addiction can destroy families and entire communities.
Alex is junior class Associate Student Body president, an active member of Future Farmers of America, and a track state medalist. She founded The Closet, a nonprofit that provides basic necessities to families in need in her low-income farming community. Alex is passionate about helping others live a healthy life and is interested in becoming a registered nurse.
Photo of Student Scholar Alex Bremer
Photo of Educator Scholar Lori Flynn
Lori Flynn
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Pomeroy High School / Pomeroy, WA
We live in a very small community. For our community to thrive, we must involve our students and support the ideas they bring forth.
Lori has been an educator for five years and currently serves as the Associate Student Body advisor at Pomeroy High School. She is passionate about student-led change and promotes hands-on learning, collaboration, and active involvement in her classroom.
Amy Exposito
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Amundsen High School / Chicago, IL
All kids should have the chance to be supported and successful in school.
Amy is no stranger to thinking big. She is a co-founder of Starry Chicago, a student-run program that educates the community about preserving the night sky and advocates for dark-sky friendly policies. Starry Chicago was launched as part of Chicago’s Aspen Challenge. Amy joined her founding teammates in presenting at the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival. Amy is also a violin teacher at her neighborhood elementary school, a swim coach, and is a first violinist in the all-city orchestra. She is passionate about creating a space for dialogue around mental health.
Photo of Student Scholar Amy Exposito
Photo of Educator Scholar Alden Reed
Alden Reed
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Amundsen High School / Chicago, IL
Effective leadership requires practice more than talent. Developing ethical leaders is most satisfying and I see this program as a means to do that.
Alden has taught chemistry in the Chicago Public Schools for 18 years. Prior to his teaching career, Alden was an operations director for a large financial printing firm, served on his local school council, and has been a union representative. Of all his endeavors, Alden enjoys serving his students the most.
Brandon Plowman
STUDENT SCHOLAR / West Valley High School / Cottonwood, CA
My time in high school has been a time of building community: a college-bound community, an LGBTQ community, and a community of drug, alcohol, and violence prevention.
In high school, Brandon was a member of the California Association of Student Councils, the co-founder and President of his school's Gay-Straight Alliance, and participated in four years of his local TRiO Upward Bound program. Brandon is passionate about the physical and mental well-being of his community and focused his community change project on addressing some of the root causes of substance abuse through a series of presentations to the student body of his high school. He is a member of the Class of 2023 at Minerva School at KGI, where he will be studying in major cities across seven different countries with a unique curriculum structure around four core competencies that they believe are essential to success in the future of the workforce.
Photo of Student Scholar Brandon Plowman
Photo of Educator Scholar Aaron Atkinson
Aaron Atkinson
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / West Valley High School / Cottonwood, CA
The best way for an educator to impact their school and the surrounding community is to inspire students to become change agents, support them, and serve alongside them.
Aaron has taught math for 11 years, with the last two at West Valley High School, where he coaches the JV Boys soccer team. He believes in the need to link classroom experiences with real world experiences and strives to inspire young women to engage in the field of STEM.
Christian Alexander
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Hawthorne Math & Science Academy / Hawthorne, CA
I aim to learn as much as I can in school and take advantage of positive opportunities that come my way. I love contributing as a Link Leader and being there for my freshman crew members whenever they need help.
Christian is an active member of Key Club, serves as junior class Associate Student Body Secretary, and is a Link Crew Leader at his school, supporting incoming classes of freshmen. He’s interested in bringing a more holistic understanding of well being including physical and mental health to his school. During the summer, Christian works with California Parks and Recreation to give back to his community and organize community events.
Photo of Student Scholar Christian Alexander
Photo of Educator Scholar Victoria Kratz
Victoria Kratz
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Hawthorne Math & Science Academy / Hawthorne, CA
It is important for youth to take ownership of a project. When they do so they instill an energy and enthusiasm to the project which leads to fresh perspectives.
Victoria has been an educator for 20 years and is currently the Projects and Activities Teacher at Hawthorne Math & Science Academy. She is passionate about teamwork and student leaders and is involved in supporting numerous activities at the school, including student council, athletics, community involvement and fundraising.
Cindy Aguilar Castaneda
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Gonzales High School / Gonzales, CA
As a Youth Commissioner, I helped my community raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol to curb underage drinking.
Cindy is an Interact Community Service Club member, an appointed Youth Commissioner for the Gonzales City Hall, and a Student Board Member for the Gonzales Unified School District. Cindy plays the saxophone and clarinet with her school’s jazz ensemble and spends much of her free time helping other youth find and develop the needed skills to advocate for themselves. She is passionate about supporting immigrants in her rural community and is interested in deterring adolescents from engaging with substances.
