header meet the scholars

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.

African Leadership Academy

Abdelkarim Ben Fraj-ALA student square

Abdelkarim Ben Fraj

Student Scholar • Sousse, Tunisia

Abdelkarim, who goes by Karim, grew up in an extended family and learned from three generations. His diverse community likes to bond over tasty traditional Tunisian dishes and is renowned for their friendliness and openness. Karim is a filmmaker who strives to improve the African creative scene through the art of storytelling for social change. He seeks experiences that push him outside his comfort zone and is passionate about telling stories that remain unnoticed by observing the extraordinary within the mundane. Karim held a workshop for 21 people who had dropped out of school, teaching them basic photography skills and effective techniques that could help them earn a sustainable income. As a Scholar, he is eager to get to know and learn from diverse scholars and speakers while gaining access to fresh and efficient techniques to solve today’s most pressing challenges.

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Amani Nyonyoozi Tumusiime

Student Scholar • Kampala, Uganda

Amani is from a tight-knit community that values human connection and collaboration. Growing up in Kampala, she has experienced great diversity and appreciates everyone’s unique spirit. As a book lover and avid reader, she is proud of volunteering at her local community library, where she designed a system to increase the efficiency of borrowing and returning books. Amani enjoys puzzles and research and is passionate about engaging more African girls and women in STEM fields to propel infrastructure on the African continent. She hopes to engage in STEM education throughout her career. In her free time, Amani enjoys playing tennis and the piano. As a Scholar, she is excited to equip South African youth with the ability to create social change through entrepreneurship and servant leadership.

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Helena Appakouo Dogo

Student Scholar • Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire

Helena comes from Cote d’Ivoire, the Ivory Coast, a vibrant country in West Africa, and is a mix of the Dida and Baoulé cultures. Known for its outstanding hospitality and joyful people, it is a diverse country with more than 60 ethnicities that represent the unifying power of humility and solidarity. In 2019, Helena founded a social enterprise called Effo Service Ivoire, a company that transforms cashew nuts into oil, creating a platform to transform local natural resources, generating 14 jobs for those lacking formal education or living with a disability. In 2023, after teaching English, entrepreneurship, and ethics to kids in her community, she discovered her love for psychology and is now passionate about using studies of human behavior to bring sustainable and adaptive changes to African educational systems. As a Scholar, she is excited about being connected to a diverse group of intelligent and ambitious people committed to improving the world.

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Kashimani Simasiku

Student Scholar • Kitwe, Zambia

Kashimani takes pride in his Christian faith and grew up in a family that embodies Lozi and Bemba cultures. He belongs to a community known for its lively atmosphere and characterized by its diversity, encompassing people from different socio-economic backgrounds and cultures. Kashimani is proud of his role in assisting his mother to provide food for vulnerable children in his community, which allowed him to gain deeper insight into challenges related to poverty and access. Kashimani is passionate about revolutionizing access to educational opportunities by redefining education systems and fostering the industrialization and urbanization of the African continent. He is currently exploring how the power of mental resilience and discipline come together to achieve success. He finds joy in participating in sports like running, basketball, and badminton. As a Scholar, he is excited to build friendships with his fellow Scholars. He looks forward to utilizing this leadership experience to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

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Tatenda Shamiso Mazambani

Student Scholar • Mutare, Zimbabwe

Tatenda is from a small city in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe, a close-knit community known for its distinct dialect, Manyika. As a science enthusiast prompted by the need for innovation hubs for marginalized youth in her hometown, she founded the Regional STEAM Expo (RSE). Through RSE, she mentored a cohort of students who have gone on to initiate start-ups that work to solve community problems. She served on the International Relations Council, where students practice diplomacy by simulating the Model African Union and United Nations. She aims to revolutionize innovation and engineering through Africa-centered designs. Tatenda genuinely enjoys talking to people, whether it’s a brief greeting or a theological debate, as she finds that her most creative ideas are generated through conversations. As a Scholar, she is excited to be part of a diverse and ambitious team and looks forward to meeting and learning from new people.

