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Meet our National Recipients
Community Service

High School: Gulliver Preparatory
Hometown: Miami, FL

Anya Gruener’s dedication to improving the world rose from her life’s challenges and obstacles. Her struggles ignited a powerful motivation to use her personal experiences as fuel, championing for the rights of those who found themselves in despair. Her encounter with a war-torn refugee center in Poland further kindled this fire. While aiding Ukrainian-Russian war victims, prominently women and children prone to human trafficking, the gravity of their harsh realities hit her hard.

She recalls, “Staring into the tearful eyes of a mother who had witnessed children going missing, I vowed to care for her one-year-old daughter until her return.” For four weeks, Anya crafted a safe sanctuary in a makeshift daycare for over 250 children, determined to keep them out of harm’s way. This marked her continued commitment to using her life to write empowering endings for others, driven by her belief that it’s the endings we opt to pen for ourselves, not the dark chapters, that truly define us.

Upon her return to the US, the empathetic force within her pushed her to continue leading the nonprofit Active Love USA Foundation, which she co-founded in 2020. The organization stands true to her spirit of service, focusing on supporting victims of human trafficking and domestic violence by assisting their escape and aiding their recovery journey. Through a partnership initiative with Wild Fork Foods, an international grocery chain, her nonprofit raised over $200k by selling reusable totes. A substantial part of the proceeds has been redirected to support the fight for migrant workers in South Florida to gain legal immigration status.

Precise in her purpose and tactics, she shares, “Pursuing a BA in Public Policy, I plan to use my voice, my most powerful possession, to speak for those who do not have the freedom or platform to do so, with the career aim of advocating for human rights and making my mark in international law or public policy.”

Beyond Active Love USA, her commitment to social justice reflects in her academic and extracurricular pursuits. Serving as the managing editor of her school’s publication, the Raider Voice, Anya implemented a section, ‘RV en Español,’ specifically for the Spanish-speaking audience. This initiative is a part of her broader goal to address the scarcity of marginalized voices in the media. Furthermore, at Gulliver Preparatory in Miami, Florida where she studies, she leads a cohort of over forty peer health educators through the Health Information Project, educating over 200 freshmen on various critical topics.

Generously recognized for her achievements in community service, Anya has received accolades, including being named a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar, a Coca-Cola Scholar, and being nominated for a Miami Herald Silver Knight Award in Social Science, widely deemed among some of the most prestigious student awards programs in the nation. In addition to her multiple awards, Anya boasts an impressive academic record with a spotless 4.0 GPA and an array of advanced and IB courses.
Looking towards a promising future, Anya plans to major in public policy. She intends to use her higher education to acquire knowledge and skills that will empower her to counter sociological issues affecting Hispanic communities, aiming to implement socio-political solutions and curb factors increasing susceptibility to human trafficking in undocumented Hispanic communities in South Florida and beyond.

Education

High School: Craftsbury Academy
Hometown: Craftsbury Common, VT

Matthew is one of 68 students enrolled at Craftsbury Academy, one of the smallest high schools in Vermont. While small class sizes are often seen as a good thing, they can pose many challenges in Matthew’s very rural and small town of Craftsbury Common. One notable example was last year when his school’s English teacher had to retire suddenly due to a medical emergency. It was up to Matthew and a revolving door of substitute teachers to take over the freshman English lessons. Suddenly, instead of being a student, Matthew was thrust into a teaching position where he was in charge of teaching English courses for an hour and a half each day, all while juggling his own challenging coursework such as AP US Government and Politics, AP Biology, AP Statistics, AP World History, AP Calculus, and AP English Composition. While challenging, Matthew was able to adapt quickly. Although a more permanent replacement for the English classes may have already been found, Matthew is still heavily involved as the English and Math department teacher’s assistant. Matthew has also had teaching roles with the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, one of the nation’s oldest environmental advocacy groups.

