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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.

The Cohorts

See Bezos Scholar cohorts from past years.

Cutler Bay Senior High School

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Ammi Lucy Hernandez

Student Scholar • Cutler Bay, Florida

Ammi Hernandez was born and raised in Jagüey Grande, Cuba. She first became passionate about her community when experiencing the harsh conditions imposed in the communist regime. Abiding by her faith to God and convictions of hard work, love and patience, she became interested in helping the world around her. Her family and her faith have been pivotal pushing forces driving her forward to the person she is today. Ammi has won several piano competitions throughout the course of her music education; she has taught music at summer camps and after school programs. She is a member of the English Honor Society at her school and has read several literary works in Spanish, English, and French. She wishes to enhance education programs through music and other learning tools for those with learning disabilities.

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Carla Felix

Educator Scholar • Cutler Bay, Florida

Dr. Felix is of Belizean decent, though she was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Miami, FL. She is a graduate of the prestigious New World School of the Arts, where she played concert violin. Dr. Felix is the Founder/Director of the performing arts program at her school; she has served as Academy Leader, Reading Department Head, and is currently Head of Electives. She was a runner-up for the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program, and is the composer of her school’s Alma Mater. She is passionate about helping children and families, of at-risk populations, access research-based strategies that facilitate the development of strong learning and organization skills, as well as assisting in the development of ideal mental health. She is thrilled to be a part of a program that focuses on developing leadership skills, and combing community and education through research-based initiatives.

Old Town High School

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Avery McCoy Ell

Student Scholar • Old Town, Maine

Despite being from a small, rural town, Old Town overflows with school spirit and community pride. Avery enjoys being involved in parades, sports and service organizations that contribute to her community. Avery is president-elect of the statewide Maine Association of Student Councils. At her school, she is president of the Key Club, vice president of National Honors Society, and a member of band, student council, and varsity soccer. Avery is passionate about addressing inequalities in her community. Whether based on socioeconomic status, race, gender or sexual orientation, she hopes to work to create a more equitable environment for all members of her community. Avery is excited to learn from a diverse group of passionate and intelligent scholar and be a positive force for social change.

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Natalie Davis

Educator Scholar • Old Town, Maine

Natalie was born and raised in Bangor, Maine, and still lives there with her shepherd mix rescue dog, Stella. Natalie earned a BS in Secondary Education from UMaine Farmington, a Master’s in Literacy from UMaine Orono, and is working toward an Education Specialist Degree in Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. She is especially proud to advise her school’s student council and help students foster their leadership skills and passions. She is elated to be part of something that empowers young people and encourages them to change our world for the better.

Westchester Academy for International Studies

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Bella Garcia

Student Scholar • Houston, Texas

Bella is currently enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at her high school. She is a 2nd-generation Mexican American with a love for traveling and learning about her culture. Bella is an Emerge fellow, Atlas scholar, and violinist at American Festival for the Arts. She takes active leadership roles in various clubs, including student council, Hispanic Honor Society, and Mu Alpha Theta. Raised in an urban area, Bella has firm beliefs in tackling environmental consequences through legislative action. She is driven by the impending threat of climate change and necessity for a clean earth for future generations. She hopes to sculpt minds in her local community to implement environmentally conscious decisions in sustainable urban development.

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Mayra Valle

Educator Scholar • Houston, Texas

Mayra works at EMERGE Fellowship, a partner organization to Westchester Academy, whose mission is to empower and prepare high-performing students from underserved communities to attend and graduate from universities across the nation. She is eager to collaborate alongside talented young people and the leaders who support them. Mayra was born and raised on the Northside of Houston, surrounded by family. At least 12 family members live within a one-mile radius of her and 40 cousins within a five-mile radius! Working on community organizing projects to support artistic expression and to bring attention to decolonizing class curriculum, Mayra is proud to have been promoted to director and earned the organization's Equity Award.

Bayside High School

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Bubuney Havi

Student Scholar • Virginia Beach, Virginia

Bubuney was born in Ghana and is from a family of six. She believes God has given everyone a gift of greatness and over time has grown in her faith and become more confident in herself. At school, she’s on the National Honor Society executive board, specifically the service pillar. Growing up in a developing country, Bubuney is passionate about giving back to people and bringing change and opportunities to her generation. She is excited to get to know and learn from others; and discover her hidden potential.

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Maureen Loflin

Educator Scholar • Virginia Beach, Virginia

Maureen came to Virginia Beach as a child via her father’s military transfer. Although she has traveled the world, she lives close to her childhood home and teaches at the high school that was a rival to hers when she was a student. Maureen mentors students in collaboration with Duke University and the Global Public Service Academy. She travels and works with her students in rural Guatemalan communities each summer, screening for diabetes and completing basic health screenings. She is excited to support students as she works to further develop her leadership skills and positively impact her community.

