Diversity Makes a Difference – Part 6

From left to right, top to bottom: Michelle Tran, Myphuong Tong, Natalia Varela, Aman Vasdev, Janice Vong, Samantha Wallace, Virginia Wanjiku, Melissa Wong, Jordan Wu, Sara Yohannes, Anne Yoon, Marian Yu, Ana Maria Zeek, and Alan Zeng

Northwest Asian Weekly’s Diversity Makes a Difference scholarship program celebrates young people who are committed to reaching out across cultural lines. Students are nominated by their school as being champions of diversity. From among those students, a judging panel will choose five winners who will receive $1,000 scholarships and eight finalists who will receive $200 scholarships.

The Diversity Makes a Difference awards dinner will take place on April 2 at Jumbo Chinese Restaurant (4208 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle). For more information or to buy tickets, visit diversity.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org.

Each week, leading up to the dinner, we printed a batch of short profiles of the nominees. This is the last batch.

Michelle Tran
Foster High School
Recommended by Sue Pike

“Michelle Tran was an exchange student to France with Rotary International in 2009 and was appointed to speak this fall at the State Convention of School Board Directors, We Are the World Student Voices of Tukwila,” wrote her teacher Sue Pike in a recommendation.

“In 2010, she was named as the Business Student of the Quarter, another acknowledgement of her work ethic and interpersonal skills among racially diverse peers. Michelle Tran uses her position as president of Interact Club to promote service and energize our students to think beyond themselves. In November, members collected hundreds of basic items to make Refugee Welcome Kits for the Red Cross,” wrote Pike.

“December brought the sale of Candy Grams to purchase mosquito nets to combat Malaria.  Students raised more money than they anticipated, and were able to make a donation to the Tukwila Food Pantry.  This was made possible by Michelle’s insistence to set goals for our club.”

Myphuong Tong
Edmonds–Woodway High School
Recommended by Valaree VanderMolen

“Myphuong Tong has taken every opportunity to challenge herself with rigorous IB courses. … Her biggest gift, however, is her leadership skills, compassion, and passion for improving whatever system she lives in, whether it’s her family, her friends, her school, her community, her classroom,” wrote counselor Valaree VanderMolen in a recommendation.

“She doesn’t join a club to pump her resume, but rather, sees a contribution she can make. … Volunteering and helping others is among her highest priorities. She [is] president of FCCLA, actively participates in National Honor Society, and has worked in the ASB office since she started high school. She has given her authentic interest and time to many other clubs that represent her versatility, including the Asian Connection Club, yearbook, the Mixed and Multicultural Club, and acted as an InterHigh representative,” wrote VanderMolen.

“She has the enviable ability to be a balanced student. She manages to be open-minded about accepting doors that have opened for her and sharing her time with those who have less social capital. She is a very grateful student as well, most likely because she has had to experience the transition from a foreign country and learn to make friends with strangers.”

Natalia Varela
Sammamish High School
Nominated by Erica Mallin

“Outside of school, Natalia Varela has been involved in a number of programs that have allowed her to grow as a human being and a leader. In Summer Search, an organization that give students the opportunity to further their knowledge of the world and themselves, Natalia has had the chance to go on a three-week outward bound experience in the Appalachian Mountains, as well as take a summer course in Psychology at Northfield Mount Herman in the Boston area,” wrote Erica Mallin in a recommendation.

“Natalia has become a leader in Summer Search, performing admirably this fall as the mistress of ceremonies for an evening program honoring other students. Natalia has also been a leader in the Diversity Club that I run. She has participated in this group for three years now, showing an immense dedication to helping all Sammamish students feel that the school is a safe environment for them. In that time, she has become a forum leader. This year, she is one of the club presidents,” wrote Mallin.

Aman Vasdev
Nathan Hale High School
Recommended by Tony Renouard

For three years, Aman Vasdev has been involved in his school’s Diversity Club. “He has worked hard to produce the Martin Luther King Jr. assembly, the Bite of Hale, the Equity Summit, and anti-bigotry in grade school programs as well as having done the Lake City Food Bank through Diversity club,” wrote teacher Tony Renouard.

“He fundraises for the class of 2010. He is an elected officer in the ASB, he volunteers in the community, he promotes events in the school, and is a constant, hard working force in our building. He is an outspoken advocate on issues of equity as evidenced by his continual work on our community’s multi-day Equity Summit.”