While not in the classroom in a teaching capacity, education is never far from Matthew’s mind. He is a student representative on his school’s Steering Committee, a mentor in the AmeriCorps DREAM program, and a member of DREAM’s Vermont Board of Directors. His work with the Steering Committee is what Matthew is most proud of, as it allows him to make meaningful contributions to his school by enacting policy changes. These changes have enabled his school, one of the smallest and most underfunded in Vermont, to move up in statewide rankings and join the AP Scholar Honor Roll. This is a remarkable achievement, considering that some of Matthew’s peers lack internet and electricity at home, and his school has high teacher turnover.

Education is extremely important for Matthew, and he has been highlighted and recognized for his contributions to the field. His papers on education reform have won national and international awards. He has been honored by the State of Vermont and the National Council of Teachers of English. His teachers also had nothing but positive things to say about him, describing him as one of their most academically gifted students, with one teacher, Mr. Metcalf, who has been teaching for almost six decades, saying, “I have worked with numerous outstanding students in a teaching career that began in 1968; and Matt Califano is without peer at the top of the list.”

Committed to his community, Matthew has received two President’s Volunteer Service Award Gold Medals, the Congressional Award Silver Medal, and Citizen-Scholar Awards from the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College, and the Daughters of the American Revolution for his continued efforts and contributions to his local educational system.

Just this January, this remarkable Boricua was recognized as a Vermont Presidential Scholar by the Vermont Department of Education for the second time and was nominated for recognition as a US Presidential Scholar, and last month, was named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist.

Complementing his academic pursuits, Matthew is also a leader on his school’s track and cross-country team. Late last year, he was named a USA Track & Field Cross Country All-American by medaling at the 2023 USA Track & Field Junior Olympic Cross Country National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, underscoring his dedication and talent in athletics. Matthew’s leadership and accomplishments were further recognized when he was named one of The Armory Foundation’s Hispanic Leaders of Tomorrow at the 30th Annual Hispanic Games earlier this year.

As Matthew prepares to embark on the next chapter of his academic career at Harvard College, Yale University, or the University of Alabama, with a focus on classics and government, he carries with him a legacy of leadership, scholarly achievement, and a journey that reflects his proven capacity to make meaningful change.

Engineering

High School: I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA
Hometown: Fort Worth, TX

When Leslie Nava envisions her future, her eyes are set on the sky. Her hard work, determination, and engineering interests early on introduced her to the wonders of aviation. Moved by the thrill of flight, Leslie set her sights on aviation and aerospace engineering after attending a Women in Aviation International event in Dallas, Texas. There and at meetings of Ninety-Nine International – the international organization for women pilots — she met various mentors who had dedicated their lives to careers in aviation and who have guided her in her own career.

As a young networker, she was met with the opportunity to volunteer at the Vintage Flying Museum. Every Saturday, Leslie rolls up her sleeves as a part of a team of volunteers working to restore Jacqueline Cochran’s, former director of the civilian Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Super 18 Beech Model E18S-9700 with the aim of seeing it on display once again.

In addition to her volunteer work at the Vintage Flying Museum, Leslie dedicates herself to growing her knowledge in engineering and aviation through her extracurriculars. She has participated in VEX Robotics where she has served as engineering notebook lead and now Co-captain. Additionally, she has dedicated her time to the Air Force Cyberpatriots program, is a coordinator and vice president for her school’s chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and has participated in the Latina STEM Fellowship summer program for the past two summers. This is all on top of her exceptional academics at her STEM-focused school where she maintains a 4.0 GPA while taking multiple advanced placement classes, serves as a member of her student government, senior class president, and student pilot.

Most recently, Leslie expanded her impact by successfully creating and hosting the first-ever STEM workshop at her school, giving middle schoolers hands-on experience with STEM activities and career preparation tips. Furthermore, her passion for aviation history led her to win 1st place in the National History Fair for regions with her project “Women in Air: Representation Creates Possibilities,” advancing her to states in Austin, Texas. Leslie’s exceptional work has also earned her the Roger W. Kahn Scholarship from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and she will be traveling to Washington D.C. to attend the 2024 AIAA Awards Gala at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Timothy Brendler, Post-Secondary Success Specialist at the I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA, sung her praises, stating: “The world is in dire need of strong, creative, and empathetic leaders like Leslie, and I anxiously look forward to seeing and hearing about the many ways she will make a positive impact on the world we live in. Teachers are fortunate enough to come across one student like Leslie in their entire teaching career.”