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Nandi Mgwaba

Educator Scholar • Durban, South Africa

Born of Irish and Zulu parents, Nandi is originally from the lush coastal town of Durban, a community rich with Zulu culture and traditions such as oral storytelling and umemulo, a coming-of-age ceremony. Being “born free” — a term used in South Africa to describe the generation born post-Apartheid — cultivated their passion for social justice and inclusion. From an early age, Nandi has been passionate about social justice and is drawn to creative projects that advocate for queer rights and against gender-based violence and other human rights violations. Nandi was a videographer on the Banned Persons Memory Project, interviewing activists on house arrest during Apartheid. Through this project, they were deeply humbled by the courage and vulnerability shared, reinforcing their belief that the arts are a powerful medium to heal, connect and transform communities. As a concerned earth citizen, Nandi is also passionate about centering Indigenous knowledge systems as essential ways to make change in the climate crisis. As a Scholar, Nandi is most excited about connecting and engaging with people passionate about community transformation and is excited to grow in their leadership as a mentor and coach.

Champlin Park High School

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Kamar Sati

Student Scholar • Champlin, Minnesota

Born in Damascus, Syria, into a rich Arab Muslim culture, Kamar carries a piece of her heritage everywhere she goes. As a bilingual speaker and one of her school’s speech team captains, she recognizes language’s significance, power, and weight. After founding the Muslim Student Association at her high school, she helped facilitate interfaith conversations and forge meaningful connections between students with different identities. Kamar is passionate about helping people develop an understanding of other cultures and religions to create more inclusive, equitable spaces. While she loves tradition, she is also an advocate for change. Kamar is excited to be a Bezos Scholar and learn how to make a real difference in her community while connecting with other Scholars! She can be found painting, drawing, or pranking her younger brother in her spare time.

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Virginia Brown Acevez

Educator Scholar • Champlin, Minnesota

Although originally from the California desert, Virginia ended up in Minnesota a few years ago and is still thrilled by the rain, snow, and numerous lakes near her new home. As an Upward Bound Advisor at TRIO Upward Bound with Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Virginia runs Upward Bound programming and support at Champlin Park High School. One of Virginia’s greatest joys and sources of pride comes from former students reaching out or visiting her to tell her about their lives. Virginia wants to improve the learning environments in public education and empower youth to discover their passions. Virginia is a dedicated reader, writer, researcher, and educator. She believes ‘every puzzle has an answer’ and that the best learning happens when a group explores. As a Scholar, she is excited to meet other educators and students passionate about working for change in their communities and improve her practice as an educator while developing new skills.

Baltimore City College High School

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Brissia Lopez Castro

Student Scholar • Baltimore, Maryland

Brissia is a first-generation Guatemalan American who is passionate about equality for students of Latino heritage. Brissia’s parents immigrated to America, hoping for a better future and more opportunities for themselves and their children. She attends a city-wide magnet high school with a culturally diverse student body. As the leader of Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society, a student advocacy organization at her school, she organized a Latino parent tutoring program, practicing English and advocating for families as they navigate the school system. Brissia is passionate about equalizing the college application process and encouraging students to pursue more educational opportunities. She is also passionate about helping young Latinas find and use their voice to express themselves and see their value in society. As a Scholar, she looks forward to meeting other leaders and hearing their perspectives on the world while embracing rich cultural heritage and creating an equitable future for all.

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Evelyn Pearcy

Educator Scholar • Baltimore, Maryland

Evelyn was born and raised in Baltimore and is a proud Baltimore City Public Schools graduate. As an IB English III and IV teacher at her alma mater, she enjoys helping students understand and adapt to the rigor and high expectations of the IB program. Evelyn recognizes the unique obstacles that many students face, especially in accessing higher education. Evelyn believes college access is one of the key factors in creating lifelong learners who are willing and able to effectively give back to the communities that contributed to their success. She is passionate about ensuring that students are recognized as the wonderful and intelligent people they are. Evelyn is excited to work with her student Scholar on their Community Change Project because it’s motivating to see the fresh ideas that students bring to the table. Outside school, she enjoys traveling with friends and family, exercising, listening to podcasts, and baking.