“He cares about his community and is actively making it a better place.”

Janice Vong
Garfield High School
Recommended by Kenneth R. Courtney

Janice Vong plays the violin in Garfield’s top symphony. She is fluent in Chinese, having attended Yat-Sen Chinese School for 10 years, serving as class president in 2007-2008,” wrote counselor Kenneth R. Courtney. “Janice is active in her community, serving on the Youth Board of a local newspaper, Northwest Asian Weekly, since 2008.”

“She is also active at school, as submission officer for The Pen, Garfield’s Literary Art Magazine. As a 3-year member of Key Club, she has participated in a number of volunteer activities. Most notable is her involvement in Team Read, where she has tutored second and third graders since 2007 and has become an ambassador for the program. This past summer, she traveled with the
Compatriot Affair Commission Program to Taiwan. This was a wonderful experience, rich with cultural activities.”

Samantha Wallace
Washington High School
Recommended by Dawn LaSalle

“Samantha Wallace has always been very actively involved in her church, and has made several trips to Chile to help with building a church in Lautaro. She and her church group partners with the local community to accomplish what needs to be done,” wrote counselor Dawn LaSalle.

“While Samantha participates in the physical labor needed to build and maintain a church building there such as weeding, cleaning up wood piles, painting, etc., she spends a large amount of time working with the youth of the town.  She and other youth from her church interact with the girls at the local orphanage by playing games, hosting movie nights, and simply building relationships,” wrote LaSalle.

“From Samantha’s experience in Chile and taking classes at Washington High School, she has become fluent in Spanish.”

Virginia Wanjiku
Hazen High School
Recommended by Gia Fusaro

“Virginia moved from Kenya to the United States when she was eight years old,” says Wanjiku’s guidance counselor, Gia Fusaro. “From elementary school through middle school, she switched schools six times. If you are privileged enough to know Virginia on the surface, you would never guess that she has encountered the life challenges that she has.”

Wanjiku volunteers her time to elementary-aged students as part of Earth Corps and is a member of the Diversity Club. She also plays tennis.

“Virginia is an executive mentor in our Ignite program at Hazen, but it works to foster an inclusive and welcoming climate at Hazen. Virginia has done an outstanding job being a leader in this program. She is always supportive about helping others feel a sense of belonging and empowerment.”

“What I admire most about Virginia is her humility. She never assumes privileges and always asks for permission. She is grateful for any service provided to her, however small.”

Melissa Wong
Garfield High School
Recommended by Kenneth R. Courtney

“Melissa Wong is the founder of the Japanese Language Club and a three-year member of the Japanese Culture Club. … She is active in the Chinese Culture Club and the Compost Club, and is the president of the Engineering Club,” wrote counselor Kenneth R. Courtney. “She joined C.A.N. (College Access Now) last year and has played on the JV Tennis team since 10th grade.”

“She has been trained by the International District Emergency Center to act as a medic and assist with crowd control for special events in the International District. She has put in untold hours at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, serving on their advisory board and participating in a vast variety of programs there. Melissa has been involved in internships through GirlsFirst for the past three summers. In 2007, she was an administrative assistant at an engineering firm. In 2008, she was a legal intern and this past summer, at Wing Luke, she was a paid Youth Lead.”

Jordan Wu
Franklin High School
Recommended by Erin M. Hulton

“[Jordan Wu] is an active member of the Seattle Chinese Athletic Association. Mr. Wu has consistently received the most inspirational player award as voted on by his teammates.  This award is given to the player who displays leadership on and off the court,” wrote teacher Erin M. Hulton. “In addition to excelling in the classroom, Mr. Wu has been involved at Franklin High School. He has been a member of the Franklin High School tennis team since September 2007.  He displays excellent sportsmanship and exemplifies the term ‘student athlete.’ ”

“Mr. Wu is more than what appears on his academic record.  He has an infectious personality that touches everyone around him. He has always motivated himself and his classmates to excel.

Mr. Wu exemplified what it is to have fun while learning,” wrote Hulton.

Wu is a member of C.A.N. at Franklin High School, helping high school students prepare for college.

Wu is described by Hulton as “a model student” and “always willing and wanting to stretch his capacity for learning and mathematical knowledge.”

Sara Yohannes
Nathan Hale High School
Recommended by Bella Bikowsky

Sara Yohannes is a leader in Nathan Hale’s East African Girls Club. “Not only is Sara an outstanding role model for her East African peers, she is one of the most genuine, hard working students I have encountered,” wrote her counselor Bella Bikowsky in a recommendation.