As a Latina, Leslie sees the underrepresentation of women who look like her across higher education but especially in STEM fields. Leslie is shattering her family’s glass ceiling as a first-generation college student. Her experiences working alongside her parents in demanding physical labor gave her the discipline and motivation to excel in school and set her eyes to the sky in spite of her family’s socioeconomic challenges.

Continuing her ascension, this fall, Leslie will begin her studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she plans to major in aerospace engineering and minor in aviation.

Entrepreneurship & Business

High School: Eastlake High School
Hometown: Chula Vista, CA

“With the quick, consistent motion of scissors on a ribbon, I effortlessly curled the string of a balloon, transforming it into a sleek decoration. I repeated this process countlessly, assisting my grandmother in restocking her supply of products as she prepared the rest of her handmade, adorned, gift boxes.” Guided by the callused hands and soft wrinkles of her grandmother, Keyla Parra Gamino discovered the enchanting world of entrepreneurship. From a young age, she marveled at the artistry of trading hours of hard work not just for currency but for the smiles and satisfaction of each customer.

In 2017, fueled by this ambition, Keyla unfurled the virtual doors of her first Etsy shop, crafting custom “slime” and capturing the essence of her products through meticulous product photos. What began as a small venture burgeoned into a thriving business, generating $700 in revenue by 2019. Empowered by her Hispanic roots, she seamlessly integrated into the local craft community, attending events that echoed the cultural vibrancy of her handmade creations. When the pandemic struck, she transformed her online school space into a creative haven, handcrafting engraved rings and achieving over $30,000 in revenue. The long nights spent creating over 3,000 pieces of jewelry earned her the calluses she had seen on her grandmother’s fingertips—a testament to the resilience embedded in the entrepreneurial spirit.

As her business flourished, so did her prowess in customer relations. From overcoming shyness to mastering the language of merchandising, Keyla navigated the intricacies of customer service. Strategic maneuvers, such as incorporating coupon codes and enhancing communication, catapulted her sales by over 132%. Little did she realize that, alongside her Etsy shop’s growth, she was maturing into a confident young woman. She soon ventured into the realm of social media, strategically leveraging TikTok to propel her business. With daily posts and simple transitions, her social media page amassed over 100k followers and 3 million views, fostering a global community and enhancing her marketing skills through insightful feedback.

In the pursuit of giving back, Keyla organized and hosted her own successful artisan event, uniting her local community and fostering connections with other vendors. Every moment of planning and execution reflected her dedication to promoting other local, small-owned businesses. She also volunteers as a one-on-one tutor, offering her time and knowledge to support her fellow students. Furthermore, she has taken the initiative to participate in clean-up initiatives and organize donation drives for disadvantaged families in Mexico, demonstrating her strong sense of social responsibility and global awareness.

Keyla, of Guatemalan and Mexican descent, is an AP Capstone Diploma recipient with a 4.0 GPA. She is a trailblazer who transforms challenges into opportunities and will begin her studies at San Diego State University, the University of Washington, or Syracuse University, majoring in economics and minoring in forensic science.

Green Sustainability

High School: BASIS Tucson North School
Hometown: Tucson, AZ

Maritza Roberts’s green sustainability journey began, quite literally, at ground level, as she was captivated by an encounter with a struggling Carey turtle entangled in plastic rings. This moment, captured in an art piece she submitted to the local “El Niño y La Mar” contest and won, marked the beginning of Maritza’s interest in protecting the Earth and all its creatures.

Since that defining experience, Maritza has dedicated herself to environmental activism in her community and beyond. Growing up in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico, she grappled with the anthropogenic effects of climate change head-on. Inspired by this, during her tenth-grade summer, she aided beached whales back to the ocean and led her town’s first estuary eco-tourism education campaign, reaching two thousand locals about the importance of salt marshes in supporting coastal resilience.