De La Salle North Catholic High School

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Kahlial Lofquist

Student Scholar • Portland, Oregon

As a biracial person with dwarfism, Kahlial knows firsthand the importance and need to support diversity and inclusion, particularly within sports and education. He is quite the sports enthusiast himself, lives for outdoor adventures with his family, and is deeply passionate about bettering his communities. Though those with dwarfism are often physically and intellectually underestimated, Kahlial’s accomplishments and community impact prove that despite his small size, his mind is sharp, his heart is huge, and he’s a force on the basketball court. He is also a coxswain for his rowing team, runs track and field, and swims. Kahlial wants to encourage youth with disabilities to pursue the sports they love, regardless of any challenges, real or perceived. He is also driven to increase access to higher education resources and provide career mentorship opportunities for those with physical disabilities. Kahlial is honored to serve as a student ambassador for multiple nonprofit organizations, speaking at public events and engaging in volunteer opportunities. As a Scholar, he is excited to learn new and meaningful ways to give back, while building lasting friendships with a diverse group of like-minded peers from around the world.

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Anne Warrington

Educator Scholar • Portland, Oregon

Anne has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. She has taught English to 6-12 grade students and finds so much joy working with young people. Having been selected by her colleagues as the Lasallian Educator of the Year after her first year at her current school, confirmed she was where she was meant to be. Anne’s passion is not just to help students get accepted to college but to provide them with the tools needed to graduate from college. As a Scholar, Anne can’t wait to be inspired by the young leaders in the program and looks forward to learning how they can use their leadership skills in big ways. Anne is originally from Minnesota and now calls Portland home, where visiting the beach and the mountains on the same day is possible. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outside with her family, trail running, eating desserts, and trying to find time to read.

Freeport High School

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Evan Negron

Student Scholar • Freeport, New York

Evan was raised in Brooklyn before moving to a small town on Long Island. He is Puerto Rican and identifies as transgender. Evan is enrolled in the National Honors Society and the Tri-M Society, a music honors program. He has been an active member of his student government and helped raise over $1,000 for his class. Evan is most passionate about mental health and aims to implement support systems for his peers, increasing morale. He enjoys cooking and teaching others and aspires to become a zoo veterinarian. As a Scholar, Evan is excited to learn how to be a better leader for his community, gaining new perspectives about the world while having fun along the way.

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Lawrence Bamberger

Educator Scholar • Freeport, New York

Lawrence is from Long Island and has a younger brother and older sister. He recently became a godfather to his beautiful niece. As a science, AP Biology, and Honors Biology teacher and after overcoming years of physical problems with his commitment to physical therapy, Lawerence is passionate about providing education on the importance of prioritizing health. He is also passionate about learning and teaching financial planning, investing and trading. He enjoys running, hiking, playing tennis, reading, and cooking. As a Scholar, he is excited to become a stronger and more effective leader, meeting new people from different walks of life and learning from one another.

John I. Leonard High School

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Angelica Mejia

Student Scholar • Greenacres, Florida

Angelica is a first-generation Latina whose parents are from Mexico and Honduras. From an early age, helping and standing up for those who feel like they cannot advocate for themselves was instilled at home. The area where she lives is home to people from all over the world. Angelica appreciates that many are from Latin America — especially so she can enjoy different amazing cuisines on every street corner. Angelica is proud to have organized a program that provided free menstrual products for her school community and the voter education and registration drives she has conducted, informing students about the importance of voting. One of Angelica’s greatest passions is to destigmatize mental health. She is overjoyed to be a Bezos Scholar because she wants to create bonds with those passionate about helping their communities and developing solutions to tackle issues we face as a nation.