Photo of Student Scholar Cindy Aguilar Castaneda
Photo of Educator Scholar Candice McFarland Camacho
Candice McFarland Camacho
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Gonzales High School / Gonzales, CA
Youth-led initiatives are inspiring and so very powerful to watch in action. I am looking forward to the Bezos Scholars Program experience!
Candice has held a variety of leadership roles in the field of education over the last 21 years and is extremely passionate about helping others. She is a product of the Salinas Valley and loves to connect with people. Always able to find the silver lining, Candice is committed to create positive, impactful change in her community that inspires others.
Cole Fairchild
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Charlottesville High School / Charlottesville, VA
I enjoy a variety of activities, from cooking to sports to film, but observing and experiencing innovation is my true passion. Finding a new way to solve a problem will never fail to excite me.
Cole is a big proponent of STEM education, reflected through his involvement in his school's Engineering program and clubs. After school, he is a hurdler and captain of his Track and Field team, an all-state Lincoln Douglas debate competitor, a member of the Youth City Council, and has represented his high school on the Charlottesville Youth Design Committee. He is working to achieve greater representation of typically underserved students in institutions of higher education. Outside of school, Cole founded Cville Love Birds with his brother, a company that provides doves for release to celebrate special occasions.
Photo of Student Scholar Cole Fairchild
Photo of Educator Scholar Matt Shields
Matt Shields
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Charlottesville High School / Charlottesville, VA
I have spent my years as an educator learning how to get out of the way of my students. Young people possess remarkable passion and creativity; my role is to foster it.
Matt has been an educator for 13 years and is the Engineering Program Director at Charlottesville High School. Matt holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and a Ph.D. in Education. After starting the Best All-around Club of Nerds (BACON) at Charlottesville High School, he developed a five-year engineering curriculum that includes a class for eighth grade students. In his classroom, Matt challenges students through project-based environments and STEM design projects. He hopes to emphasize the link between humanism and science to make positive community impact through STEM solutions. Matt also recently started a company, Shields Lab, to help other schools start similar project-based STEM programs.
Hoang Le
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus / Harrisburg, PA
My involvement in Youth Council Club and the Harrisburg City Council Youth Commission has inspired me to be more involved in social justice.
Hoang was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S at age six. He founded the Harrisburg City Council Youth Commission to help student leaders collaborate with legislators and develop solutions for civic issues. He is also his high school’s Key Club President and a Penn State Upward Bound Scholar. Hoang is interested in responding to the mass incarceration of people of color and its negative long-term impacts.
Photo of Student Scholar Hoang Le
Photo of Educator Scholar Kevin Varano
Kevin Varano
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus / Harrisburg, PA
The opportunity to share ideas and learn from others is always gratifying. I look forward to this incredible time to benefit my students and our community.
Kevin has been an educator for 14 years and teaches Dual Enrollment and AP courses in History and Psychology at Harrisburg High School - SciTech Campus. He is an avid skier, occasional tennis player and sometimes scuba diver.
Makayla Dawkins
STUDENT SCHOLAR / James Hillhouse High School / New Haven, CT
I am a firm believer in equity. All students should receive the best education possible.
Makayla is a student representative for the New Haven Board of Education, an ambassador for New Haven's Gay-Straight Alliance, a cancer researcher through the Yale Pathways to Science program and a peer advocate for Planned Parenthood. Makayla is committed to service, a firm believer in equity, and believes that all students should receive the best education possible. In addition, she is motivated by the impact gun violence and the incarceration of students’ parents has had on her school community. She is interested in connecting trauma-centered healing via the arts to support community members dealing with death, incarceration, and deportation.
Photo of Student Scholar Makayla Dawkins
Photo of Educator Scholar Rachele Thomas
Rachele Thomas
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / James Hillhouse High School / New Haven, CT
No matter how educated, talented, rich, or cool you believe you are, how you treat people tells all. Integrity is everything.
Rachele Thomas has been an employee of the New Haven Board of Education for the past 13 years. She currently teaches College Biology, Pre-AP Biology and Advanced Placement Biology at James Hillhouse High School. Rachele is dedicated to the task of teaching, nurturing and mentoring all students. Rachele completed her undergraduate education at Morgan State University in Maryland with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology. Furthering her higher education, Rachele graduated from the University of New Haven with Honors, earning a Masters of Education Degree. Since receipt of her Master’s degree Rachele has also completed and received her Sixth Year degree in Educational Leadership from Southern Connecticut State University. As a committed member of the educational field, Rachele has also served as an adjunct professor at Southern Connecticut State University, she is a member of the school-wide Leadership Team, she serves as Lead Teacher of the Science Department, and she is also a recent graduate of the NAATE (National Academy of Advanced Teacher Education) program.