The accomplishments of this dynamic young woman are as varied as they are impactful. Environmental science lessons inspired her to lead a community-wide initiative, organizing a beach shore cleanup with ninety neighbors and friends on World Oceans Day. As an education workgroup co-chair, and a leader within the Steering Committee of the United States Youth Advisory Council for the United Nations Ocean Decade (4th Cohort), she co-led a 15-member workgroup, serves a 50-member coalition, and co-authored a children’s illustrated book which teaches the tales of natural history and educates children on the impacts of climate change. Alongside 10 youth leaders, she presented on how to increase the inclusion of youth voices in the UN Ocean Decade campaign to members from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and NASA. From March 18th to 22nd, she will lobby on Capitol Hill to urge Senators and Representatives to end oil and gas tax subsidies (H.R.1483), pass the Increase Coastal Habitat Conservation Act of 2023 (H.R.2950), pass the Offshore Pipeline Safety Act (H.R.1441), S.643, S.1806, and H.R.3878.

Maritza’s scientific acumen shone through in her Molecular Biology 103 class, where she delved into gel electrophoresis, Colony PCR, and biostatistics using R-code and XLSTAT. Her research, part of the Keep Engaging Youth in Science (KEYS) program, explored carbon-nitrogen fixing bacteria, aiming to refine climate change prediction models by studying the soil microbial community during monsoon season. Through her partnership with Dr. Kushwaha at the Center for Environmentally Sustainable Mining, she researches plant-based remediation, studying the ability of native flora to accumulate toxic heavy metals; she strives to enhance the understanding of saltbush seeds’ metal tolerance to clean up the topsoil of abandoned mine tailing sites across Arizona. Her project is one of eight selected from over 250 high school projects at the SARSEF regional fair to be presented at the Los Angeles Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair 2024. Recently, she was a panelist at the Tucson Festival of Books, alongside six other youths, where she spoke about her personal science journey, and the importance of curiosity in STEM.

Recognitions for her contributions abound and include achievements such as taking first-place victory at the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, as a Chemistry Poster Presenter, and winning Special Prize Awardee at the Dallas Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair 2023 in Chemistry, where only the top 1,600 from 6,000,000 global project submissions compete annually. Her innovative spirit in STEM fields caught the discerning eye of U.S. Senator Mark Kelly, earning her a recognition letter, while her academic pursuits in rigorous courses with 15 AP acknowledgments demonstrate a relentless quest for knowledge that refuses to be satisfied.

Her proudest moment in sustainability so far has been teaching children the marvels of evolution and biodiversity through hands-on learning. As she shared her knowledge with eager young minds, Maritza found joy in their awe and curiosity. Her efforts as a Girls for Change Leader brought the history and ecology of the Sea of Cortez to life for local children, sparking their love for the environment. Maritza believes in the power of education to extend beyond the classroom and into the natural world, where every “wow” and “ah” from her students is a song of hope for a sustainable future. Maritza continues her path as an educator, collaborating with the Southern Arizona Regional Science and Engineering Foundation as one of eight ambassadors, where she teaches hundreds of parents and students across Southern Arizona how to create their own science fair project, and constructs paper rockets to foster youth scientific reasoning.

Each year, Maritza and her mother engage in the traditional planting of nopal, a resilient cactus that thrives in harsh conditions. “Synonymous with hope, endemic to the Altar Desert, central to the Mexican Coat of Arms; the soil I grew up on has borne its fruits for centuries,” explains Maritza. “I found my identity in the nopal: a plant that grows in drought, thriving regardless of the conditions,” she adds. This connection to her roots has shaped her into a scientist who integrates her cultural identity with her curiosity for the natural world. Maritza is the first woman in her family to pursue science (hoping to earn a Ph.D.), and she stood out as the only Latina in her past lab. Her research on the nopal cactus has led to the development of a novel filtration material, merging tradition with science to create accessible solutions for communities worldwide. With meticulous techniques, she also works independently, supported by Dr. McEvoy, to understand the historical relationship between tourism and water security in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Now, she hosts a podcast for youth by youth, “Cientifica Discussions,” where she features the science stories of Latino youth from across the United States, interviewing RSI alums, NCWIT national award winners, non-profit founders, Gates scholarship finalists, Princeton Prize winners, and International Science and Engineering Fair finalists. These scientists share their experiences from high school as first-generation, low-income, and/or rural background students to make STEM more accessible to Latino youth. On @Maritzastudies, she leads an education campaign focused on spotlighting scholarships, studying habits, and college application advice for high schoolers like her, with over 500K impressions and 300K views.