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Carla Rodas-Piña

Educator Scholar • Greenacres, Florida

Carla migrated to the United States when she was ten due to the civil war in her home country of Guatemala. She believes that sharing trials and tribulations with students allows them to realize the similar experiences that all immigrants face. To overcome obstacles and achieve goals, you must find a support system to fully “shine your light.” In the 14 years she has been an educator, she has had at least one student from every Spanish-speaking country except one. She embraces classroom diversity, and her lessons encourage students to learn from each other. Carla has helped many students navigate life after high school by helping them with college applications, applying for scholarships, applying to a trade school or starting a business. Carla is a proud mother of two young men and embraces creating a home where her sons can learn about their Guatemalan and Dominican Republic heritage and cultures. As a Scholar, she is grateful to learn from others across the United States and Africa. She is looking forward to the exchange of ideas, experiences and learning.

Northside College Preparatory High School

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Jenny Au

Student Scholar • Chicago, Illinois

Jenny, who goes by Jen, is a second-generation Chinese American passionate about neuropsychology and public health. Growing up in a primarily Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago, she found solace in her local Chinatown neighborhood, where she hopes to amplify its diverse voices and health needs. She is the founder and leader of ‘Asian Health Collective,’ a grassroots organization that addresses health inequity and discrimination in Asian American communities. To combat the model minority stereotype, she currently leads the Stories of Us Project by using art to celebrate AAPI narratives from hundreds of students across Chicago, culminating in a museum showcase. She envisions a diverse, healthy future where Asian communities thrive with equitable access to physical and mental health resources. Beyond service, she loves captaining her school’s badminton team, recording song covers on her guitar, and baking desserts for friends and family. As a Scholar, she aims to make lifelong connections and to change the path of families from disadvantaged beginnings. As a leader, she wants to become a storyteller so her words can influence people’s motivations toward a greater cause.


Anna Park

Educator Scholar • Chicago, Illinois

Anna is a proud public and national board-certified social sciences high school teacher who is excited to work locally to bring positive change to the Asian American community. As one of the faculty sponsors for her school’s Asian Club and co-facilitator of the Student Voice Committee, Anna facilitates and sponsors groups that improve school culture and climate. She is excited to teach in Illinois, which passed the TEAACH Act, historic legislation that requires a semester of Asian American history in K-12 schools. Anna knows the importance of representation in curriculum and is excited about working on a Community Change project that will find more ways to support the Asian American community. As a Scholar, she is excited to collaborate with community members and learn from other amazing educators to bring positive change to her community.

Pebblebrook High School

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Lizzie Casaleno

Student Scholar • Austell, Georgia

Lizzie is a first-generation Honduran American whose community is comprised mostly of Hispanic and Black first-generation students. She has a Functional Neurological Disorder and aims to provide a positive representation of people with disabilities. Lizzie is passionate about changing the stigma that surrounds disability and education and is dedicated to making a more welcoming atmosphere for students with disabilities. She is also passionate about STEM and aims to share this passion with other young women of color. She started her organization, South Cobb in Tech, which teaches young kids how to code and work with new technologies. She is excited to be a Bezos Scholar and connect with other like-minded Scholars passionate about impacting their community.

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Amanda Xiques

Educator Scholar • Austell, Georgia

As a social studies teacher at a Title 1 high school, Amanda stresses that mentors, guidance, and language classes are crucial for student success and parent involvement. Amanda is passionate about inspiring students to continue learning outside the classroom. She is excited about her upcoming wedding and moving closer to family. Amanda recently ran her first race and hopes to finish a half marathon by the end of the year. She also enjoys hiking in the North Georgia Mountains and trying new foods in her international community. As a Scholar, she is excited about collaborating with other educators to implement community engagement, foster curiosity, and provide students with opportunities for self-expression.

Ronald E. Mcnair Academic High School

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Rayana Ba

Student Scholar • Jersey City, New Jersey

Rayana moved from France to the United States when she was six. In her Senegalese family, traditions, food, and culture are extremely important. Rayana now lives in Jersey City, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country. As an immigrant, she values her city’s rich blend and celebration of cultures. Rayana proudly represents the interests of all Jersey City public school students as the student representative for her district’s school board. She is the president of her school’s French Honor Society and vice president of the Spanish club, which showcases her love for language, learning and immersion. Rayana is passionate about changing food insecurity because she believes access to healthy food is an inherent human right. She loves writing and playing soccer and wants to visit every continent before age 30. She is excited to be a Scholar to bring real positive change to her diverse community and looks forward to meeting her fellow scholars and learning about them and their ideas.