School for Advanced Studies-North Campus

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Flavia Nunez

Student Scholar • Miami, Florida

In the past year, Flavia has dedicated her free time to working on writing her first book of fiction which is about a girl who builds her confidence while journeying into the Greek Underworld. In 2021, it won an Honorable Mention Award for Novel Writing from Scholastic Art & Writing. Flavia also makes bracelets for her literacy project, Bracelets for Books. She is an Advanced Placement National Scholar, recipient of her school’s Harvard Book Award, and the Poetry Out Loud champion for Florida. Flavia cares deeply for the children in need living in her community; she has organized numerous diaper and toy drives. Flavia is dedicated to improving literacy and wants other immigrant and underserved children to fall in love with reading just like she did.

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Michele Mar

Educator Scholar • Miami, Florida

Michele’s dream has always been to connect her students with professional learning communities, both globally and locally, to bring attention and awareness to abuse prevention for all students. She earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction in Language and Literacy from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. She was named the Gilder Lehrman Teacher of the Year for Florida in 2018 and completed a total 45 credits in American History at Ashland and Pace Universities.

Inlet Grove Community High School

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Gabriel Gerig

Student Scholar • West Palm Beach, Florida

Gabriel was born and raised in a beautiful German descendant town in Aragua, Venezuela, where he lived happily until the political situation collapsed. He and his family moved to the U.S in 2017. Gabriel mastered the English language after living in the U.S. for two years and is president of the National Honor Society where he leads the members to strive for academic success and giving back to their community. Gabriel is passionate about improving learning conditions and lack of resources for low-income students, especially English Language Learners (ELL). He hopes to use the resources and collective experiences of the other scholars to make an impact in his community and serve as an inspiration for others.

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Francisco Javier Lopez Ortiz

Educator Scholar • West Palm Beach, Florida

Principal Lopez was born in Guatemala, immigrating to New York in 1995. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education Spanish from S.U.N.Y. Oneonta and his master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Barry University. With more than 18 years of experience in education, he has served as a Spanish teacher, coach, assistant principal and now principal. During his leadership at Inlet Grove, he has brought his school to an “A rated” High Performing Charter School status. He believes educators should focus on encouraging students to find joy in learning and develop the skills necessary to become successful citizens of the world.

Hightower High School

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Isabel Ohakamma 

Student Scholar • Stafford, Texas

Isabel is Nigerian and has the privilege of living in one of the most diverse communities in the country. She is passionate about normalizing and changing the conversation surrounding mental health. She leads her school’s Student Wellness Coalition, which works to care for the mental state of students. She wants to provide equal access to mental treatment for all people in her community, especially those who are disadvantaged. Isabel is excited to be a Bezos Scholar and passionately advocate for the mental and emotional wellness of individuals in her community, especially marginalized groups.

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John Glenn Santos Ramon, PhD

Educator Scholar • Stafford, Texas

A lifelong learner and educator with humble beginnings from the Philippines, Dr. Ramon pursued his PhD in Chemistry at the University of Houston, TX, in 2002 before starting his secondary school teaching career at Fort Bend Independent School District in 2007. He was recognized as Science and Engineering Fair of Houston (SEFH) Teacher of the Year in 2009 and 2019. He was featured in the Houston Chronicle’s Heroes of the Frontline series for his support for students amidst the pivot to virtual learning as a result of the pandemic. As a Bezos Scholar, he is excited at the prospect of making connections and expanding his horizons as an educator and mentor. He is most passionate about accessibility and responsiveness of education to all learners especially at both ends of the learning spectrum.

Montgomery Blair High School

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Isoiza Emah

Student Scholar • Silver Spring, Maryland

Isoiza lives with his mom and little sister in a diverse community near Washington, D.C. Before the pandemic, Isoiza was a volunteer disability aide in a summer program as he is passionate about helping students with special needs be included in their communities. He is also a leader on his basketball team and sees sports as a way to build community—and as a pathway for students with special needs be included and succeed. Being a Bezos Scholar will help him develop leadership skills and learn from the perspectives of other students who are also interested in helping their communities.

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Tony Mensah

Educator Scholar • Silver Spring, Maryland

Tony recently transitioned into the teaching profession after practicing law for the past 20 years. As a second-year special education teacher, Tony is proud of the relationships that he has already built with students and their families which will last well into the future. Tony would most like to see his students and this country continue to grow in its understanding and acceptance of people from diverse backgrounds; a focal point in his US History classes and on the athletic teams he coaches. Tony hopes to bring a memorable experience to the students that will be impact as a result of the Scholars program.