Addressing the challenges faced by the Hispanic community, Maritza is determined to confront the cultural stigma surrounding academia. She advocates for breaking down barriers to education and increasing access to higher learning, especially for Latino youth. Her initiatives aim to foster a greater appreciation for education, encouraging students and parents alike to embrace learning as a path to social mobility and success. Currently, she is authoring an English-Spanish bilingual middle school book titled “Soy Un Científico! I am a Scientist!” which focuses on highlighting the journey of a student who creates their own science fair project. She explains to youth what a mentor is, how to create reproducible research, data analysis, project pitches, and concurrently incorporates the foundations of the scientific method throughout the writing.

Giving back to her community is a central part of Maritza’s life. From her early days teaching English to her classmates in a school lacking educators, to her current efforts in political activism, she has tirelessly worked to empower her community. She is the only Latina on the elected executive board for Voter Choice Arizona and has politically organized with other civic organizations like the League of Women Voters, Institute for Citizens and Scholars, Turn Up Activism, Junior State of America, and Mission for Arizona, campaigning to thousands of voters, translating complex electoral reforms, registering voters, and fostering a culture of civic engagement. Through her work, Maritza has become a powerful voice for the underserved and overexploited Latino communities of Arizona, using education and advocacy as tools for change. Additionally, she is the inaugural president of the Pima County Health Department Youth Executive Board, where she spearheads mental health and substance abuse awareness initiatives for the 160,000 students enrolled in the Pima County school district.

Maritza will continue making waves as she advances her studies at Stanford University, focusing on environmental science and public policy with a minor in chemistry. This remarkable Latina is not only shaping a sustainable future but also paving the way for the next generation of leaders to follow in her footsteps, proving that with dedication and compassion, we can indeed create a better world.

Healthcare & Science

High School: Science Academy of South Texas
Hometown: Pharr, TX

Driven by a deep sense of curiosity and a profound commitment to research, Ana-Laura Tamez does not simply aspire to a career in healthcare and science; she already has one. The young healthcare professional has already contributed to advanced healthcare research, working as a lab researcher and hospital extern. Her research has led her to diverse labs and studies, including cardiovascular, neuromuscular, microbiology, genetic testing, and more. As if her research efforts weren’t enough, Ana-Laura also volunteers with her local library, school, and church.

This young Latina of Mexican descent maintains a 4.0 GPA, taking as many advanced placement courses as possible. Her transcript showcases straight As across 17 AP classes, including Biology, Physics, and Psychology. Yet, this coursework failed to satisfy her thirst for a challenge. In ninth grade, Ana-Laura began contributing to scientific research—initially with oncologists conducting gene research on breast cancer. A year later, she interned at her local hospital, encountering patients with neuromuscular challenges, which inspired further research.

In addition to her early contributions to cancer research, Ana-Laura investigated the effects of lead toxicity on gene expression in Hispanic populations within Texas counties in partnership with Texas A&M University-College Station. She also earned the Yale Science & Engineering Award for research on the effects of microgravity on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), leading to a first-place win in Translational Medicine at the Rio Grande Valley Science Fair. This achievement propelled her and her team to compete in the Texas Science and Engineering Fair. Her research has been diverse and acclaimed, receiving awards from Rice University and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley for her university research presentations.

Following her father’s diagnosis with Metabolic Syndrome (MetS), Ana-Laura leveraged her research and networking skills to seek information and healthcare professionals to expand her knowledge of the condition. Identifying a gap in the literature related to biomarkers, she developed a paper under the mentorship of cardiology professors, currently in review with a national journal.
Ana-Laura’s project “Xenophobia Moderates the Relationship Between Diagnosed Pre-COVID Anxiety Disorders and COVID-19 Related Anxiety,” earned her a 2nd Place Award in Social & Behavioral Sciences at the UT Rio Grande Valley Regional Science Fair, qualifying her for this year’s Texas Science Fair. In preparation for this upcoming state competition, she has been studying COVID-19 related anxiety in Hispanic populations.