Matthew Garcia
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Harlingen School of Health Professions / Harlingen, TX
I fell in love with music and the joy it brings me in expressing my individuality.
Matthew is passionate about music and is a self-taught musician. As a member of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the USA, he has performed in international tours of South America and Asia. He is also the Vice President of the South Texas Health Occupations Students of America organization. Along with music, Matthew is passionate about supporting the LGBTQ community and is working to amend his school’s anti-discrimination policy to equally protect people of all identities and orientations.
Photo of Student Scholar Matthew Garcia
Photo of Educator Scholar Jose Becerra
Jose Becerra
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Harlingen School of Health Professions / Harlingen, TX
A community can benefit immensely from an inspired student with a dream. As educators we should seek to give young people the tools necessary to make those dreams a reality.
Jose has been a math educator for two years at Harlingen School of Health Professions where he founded and currently coaches the Chess program. He is passionate about student achievement and strives to help young people realize and reach their full potential. Jose seeks to inspire students to advocate for themselves, better their community, and set high expectations for themselves. He believes in the value of student conversation, open dialogue, and peer-to-peer learning.
Mayowa Jolayemi
STUDENT SCHOLAR / Gahr High School / Cerritos, CA
There are so many actions that one can take to effect change in the world, and I feel that time spent not doing so is time wasted.
Mayowa was born in Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S. at a young age. She is an active delegate in her school’s Model UN, has served as Associated Student Body class President for the past three years, and is the 2018-2019 ASB president. Mayowa is passionate about her faith in God and education and actively tutors students in her school and within her community. She is interested in leveraging her experience of moving to a new country and her love for education to create a peer mentoring program aimed at equipping students with the tools to succeed.
Photo of Student Scholar Mayowa Jolayemi
Photo of Educator Scholar Christina Moreau
Christina Moreau
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / Gahr High School / Cerritos, CA
Being a champion and advocate for student voice has guided me thus far in my career. I look forward to advancing for students beyond the scope of my four walls and into the community.
Christina has been an educator for 22 years and is currently a Teacher on Special Assignment at Gahr High School. She values a strong work ethic, high learning standards, youth voice, and community engagement. She believes that every student should be in a position of choice for college and career. Christina received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of La Verne and her master's degree from Concordia University, Irvine. She’s a member of the Soroptimist Club and Distinguished Young Women, and an Assistant Scout Master for Scouts BSA.
Mishka Banuri
STUDENT SCHOLAR / West High School / Salt Lake City, UT
I find that my youth is powerful because I can shape the future I want to see for myself, my peers and future generations.
Mishka Banuri is a junior at West High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has been an activist since 7th grade, promoting diversity in schools and institutions. Mishka is passionate about social and environmental justice, particularly on empowering women, people of color, and youth, and is an intern for the Utah Chapter Sierra Club. As a Pakistani Muslim American, she seeks to build bridges within her many communities with progressive values. She was an organizer and emcee for the Utah People's Climate March last year, and is the co-founder of the Utah Youth Environmental Solutions, a youth-led group that engages the community on environmental issues. Mishka also serves as the Director of the youth ambassador program for the Emerald Project, an organization that seeks to combat the misrepresentation of Islamophobia, and is part of the Planned Parenthood Teen Council, and a staff member of the youth led organization, iMatter Youth.
Photo of Student Scholar Mishka Banuri
Photo of Educator Scholar Crystal King
Crystal King
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / West High School / Salt Lake City, UT
Students should have the agency to follow their passion. It is important as adults and mentors to support students as they work to better the world around them. Our children will make this world better for future generations and our job is to help them do this
Crystal has taught science at West High School in Salt Lake City for over 15 years. She loves instilling curiosity and wonder in her students as they explore the world around them. She has mentored her school’s Environmental Club and helped coach young leaders in the Utah Youth Environment Summit. She is actively involved in her local teachers’ union as a union representative.
Style Ranger
STUDENT SCHOLAR / ASU Preparatory Academy: South Phoenix / Phoenix, AZ
I’m motivated by the belief we as people are stronger, together. We all have the capability to do something great and if we unite anything is possible.