Brown County High School

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Josephine Fields

Student Scholar • Nashville, Indiana

Josephine is from a small rural community located in the southern part of Indiana. In 2019, Josephine founded Students for Equity, a student-led organization dedicated to equity and inclusion and is a two-year alum of the ACLU Summer Advocacy Program. Josephine is passionate about tackling intersectionalities of educational inequity and is excited to collaborate with passionate students and educators from around the world to enact meaningful change. She believes in empowering young voices by prioritizing public school funding and making public schools safe, accessible and inclusive of all identities.

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Kristi Billings

Educator Scholar • Nashville, Indiana

Kristi is a strong advocate for public education and serves as President of the Brown County Educators Association. She was previously named an ISTA “30 under 30” Rising Union Leader in Indiana and faculty sponsor of Students for Equity, a student-lead organization promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and loves empowering young people to make positive changes in social justice issues. Kristi worked as director of a nonprofit children’s choir organization prior to becoming a music teacher. She is most excited to connect and explore ideas with other educators and students committed to bringing positive change in their local communities.

Edmonds-Woodway High School

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Owen Lee

Student Scholar • Edmonds, Washington

Owen works to be as large a part of his community as possible: He is chair of the Edmonds Youth Commission, volunteers at Edmonds Food Bank and Seattle Aquarium, and interned with the Holocaust Center for Humanity. In 2018, Owen traveled to South Africa with the Seattle Children's Chorus to perform at the Ihlombe Choral Festival, a series of concerts and gatherings performed by numerous choirs from the U.S. and Africa. Owen is also a member of his school’s jazz choir and in 2020, sang at the Jazz Education Network’s Festival in New Orleans. Having always treasured the natural world, Owen loves his home in the Pacific Northwest, which is a perfect blend of his dad’s upbringing in Hawaii and his mom’s, in the woods of Pennsylvania. Owen is passionate about climate justice and mutual aid, and hopes to use this opportunity as a Bezos Scholar to fight some of the root causes of food insecurity in his community.

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Nick Wellington

Educator Scholar • Edmonds, Washington

Nick was born and raised in Edmonds and works as an educator at his alma mater. He is the proud father of three-year-old twins and lovingly devoted to his partner Jillian, a counselor at the same high school. Nick is proud of receiving his National Board Certification in Social Studies while training for multiple group fitness certifications. He teaches spin and weightlifting classes at his local health club. He also completed a 16-mile obstacle course race in Squaw Valley at 6,000-8,000 feet of elevation. The hardest physical competition he's ever attempted (other than parenting twins). He is driven by the same principles that instruct his teaching practice. He wants to elevate and amplify projects that promote equity, access and justice and is excited to network and collaborate with an inspiring group of young leaders from around the world.

Rancho High School

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Runzhi Hu

Student Scholar • Las Vegas, Nevada

Runzhi is a junior in the pre-medical program at her school and has participated in HOSA – Future Health Professionals, an international career and technical student organization. She has also participated in the National Honor Society and National Science Bowl. Her proudest achievements include coming in third place for pathophysiology in a HOSA competition and designing the state pin for Nevada in 2020. With the help of her Educator Scholar, Runzhi hopes to make education more accessible so everyone can have the opportunity to obtain high-quality and affordable education. As a Bezos Scholar, she hopes to gain leadership skills which she can use to help empower others.

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Susan Potts

Educator Scholar • Las Vegas, Nevada

Susan has been a mathematics educator for 19 years. She has been the advisor for the Rancho HOSA Chapter since 2019 and enjoys supporting students as they challenge themselves while striving to attain their goals. The best part of her job is watching her students grow up to achieve their goals and dreams. The innovative ideas and boundless enthusiasm of her students is inspiring; she hopes to continue to positively influence her community and energize her growth as an educator as a result of her participation in the Bezos Scholars Program.

North Central High School

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Sawyer Husain

Student Scholar • Indianapolis, Indiana

Sawyer Husain comes from a diverse cultural and religious background: his mother is Jewish, his father is Christian, his grandfather is Muslim, and his aunt was a Catholic nun. Sawyer has raised more than $100,000 for charities during high school, helped lead a congressional campaign, captained varsity track and cross-country teams, and sits as the chair of development on the Caroline Symmes Endowment Board. Sawyer is passionate about sustainable development and facilitating urban growth with a focus on environmental impact and believes finding sustainable solutions and alternatives in construction and urban development is the key to helping our planet. Sawyer is excited to grow in the ability to create change, and learn how to lead others to do the same alongside such a diverse group.