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Sundoes Elbery

Educator Scholar • Jersey City, New Jersey

As a child of Egyptian and Muslim immigrants, Sundoes’ adventurous spirit and love for travel stem from her upbringing. She grew up in Newark, a city often plagued by negative perceptions, so she deeply desires to challenge preconceived notions. Her journey from a challenging environment fuels her mission to inspire others to rise above their circumstances. She uses her experiences to motivate students and those around her to strive for a better future. Sundoes is a current doctoral student in the Educational Leadership for Higher Education program at Saint Peter’s University. While pursuing her doctorate and understanding the transformative power of travel, she has led student trips to Europe, Belize, Japan, and Peru. She is committed to exposing students to diverse cultures and experiences. As a social justice champion, she strives to empower those who are marginalized and to foster open discussions in her classroom. Sundoes was originally a student Scholar in 2011 and is the second Scholar in program history to return later and serve as an educator. Through this experience, she is determined to mentor and support her students in creating a truly exceptional Community Change Project.

School for Advanced Studies – Wolfson Campus

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Amy Zhou

Student Scholar • Miami, Florida

As a first-generation Chinese American, Amy feels at home in the heart of Miami, whose diverse ethnic populations ignited her fascination with culture. Fluent in three languages, Amy loves living alongside her friends’ Latinx and Caribbean cultures while being proud of her Chinese heritage. Amy’s first experience with jumpstarting a service initiative was during post-pandemic recovery, where she supported Lotus House, Miami’s largest women and children’s shelter. Invigorated by her capacity to inspire change, Amy has gone on to serve in various youth-led organizations and amplify her peers’ opinions through student government and school magazines. From midnight writing sprees to performing live poetry to Mock Trial assertion and leading band practice, Amy is determined to keep exploring and supporting others in finding their voices and audiences. Recognizing the importance of basic English literacy in today’s society, Amy is passionate about improving reading confidence among children in underprivileged communities deprived of individualized support. I’m thrilled to meet student leaders worldwide who are just as eager to serve our communities, bond over shared memories, and nurture the skills and connections we need to make effective change and be inspired.

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Dennis Lindsay

Educator Scholar • Miami, Florida

As his school’s Silver Knight Coordinator, Dennis is passionate about volunteering and community service as a key way to improve the world. Guiding students to create meaningful service projects keeps him going past the age some think of retiring. Miami and the school where Dennis works are very diverse communities, and he is especially proud that the students he works alongside have created meaningful service projects that have positively impacted lives in his community. He loves to witness service projects that allow students to grow beyond their academic achievements. Dennis is most passionate about intergenerational work and the transformative experience of connecting students with older people. As a Scholar, Dennis is honored to mentor the student who selected him and learn more about how to create meaningful change in our community and world.

School of Science and Engineering

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Albert Westbrook

Student Scholar • Dallas, Texas

Albert comes from Oak Cliff, a neighborhood he describes as being “plagued by violence and full of people that, once given the opportunity, can thrive like no other.” Albert has been reflecting deeply on who he’s been and appreciates the emotional clarity and self-fulfillment he’s achieved through this impactful reflection. Albert aims to help those from similar backgrounds as himself become successful and capitalize on their potential. He loves to learn and try new things, and his goal is to be open to everything. He looks forward to being a Bezos Scholar, meeting extraordinary people from diverse backgrounds, and being provided with resources to make impactful changes in his community.