Currently, Ana-Laura is also conducting ongoing type 2 diabetes research at the UT Rio Grande Valley and is working alongside Dr. Seratna Guadarrama Beltran at the same institution while studying solutions to combat the production of a specific bacterium (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) aboard the International Space Station. With this research, she will be competing at the 2024 NASA HUNCH challenge this month.

Moreover, Ana-Laura has been selected as one of 20 undergraduate students from the US to work at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas as part of their UPWARDS research training initiative. This exceptional opportunity, granted even before she officially becomes an undergraduate, will allow her to conduct hands-on research with faculty members, complete service activities, and participate in network engagements this summer.

This fall, Ana-Laura is set to begin her studies in cellular and molecular biology at Stanford University, Yale University, or Harvard College, marking the next chapter in her journey of scientific discovery and contribution.

Media & Entertainment

High School: Blue Valley West
Hometown: Olathe, KS

Andy Duarte’s fascination with media and entertainment traces back to his childhood dreams of becoming a YouTuber, a vision that has evolved into an ambition to pursue a career as a news anchor or sports commentator. His journey has been shaped by his interest in technology, setting him apart from his peers who may have leaned towards more traditional artistic or athletic pursuits. Andy’s adeptness in the digital realm, fueled by his early love for video games, has positioned him as a promising talent in the media landscape. His engagement in classes focused on digital media, coupled with a hands-on internship at Sports Radio 810 WHB, has not only honed his skills in video production but also sparked a passion for the process of recording and editing videos. Participation in his school’s E-sports club further solidified his commitment, allowing him to excel both as a top-level player and a commentator at video game tournaments.

Andy’s achievements in the field of commentary and casting are testament to his exceptional talent. His voice has graced Kansas’s most popular sports radio station, Sports Radio 810 WHB, and he has lent his commentary skills to prestigious video game tournaments for renowned companies such as E-sports Arena and Level-Up Arena. His engagements have spanned various universities, including casting at events like Sweet Spot 7 at the University of Kansas, The Zou 3 and 4 at the University of Missouri, and the Heartland Showdown at Kansas State University. Currently, Andy is making his mark as a color commentator for high school football games with Varsity Sports Live. “The fact that I’ve been able to put myself in a really good spot in the media and entertainment sector of business before I’ve even finished my senior year of high school is something I’m incredibly proud of,” he shares, reflecting on his precocious success in a competitive field.

Andy’s Hispanic heritage has been influential on his career path, enabling him to connect with a broader audience and bring a unique perspective to his work. This connection has been particularly meaningful in the sports broadcasting community, where diversity remains a challenge. Andy’s ability to communicate in Spanish and his shared cultural background have facilitated deeper connections within the industry, notably leading to memorable on-air moments that highlight the power of representation. His awareness of the Hispanic community’s underrepresentation in sports broadcasting drives his ambition to provide more inclusive and diverse content, aspiring to create broadcasts that cater to Spanish-speaking audiences and foster a sense of belonging among Hispanic viewers.

Beyond his professional aspirations, Andy is deeply committed to giving back to his community. His volunteer work, ranging from serving as a camp counselor to organizing charity carnivals for lower-income families, reflects a genuine desire to make a positive impact. Through these efforts, Andy has shared the joy of learning and the importance of education with young minds, hoping to inspire them to pursue their dreams regardless of their backgrounds. “What inspires me to give back is the fact that it doesn’t hurt anyone at all but makes a significant positive change in someone’s life,” Andy remarked, underscoring the value of altruism in his journey.

As he prepares to transition from high school to college with aspirations set high, Andy Duarte is set to attend the University of Kansas, focusing on communication studies with minors in journalism and mass communications, a path that perfectly complements his ambitions in media and entertainment.