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Tom Gayda

Educator Scholar • Indianapolis, Indiana

Tom Gayda is a life-long Hoosier (inhabitant of Indiana), growing up in Merrillville before attending Ball State University and finally settling in Indianapolis where his professional career has unfolded. Tom is the 2018 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year; In 2017, he was his school's teacher of the year. He serves as president of the Ball State Department of Journalism Alumni Society. Tom is passionate about building relationships and understandings between people of different backgrounds to best bring different cultures together.

African Leadership Academy

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Jaelene Sharveshni Iyman

Student Scholar

Jaelene is excited to network and engage with young leaders and foster the entrepreneurial spirit within her community to create positive social change. Jaelene is passionate about international relations, wildlife conservation, feminism and entrepreneurship. Jaelene is a top South African female chess player and former captain of the national provincial team. She is also well-versed in Model United Nations and has received awards at all her conferences. Jaelene is concerned about protecting and preserving wildlife and biodiversity on the African continent. She aspires to eradicate poaching and the illegal wildlife trade markets by raising awareness and conducting educational-based programs.

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Panashe Noel Jonga

Student Scholar

Inspired by his fellow Zimbabweans’ persistence and efforts to progress, Panashe is energized by creating solutions for infrastructure and agriculture innovation as well as ethical entrepreneurship. He is a board member for Nyemwerera Foundation, a non-profit start-up assisting youth and children in Zimbabwe. He is also a provincial-level athlete, advocating for health and fitness serving as his school’s Sports Representative. Making use of his computer-aided design and entrepreneurship skills, Panashe is committed to designing and building strong and safe infrastructure for residents in the Chimanimani region, Zimbabwe, which is regularly hit by cyclones. Panashe believes the only thing better than realizing opportunities is sharing them.

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Saifeddine Lahmar

Student Scholar

Inspired by his mother, Saifeddine’s dedication to taking risks guides him towards the beauty of life’s challenges. Saifeddine is co-founder of the tourist startup ‘Djescover’ and winner of the best delegate award from Georgetown University Model United Nations in Qatar. He was the president of Junior Chamber International in Midoun, an international organization that encourages young people to become active citizens and to participate in efforts towards social and economic development. He is also an Access Program Tunisia Alumnus. Saifeddine believes that, through media, we can paint humanity’s history. As a skilled content creator, he is advocating for reforming the media industry to share more than a single story about Africa to the world. He is excited to thrive outside of his comfort zone by building connections with young entrepreneurs across the globe and creating equal opportunities. He is the catalyst in the team and the laughter giver in the group.

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Selima Terras

Student Scholar

Selima is a young composer and songwriter. She uses her medium to advocate for the issues that are important to her: racial inequality, social injustice and youth empowerment. She studies Arab music theory at her local conservatory and spends most of her summers in the orchestra room as a cello player. Selima is the co-founder of “Colorful Tunisia” an organization to raise awareness about racism in her country through arts and education. As a Kennedy-Lugar Study Abroad exchange student in the U.S., she represented her country and culture in various international conferences. Selima is passionate about history, international relations, and art. Her goal is to promote intercultural understanding through creative arts and advocacy to foster a strong and united Africa.

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Suyash Nowbut

Student Scholar

Suyash is a business consultant at the African Leadership Consulting Group and received a Bronze Award from the Duke of Edinburgh Program in Mauritius, an internationally recognized program designed to encourage young people to develop positive skills and lifestyle habits. Suyash is also a Model United Nations Best Delegation Winner and collaborative researcher working to better understand his community. He is interested in business, psychology and sociology. His goal is to find the synergy between his passion and the inhibition of innovative change to accelerate the development of Africa. Passionate about change-making, Suyash intends to acquire innovative skills to be a positive catalyst in his community and curate a festival that incubates youth impact.

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Ssanyu Sematimba

Educator Scholar

Ssanyu believes that design and design thinking play a key role in new products and services, breakthrough innovation, and strategic leadership. She created the Afrikan Collective, an online community that showcases a spectrum of African visual communication and that aspires to become the hub of African creative content. In 2018, Ssanyu was selected as of one of 100 Goalkeepers in Africa by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was also voted one of 40 top upcoming creatives in South Africa by the Emerging Creatives Program, hosted by the Design Indaba which provides support, education and mentoring for South Africa's future designers. Ssanyu is most excited to become a better coach and advocate for the incredible student leaders she is so lucky to work with.