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Julie Carver

Educator Scholar • Dallas, Texas

Julie grew up in Chicago as the granddaughter of immigrants. With few resources, her family often relied on community support and the kindness she experienced kindled an enduring commitment to give back, which she has instilled in her sons. She has a degree in biochemistry and worked as a pharmaceutical researcher. After becoming a teacher and an AP physics instructor, she hopes to inspire her students to be passionate about science. Per her strong commitment to education, Julie recently completed her master’s in education and teaching science. At the urban magnet school where she teaches, Julie aims to foster a strong community that supports and bolsters achievement and self-confidence. She is passionate about bringing accessible and inclusive internship opportunities to intercity students. As a Scholar she is grateful to be part of sponsoring community development through inspiring and supporting student leaders.

Wayne Memorial High School

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Olivia Farmer

Student Scholar • Westland, Michigan

Olivia is a proud African American and white biracial woman who grew up alongside her older sister in a single-parent household emphasizing the importance of education. Her mother and grandparents sacrificed their education to provide for their family. Though her community is historically known for being low-income, Olivia comes from a community of potential, filled with bright individuals striving for unity and collective prosperity. Olivia has been class president since her first year of high school, vice president for the National Honor Society, and regularly volunteers. She facilitates her school’s Uniquely United Prom for students in the special education program. She is a member of the TRIO Upward Bound program to build skills to prepare for her post-secondary education. Olivia is passionate about using her voice to address healthcare inequities in low-income communities and advocates for healthcare system reform. She loves writing, gardening alongside her mother, and exploring the city with her friends. She is thrilled to be a Bezos Scholar and refine and build new leadership skills, driving positive change within her community while developing a greater sense of self.

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Yvette Jonna-Moore

Educator Scholar • Westland, Michigan

Yvette grew up in the Los Angeles area, where she attended a Spanish immersion program. While in high school, she moved to beautiful Michigan and cannot imagine living anywhere else. Yvette is both a licensed school counselor and a licensed mental health counselor, which became invaluable in helping students both during and post-pandemic. She loves working at her current school as the Upward Bound Director because of the student culture, where most student interactions are kind, accepting, and inclusive. She particularly values the experiential learning component of Upward Bound, which has included student travel to multiple states and Canada. Yvette is passionate about equity in educational access and feels fortunate to lead a program that supports low-income and potential first-generation college students. She is part of a blended family of her husband, five sons, and one daughter, and over the years, her family has included over fifty fostered rescue dogs. She enjoys traveling, exercising, reading, gardening, and baking. She is especially excited to support her student Scholar’s learning over the next year and is looking forward to learning from colleagues from across the country and Africa.

Woodrow Wilson High School

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Hanna Corona

Student Scholar • Los Angeles, California

Hanna is a proud first-generation low-income Chicana born and raised in East Los Angeles. She values determination, hard work, and resilience and is a passionate public speaker and activist in her community. She serves on the leadership team of DemocraSHE, a national, nonpartisan organization that offers free online training to female-identified teens to foster civic engagement. She is the founder and president of her school’s first-ever women empowerment in politics club, is actively involved in speech and debate, and serves on the local school leadership and school site councils. As a Civics Unplugged Fellow alum, she received training and funding to become a civic innovator. Living in an underrepresented, underserved, and low-income community, Hanna is passionate about equity in education and worker and immigrant rights while improving paths to citizenship. She wants to be part of the movement encouraging and supporting youth and women of color in taking on political leadership positions. As a Scholar, Hanna hopes to bridge gaps in financial literacy and engagement in politics to increase civic engagement and is beyond excited to meet and learn from all the brilliant minds in the cohort.

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Daniel Thalkar

Educator Scholar • Los Angeles, California

Dan grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania and taught in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer before settling in Los Angeles. He is a member of Bene Israel, an Indian-Jewish community that has lived around Mumbai for generations. As a social studies and restorative justice lead teacher, Dan believes that by imagining the kind of world we want to live in — one grounded in equity, justice and love — we can create new possibilities and chart a path of action in the present. He is an avid reader and writer who believes in the transformative possibilities of travel and interacting with other cultures. Dan became a parent just over three years ago, and his daughter has rapidly become the coolest person he knows. As a Scholar, he is excited to learn and collaborate with young people and educators who aspire to create positive change in the world.