NFL Latino Youth Honors

High School: Central Catholic High School
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

As a star player for the Central Catholic Vikings, Peter Gonzalez is known for his passion for catching touchdowns—and others sure are taking notice of his talent. So far, in his promising football career, the driven student-athlete of Cuban and Honduran descent already boasts All-State and All-WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) honors and is one of the top 50 wide receivers in the nation for the Class of 2024. Boasting a combination of speed and athleticism, he has several memorable moments on the field, including a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and a 40-inch vertical.

Prioritizing family, friends, and faith, Peter credits his father, who played professionally, for introducing him to the sport and being his most significant influence in football. Reflecting on his upbringing, he shares that since he can remember, they would play catch, and his father also coached him on his flag football and high school teams. But by far, his favorite memory is walking out with his father, who at the time was the honorary captain at the University of Pittsburgh football game. From that moment, he realized he loved the crowd and dreamt of playing in front of many fans one day.

Of his accomplishments, Peter says, “My proudest achievement related to football is being named First Team All-State in my junior year. It meant so much to me because earlier in February 2022, I tore my ACL in practice, which required surgery and nine to twelve months of physical therapy. Through hard work and determination, I returned to play in seven-and-a-half months, only missing three games and still performing to a level that earned me All-State honors.”

Academics and community service are other areas where Peter shows incredible dedication and discipline. Through his hard work, he is also a 4.0 GPA honor student and stays active, volunteering at the Pittsburg Marathon and various football camps over the years. Reflecting on the experience, one of the most memorable moments was when a young camper at Central Catholic’s annual youth football camp approached him to let him know that he watched him play the year before and that he wanted to attend the camp to be just like him. That touching exchange helped Peter realize his influence on younger generations, motivating him to want to be the best role model for other young kids.

When it comes to his heritage and its impact on his approach to sports, Peter shares that watching football games growing up, he noticed there were not a lot of multicultural individuals or players with a Hispanic last name. While things are changing, with more diversity and representation, he also realizes that the game of football is the ultimate team sport—and at the end of the day, when focused on a goal and objective, your background does not matter because everyone prepares, competes, wins, and loses as a team.

For Peter, football and education are the top priorities in his life that will help him excel in anything he chooses to do in the future, including pursuing a degree in business finance and continuing his sports journey at Penn State University.

Public Service & Social Justice

High School: Dakota Ridge High School
Hometown: Lakewood, CO

Diego Lopez-Rodarte’s path toward serving and empowering immigrant families emerged in response to his witnessing the broad challenges faced by individuals navigating the American immigration system. This experience was a turning point for Diego, leading him to delve into immigration policies and legalities. His efforts not only brought clarity to the challenges faced by many but also ignited a passion within him to assist others in similar situations. “The [resilience I witnessed] fueled my aspiration to assist immigrant families in navigating the complex system,” he shares, reflecting on the experiences that propelled him to found Youth for Humane Borders, a nonprofit organization that shines a light on the legal rights of immigrants.

Under his leadership, Youth for Humane Borders has produced over 20 bilingual legal guides and more than 100 news articles, aiming to help immigrants navigate the intricacies of immigration policies and protect them against deportation. Additionally, Diego has creatively combined his passion for music and advocacy by organizing piano recitals to contribute to the funding for the travel expenses of pro bono immigration attorneys providing crucial support to vulnerable immigrant children at the border.

Diego’s dedication extended to his summer internship at Knudson & Associates LLC, an immigration law firm, where he shadowed seasoned attorneys and contributed to their blog, gaining invaluable insights into immigration law. His bilingual skills further served his local immigrant community at the Littleton Immigrant Resource Center, where he leveraged his bilingual skills to empower immigrants by serving as an ESL tutor and helping people prepare for their US citizenship test.

Diego’s awareness of the impacts of diversity, or the lack thereof, deepened through his involvement in his school’s Student Voice & Diversity Club and his internship. The lack of diversity in public service and legal professions is a concern that Diego seeks to address. He realized that embracing a multitude of perspectives, especially from the Hispanic community, is key to bridging gaps and fostering a more compassionate and effective approach to public service and social justice. Diego envisions a future where the voices of the Latinx community are integral to shaping policies that affect their lives.

