Bezos Scholar Selection Committee Spotlight

By Molly Pencke, Bezos Scholar Program Manager

8 min

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Every year, the Bezos Scholars Program invites up to 60 volunteers to serve on the selection committee, some serving in round one to help identify our semi-finalists and some serving in round two to help identify our finalists.

Invitations are sent to Scholar alumni, Bezos Scholar Program and Bezos Family Foundation partners working in the fields of youth development, leadership and education, as well as other professionals representing various identities and passions. All committee members share a strong commitment to supporting young leaders and a desire to champion opportunities that will help elevate them.  

Selection committee members use selection criteria and a rubric to assess an applicant’s overall readiness to engage in the program. They evaluate and score candidate applications and interviews based on each applicant’s leadership qualities, recent examples of their civic engagement work, and their commitment to education as well as diversity, equity and inclusion. The selection committee role is not an easy one. The committee spends hours poring over applications, checking their biases and honoring the responsibility of their role.  

In 2021, a total of 46 committee members participated in the first round of Scholar selection. 30 were external to the Program and Foundation, 12 were student Scholar alumni, and four were Educator Scholar alumni. Below is a summary of some of the demographics for round one reviewers: 


As a program, we understand the importance of engaging selection committee members who reflect our applicants. In analyzing our applicant and selection committee demographic data from 2021, for 2022 Scholar selection, we plan on recruiting more female and BIPOC identified members, especially Native and Latinx. Beginning this summer, we are embarking on a full assessment of our application and selection materials and processes. An external consultant will be evaluating them and sharing their recommendations to help ensure we are fostering a consistent, clear, fair, and equitable Scholar selection process.  

We also decided it was time to “pull back the curtain” and spotlight a few of our outstanding selection committee volunteers from 2021. Read on to learn a little about who they are, what they are passionate about, why they serve on the committee and what advice they have for future applicants and young changemakers.  

BSP Selection Committee Member Spotlights 

Derrin Slack

Derrin Slack – Derrin lives in Indianapolis, IN, where he grew up. He is a proud husband, father, son, brother and community leader. Derrin is Founder & CEO of ProAct Indy, a community engagement nonprofit with the mission to stand in the gap for vulnerable populations while empowering youth to actively transform their communities. ProAct Indy believes youth are not the recipients of community service—they are the givers and creators of the projects that help build and support a community. Working alongside Indianapolis professional groups, organizations and volunteers, they engage students to be exposed to diverse communities and experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.  

Derrin and ProAct also produce a podcast called Stood in the Gap which focuses on the journey of where leaders were before they achieved their goals. The last books he finished reading are Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life, by Jim Kwik and Great Leaders Have No Rules, by Kevin Kruse.  

Per his leadership at an organization that works with over 100 community organizations, Derrin was recommended to serve on the committee by an educator at one of his partner schools. 2021 was his first year participating and he enjoyed learning about the unique and inspiring stories from so many accomplished, diverse youth from across the country. The best part was reading the recommendation letters from educators and mentors who are an integral part of these young leaders’ lives.  

As a busy nonprofit executive, the most challenging part of serving on the committee was the time commitment required to review applications. However, he shared, “setting aside time for such an important task was incredibly fulfilling and inspiring. Some of the stories from the students brought tears to my eyes, while other stories awakened the little boy inside of me who had similar experiences to my own story.”  

His advice for future applicants is to not be afraid and to be unabashedly themselves. Derrin resonated the most with applications when students prided themselves in vulnerability, understood the vision they have for their lives, and were clear about what they would do to impact their communities. A hope he has for young aspiring changemakers is to put others before themselves—and to find and their purpose in the process. He referenced a favorite Mahatma Gandhi quote to explain: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” 

Shabana Basij-Rasikh

Shabana Basij-Rasikh - Shabana is Afghan, and currently splits her time between where she was born, in Kabul, and Boston, MA. She is the Co-Founder and President of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) and the last book she finished was Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.  