Style is Junior class president of 2019 and the captain of his football team. He is also an actor with Desert Stages Theater and a former campaign leader for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Style is passionate about film and theatre and envisions using the arts as an opportunity to help address societal issues such as racism.
Photo of Student Scholar Style Ranger
Photo of Educator Scholar Jake Winfield
Jake Winfield
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / ASU Preparatory Academy: South Phoenix / Phoenix, AZ
Lasting change is best created by our youth. I work in education to build relationships that make students feel confident about taking action towards true solutions to problems in their community.
Jake has been an educator for six years and is currently a mathematics and robotics teacher at ASU Preparatory Academy: South Phoenix. He is passionate about student collaboration, self-reflection, and educational equality.
Jelissa Kamguem
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Bamenda, Cameroon
I am inspired to go beyond my limits. I believe I will be able to make the impossible possible by working hand in hand with other change makers.
Jelissa is interested in engineering and psychology. She joined an organization called “WAA Cameroon” which supports HIV/AIDs patients suffering from mental health. Jelissa is currently writing a research paper on clinical psychology and looks forward to sharing her ideas and learning from others during the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Photo of Student Scholar Jelissa Kamguem
Jonathan Banza
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Durban, South Africa
As youth, we don’t choose the world we inherit. However, we should strive to use our now to create a future we would love our children to come into.
Jonathan was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to South Africa when he was 5 years old. He is passionate about social entrepreneurship and education, and strongly believes in the power that entrepreneurs wield in shaping the world around them. Jonathan founded a non-profit organization called Project Phambili which connects senior high school students to accountable mentors who are in university pursuing courses similar to the mentees’ interests. Jonathan is an active member of the African Leadership Academy community as a host of weekly assembly, being a member of the school choir, and is serving as the chairman of the Africa Day committee. In his free time, Jonathan enjoys playing the guitar.
Photo of Student Scholar Jonathan Banza
Rutendo Njawaya
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Harare, Zimbabwe
One advantage we have as young people is the opportunity to be young; to be naive and confused. For in this uncertainty we can decide for ourselves the kind of people we want to be, not the people others expect of us.
Rutendo is from Harare, Zimbabwe. Growing up surrounded by family members who participated in Zimbabwe's liberation struggle, she has always had a keen interest in politics and governance. She believes that the right politics can better people's lives whereas the wrong type only destroys people's lives. Rutendo has shadowed two prominent Zimbabwean ministers to better understand the world of politics and hopes to pursue politics after school. At school, she is the Associate Director of Administration of African Leadership Academy Model African Union and the leader of the General Knowledge club. She also enjoys playing golf.
Photo of Student Scholar Rutendo Njawaya
Salome Maina
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership School / Kenya, Nairobi
Serving my community is one way of putting my mark on the world and experiencing diversity to enhance my mind and spirit.
Salome Maina comes from Nairobi, Kenya. Salome is passionate about community development and entrepreneurial leadership. She engages in activities that enable her to explore this passion and discover others. At home, she is a peer mentor, tutor and volunteer in various centers around her community. She believes that the best way to find oneself is to lose oneself in the service of others. She is a member of the Blockchain Club, Peer Coach for the Africa Careers Network, the Director of Marketing of the Model African Union 2019, and was a 2017 South African Ideas Festival Intern.
Photo of Student Scholar Salome Maina
Samkelo Ntetha
STUDENT SCHOLAR / African Leadership School / Durban, South Africa
I want to look back years from now and say, I did that. But the truth is I will likely look back with a group of dynamic individuals and together we will say, we did that!
Samkelo is an aspiring entrepreneurial leader with ambitious dreams of building a business empire and driving growth in the South African economy. Samkelo’s interests are focused on logistics; he has a strong passion for airplanes and ships. Samkelo is passionate about youth development and aims to empower the youth of South Africa through development programs. He strongly emphasizes on concentration on vision and innovation, spending much of his time engaged with the two in enacting change in his communities. Samkelo strives to affect the lives of those around him and his country above all.
Photo of Student Scholar Samkelo Ntetha
Photo of Educator Scholar Tsion Tesfaye
Tsion Tesfaye
EDUCATOR SCHOLAR / African Leadership Academy / Bamenda, Cameroon
Youth are agents of positive change whose potential is unleashed through self-directed exploration. A coach’s role is to empower and guide them through this journey.
Tsion is an innovator who is passionate about social transformation and youth development. Following this passion, she has implemented social ventures that aimed to empower women and youth in marginalized communities She holds a BA from Hamilton College with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Educational Studies. She is currently a Fellow in African Leadership Academy’s Entrepreneurial Leadership department.