One of Diego’s most ambitious goals is to ensure legal representation for immigrant children, inspired by distressing headlines, including “Three-Year-Old Immigrant Child Represents Himself in Court.” “If the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution asserts the right to an attorney, why are these rights stripped away from immigrant children?,” questions Diego. “This unequal access to legal representation for the undocumented exposes the significant flaws within our country,” he adds. His advocacy for amending the constitutional right to an attorney for immigrants is a step toward rectifying these disparities. Through Youth for Humane Borders, he champions this cause, aiming to initiate a national conversation and action toward equitable legal representation.

Diego’s roots in Tequila, Jalisco, México, and his parents’ harrowing journey to the United States are a constant source of inspiration. The challenges they faced and overcame motivate him to strive for a society where compassion and understanding bridge divides. His work tutoring immigrants in English is not just about language; it’s about offering the support and opportunities his parents didn’t have, reflecting a deep-seated desire to foster a community that uplifts and includes everyone.

Diego’s achievements are numerous, from being a distinguished scholar recognized by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and being selected as a 2024 Coca-Cola Scholar to his engagement in extracurriculars that underscore his commitment to his community and heritage. His academic excellence is matched by his leadership through his nonprofit and his role as a tutor, showcasing a well-rounded profile of a young leader dedicated to effecting positive change.

Diego is poised to further his education and advocacy as he attends the University of Southern California. He plans to pursue a pre-law track while minoring in Chicanx/Latinx studies, preparing himself to continue his fight for immigrant rights and social justice.

Technology

High School: James Martin High School
Hometown: Arlington, TX

Sebastian Rodriguez isn’t discouraged by how few Latinxs are in STEM fields. If anything, this young computer scientist looks forward to paving the way for other Hispanics like him to take on the field. Introduced to computer science in his freshman year of high school, Sebastian quickly became interested in the subject, an interest which soon turned toward cybersecurity. His dedication and curiosity in these areas eventually led to him being recognized as a semi-finalist competitor in CyberPatriot – the National Youth Cyber Education Program.

Last year, Sebastian contributed to his team getting a first-place win at the Lockheed Martin CyberQuest Competition. Sebastian also earned his Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) in Foundational Cybersecurity Technologies and was recognized as a National Cyber Scholar with Honors. He has additionally received the National Hispanic Recognition Award and was acknowledged as a NASA High School Aerospace Scholar.

Most recently, he played a role in his school’s drone team securing 3rd place and the Best Presentation Award at the Bell AVR Drone Competition. Moreover, his RoboBoat team won the Social Media Award for yet another year and impressively finished ahead of teams from Cornell, Georgia Tech, and the US Coast Guard in this year’s competition.

In addition to his competitive edge, Sebastian puts his tech skills to use and develops his computer science knowledge through his internship at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and as a member of his school’s Computer Science Club, Drone Club, RoboBoat club, and Hispanic Student Association. He competes in the University Interscholastic League and organizes his school’s annual hackathon.

Sebastian is passionate about sharing his knowledge and skills with his community. The teen helped develop a website to share information on privacy protection in straightforward, simple language, which he hoped would demystify cybersecurity. He also has plans for developing bilingual tech content to assist non-native speakers in better navigating the ever-changing technological landscape. Furthermore, he fondly recalls volunteering at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History where he explained STEM concepts to young elementary school students. Reflecting on this experience, Sebastian wrote, “I was able to help teach kids who were curious about certain parts of the museum, like the space and power exhibits; for me, it was almost like I was nurturing the STEM-loving child that I was a long time ago, so helping these kids learn more about the world was a way of giving back to my community.”

Sebastian has earned a 4.0 GPA while taking various advanced placement courses in Chemistry, Computer Science, Physics, and Psychology. In the fall, he will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rice University, Carnegie Mellon University, or the University of Texas at Austin, where he intends to study computer and electrical engineering. This young tech wizard hopes to take his talents and skills all the way to Disney’s offices as he dreams of being an Imagineer – melding STEM with creativity in order to make magic.

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