Education has been her life’s work; in 2008 she founded SOLA as a Middlebury College student. Her aim was to create a program that would help young students in Kabul gain access to educational institutions around the world. Over time, she came to realize that by doing so, she would inevitably contribute to a “brain drain” of Afghanistan’s best and brightest young people. For that reason, in 2016, SOLA transitioned into an all-girls boarding school. Shabana is unshakably committed to the belief that educated Afghan women are the key to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. 

She first learned about BSP when working on a project with the Bezos Family Foundation and has participated as a committee member every year since 2017. Shabana enjoys learning about the issues inspiring young applicants are passionate about. She shared, “the purity of idealism is what drives all of us trying to create change, and it’s beautiful to get to know these young idealists through their applications.” For her, the most challenging thing about serving on the committee is having to turn some students away. She reflects, “I cannot tell you how many times I have had to re-read applications because it is just so close between applicants. I welcome the challenge, but it never gets any easier.” 

Her advice for future applicants is to write from the heart: Do not write what you think the selection committee wants to hear, focus on what makes you different and what you’re passionate about in your community and the wider world. And don’t doubt yourself. Let your confidence in your abilities shine through. A piece of advice she has for young aspiring changemakers is to dream big and when you meet doubters, listen to them, thank them for their time and then prove them wrong. “Your dream is the seed you plant, and every seed needs nurturing and time to grow. It’s easy to get discouraged or impatient, but don’t lose your focus and don’t lose your optimism. The world needs people just like you”.

Mati Amin

Mati Amin - Mati was born an Afghan refugee in Pakistan and now lives in Boston, MA. He is the founder and CEO of Lit, a digital language learning company, and is also the chairman of SOLA, which he proudly describes as the first and only all-girls boarding school in Afghanistan. Mati is passionate about digital and online education and the last book he read was Grit: Why Passion and Resilience are the Secrets to Success by Angela Duckworth, who just so happens to be a recurring speaker for Scholars.  

Mati got connected to BSP in 2019 through Shabana who recommended him for the committee. As a reviewer, he enjoys reading about the inspiring work applicants do in their communities and their personal stories of resilience and drive to make a positive impact. It gives him hope for the future. Like Shabana, what’s most challenging is not being able to select all the applicants he learns about. His advice for future applicants is to, “present your true self and let the reader know what you’re truly passionate about.” Instead of sharing advice for young leaders, he wants to make sure they know he believes they are our hope for the future and for the world. 

George Dyson

George Dyson - George was born in Ithaca, NY, and has lived in Bellingham, WA, for the past 31 years. He is a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. and is an independent historian, author, designer and boatbuilder. He is passionate about the future of analog computation, alternative approaches to lunar settlement and the return of commercial sail. The last book he finished was The Bounty by Caroline Alexander. 

George was originally connected to BSP when he met with the 2009 cohort of Scholars as a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival. He was invited to serve on the selection committee in 2010, and besides a short pause in 2012, has served every year since. George proudly holds the esteemed title of Longest Serving Selection Member in BSP history.  

As a selection reviewer, he enjoys the opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives, talents and aspirations of each amazing group of applicants. The most challenging thing about serving on the committee is ranking the applicants. His advice to future applicants is to, “be specific about the project you hope to create if selected, and its mission. I have forgotten dozens of applicants who wanted to end world hunger, but I will never forget the applicant who wanted to prevent young children from drowning in Florida’s backyard pools.”  

George dropped out of high school at age 16 and being involved with BSP has shown him, belatedly, how many wonderful high school teachers there really are. A piece of advice he shares with young aspiring changemakers: “Listen to criticism, but don’t let it stop you.” 


We are so grateful to all our volunteer selection committee members and value their help and perspective when engaging in the challenging task of selecting Scholars every year. If you are interested in being considered to serve on our selection committee or have a recommendation for someone who should, please contact Program Manager, Molly Pencke. We are specifically seeking more female and BIPOC, especially Native and Latinx, identified members.