2023 Bezos Scholar Selection Committee Spotlight
Each year, the Bezos Scholars Program (BSP) invites up to 40 volunteers to participate in our selection committee. The group takes on the challenging task of helping us select incoming Scholars from an incredible pool of students from across the U.S. The committee includes program alumni, as well as leaders in the fields of education, youth leadership and development, equity and inclusion, science and the arts. One thing all members have in common is that they are passionate champions for youth leadership.
This year, a total of 35 committee members participated in the first round of scholar selection, reviewing and scoring completed applications. In our second round, we team up with alumni who review applications and help us conduct interviews with semifinalist candidates. Below is a summary of round one selection committee demographics:
As a program, we understand the importance of our selection committee being as diverse and representative as the student candidates we attract to apply. To learn more about applicant and semi-finalist demographics from 2023, see this story.
Read on to learn more about a handful of our amazing selection committee members, why they volunteered, and advice they have for prospective Bezos Scholars applicants.
BSP Selection Committee Member Spotlights
Donald Kamentz — Donald is a skilled facilitator and education consultant utilizing his 25+ years of diverse experiences and passion, in both non-profit management and K-12 education, to help organizations best serve all student populations. Donald is a Cambiar Education Fellow, a Pahara-Aspen Fellow, and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network and Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC). As the Founder & CEO of Contigo Ed, he envisions a world where every student is prepared and empowered to live a choice-filled life.
Donald has served on the selection committee for seven years and was first connected to the program through the Bezos Family Foundation’s support of the Character Lab, where he used to be the Executive Director. Given his past experiences supporting students directly applying to the BSP, he saw firsthand the power and opportunity for both the student and accompanying educator to grow and develop their leadership while working to better their communities.
Donald shared that the most rewarding thing about being on the selection committee is being able to learn about so many outstanding students and to be re-inspired and hopeful for those who are selected just as much as those who aren't. “I love seeing our future and what's possible through the eyes and experiences of so many amazing people”.
The most challenging thing about serving on the committee is assessing and scoring applications because there are so many outstanding and well-qualified students. Donald’s advice for future applicants: “Never sell yourself short — definitely brag, share and celebrate yourself, your learnings and your accomplishments/experiences. Far too often, I have seen applicants “undersell” or even “underrepresent” themselves because of what is eventually revealed in their educator nominee’s recommendation.”
Priya Saxena — Priya is a heart-forward and justice-obsessed strategist, researcher and facilitator. They founded Equitable Future LLC in 2019 to guide public sector and mission driven organizations on how to turn their anti-racism and equity values into action. In the three years since their founding, they've engaged hundreds of Washingtonians on how to build a more equitable future. Priya lives in Tacoma, Washington and can usually be found tending to their growing collection of houseplants, working on chess games, or shooting hoops at the local elementary school. Priya is proudly queer, non-binary, neurodiverse and Desi!
Priya has served on the selection committee for two years and got connected to BSP through one of the program’s former Scholar workshop presenters who is also Priya’s former professor and now one of their mentors and role models. The most rewarding thing about serving on the committee for Priya is being inspired when learning how young people are spending their time and what they dream about. “Applicants remind me that there are so many ways to make our communities better, safer and more equitable places.” Priya shared that the most challenging thing about being on the committee is seeing how fast youth must grow up as tumultuous times have made it so that teens are focused on big systemic issues and hyper-fixated on success.
As a millennial Priya feels like they’ve been through countless competitive application processes. Whether it was trying out for advanced choir and chamber orchestra or rigorous application processes for college, graduate school, scholarship programs and jobs, they have always come away with the same lesson: “The group that’s best for me will honor and accept what they consider my best.” Priya’s final advice to future applicants: “Make sure you can clearly define the problem you want to solve and why it's important for your community that this problem is fixed.”
Haneef Hardy - Haneef is originally from Philadelphia, PA, and now calls Baltimore, MD, home. He is a 29-year-old sociology professor at Community College of Baltimore County and the founder of Unlimited Potential Mentor Inc. Their mission is to create opportunities for youth to achieve their potential by focusing on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and expression through the arts. Between being an educator and a nonprofit leader, Haneef truly enjoys giving back and finding ways to help the next generation find their “spark.” He is currently working on his first novel about his upbringing and how he overcame many hurdles.
Haneef was introduced to the BSP program through the Weave Initiative which is part of the Aspen Institute. He was recognized as a Weaver through his community work in Baltimore and because like them, he believes relationships can transform lives and communities and ultimately mend our deeply divided nation. Haneef served on a Scholar speaker panel for the 2022 cohort, and this was his first year serving on the selection committee, which in part he chose to do because the program aligned with his values and belief that if you want to be part of the change, you must be part of the solution.
Since this was his first year on the committee, he was not sure what to expect but after serving, he reflected that “My heart is full after being part of this process. Through reading applications, I was inspired to know that the next generation not only has the tools for success but also has the guts to chase it.” His advice to future applicants: Live by the motto, “be who you needed when you were younger,” keeping that inner child within you and continuing to be a creative problem-solver for those that come after you. You are built for this journey. Stay strong and know you are ever alone.
The Bezos Scholars Program is grateful for each of our selection committee members, their diverse experiences and worldviews, and willingness to commit their time and energy to selecting Scholars each year. If you are interested in serving on our selection committee or have a recommendation for someone who would be a great fit, please reach out to Scholars@bezosfamilyfoundation.org.