“Sara and her family came to American from Eritrea with hopes for a better life. In doing so, Sara has taken an active role in promoting diversity among her Nathan Hale peers, as well as her community. She will often speak to her peers in class about East Africa, educating them on cultural difference. In addition, she is an active member of the Diversity Club at Hale, and she also shares about living in a housing project here in Seattle and what it has been like for her growing up poor,” wrote Bikowsky.

“Through her leadership abilities over the past several years, Sara has been able to organize a fashion show in order to promote East African clothing and culture, as well as participate in the annual Bite of Hale, a night dedicated to the diversity of different cultural foods,” wrote Bikowsky.

Anne Yoon
Edmonds–Woodway High School, Senior
Recommended by Valaree VanderMolen

“Anne Yoon has the ability to succeed in both left and right-brain thinking. She succeeds in both her academics and her outside commitments as evidenced by her transcript and her leadership commitments,” wrote counselor Valaree VanderMolen in a recommendation. Yoon is an International Baccalaureate student.

“Part of the requirement for an IB diploma includes 150 hours of community service and action.  Anne has had no problem in fulfilling this requirement in many venues: as a junior varsity soccer player, varsity golf captain and champion, ASB officer in every year of high school, JSAP chapter chair, Hi-Q captain, and NHS president,” wrote VanderMolen.

“One of her most impressive feats this year as NHS president is chartering a school-wide peer tutoring program that is wildly successful on our campus. She has coordinated and communicated with tutors and teachers from every discipline to make this happen. On top of that, she has her obligation as our ASB publicity officer to help organize clubs and activities on campus,” wrote VanderMolen.

Marian Yu
Garfield High School
Recommended by Kenneth R. Courtney

“It would be hard to find a student with more activities. This past summer, Marian Yu joined One World Now! (a service organization with a World Language component) as a teacher assistant, helping out in a summer camp assisting students her own age in a Chinese Level 1 class,” wrote counselor Kenneth R. Courtney. “She has tutored second and third graders in reading since she was in ninth grade in an after-school program, Team Read. She is now an ambassador for the program.”

“Marian is the co-secretary of Northwest Asian Weekly’s Youth Board and has participated the past three summers in their Youth Leadership Program. Last spring, she attended a conference at Stanford University as the recipient of a QuestBridge College Prep Scholarship Award,” wrote Courtney.

Ana Maria Zeek
Holy Names Academy
Recommended by Alice Tanaka

“Ana Maria Zeek is a co-leader of the Movimiento de Mujérès Hispañas branch of our Multicultural Student Union (MSU). … As an active member of the MSU, she was instrumental in helping to organize our Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly recently,” wrote counselor Alice Tanaka.

“Having grown up in a Spanish-speaking household, she is fluent in Spanish.  Because of being bilingual, she is often called upon to serve as an interpreter, which she does willingly because she enjoys helping people. Many of her requests to translate occur when she is volunteering at a food bank.  Being immersed in the Spanish culture, she has naturally gravitated toward Spanish activities. …  She is quite a talented salsa dancer and teaches it,” wrote Tanaka.

“She even hosted an exchange student and made the student’s experience in the United States a memorable one. … Not only is she active in organizations at the high school, but she is also an active participant in the Camp Fire USA. Serving on a national board for them has given Ana a wonderful opportunity to develop leadership skills.”

Alan Zeng
Garfield High School
Recommended by Kenneth R. Courtney

Chinese immigrant Alan Zeng, inspired by his older sister’s academic success, joined the Rainier Scholars. “This unique nonprofit organization identifies fifth graders for mentorship towards admission to college, continuing their work with them even after they go off to college,” wrote his counselor Kenneth R. Courtney.

“Alan has been a member of Key Club all four years. Alan’s leadership is evident in clubs and activities. He became an officer in the Asian Pacific Islander Club last year and was one of the organizers of the Science Café, a lunch time discussion group for those interested in science. His interest in science led him to the Pacific Science Center where he began working part-time in 11th grade with the Discover Corps and is now a Science Interpreter in their program,” wrote Courtney.

“During ninth and 10th grades, he had volunteered as a tutor through Team Read at a local elementary school. Alan is also active in his church, Seattle Chinese Alliance, often attending three activities a week.” ♦

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