Meet the 2020 EmPOWERED Scholars

Alana Barr

Alana Burr"This scholarship will allow me to improve  my connections within my community and focus on my passion giving back to others and empowering change through engagement."

Hear directly from Alana about her work in the community

As a freshman, Alana founded the Junior Healthy Heart Coalition at Georgia Tech to help connect her peers with community service projects and volunteer opportunities. She partners with 4-H to mentor and encourages Atlanta youth to develop their leadership skills and learn more about the world around them. Through the coalition, she has worked with Morehouse School of Medicine, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Trinity AME Church, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to promote healthy lifestyles and address food insecurity, homelessness, and other issues in the metro Atlanta area.

Alana has volunteered over 70 hours with MedShare, an organization that provides surplus medical supplies to developing countries. She interned with the Atlanta City Council and helped introduce legislation to improve public health efforts. She is also the director of local projects for Georgia Tech’s Foundation of Medical Relief for Children, where she coordinates volunteer opportunities for members.

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Denise Nguyen

"I believe in turning adversity into opportunity and being a voice for those who are voiceless. My mission is to improve food insecurity on college campuses and be a trailblazer who advocates for the basic college students."

Learn more about Denise's vision for the future and her work in the community.

Junior, Public Health, California State University, Northridge

As a struggling student who spent many nights eating dollar eggs and rice, scraping every grain and yolk from the bowl, Denise knows firsthand how food insecurity hinders academic success. It’s one of the reasons she is a passionate volunteer at the campus garden and food pantry.

As a counselor at Camp Ronald McDonald, she devoted her weekends, summers and holidays to positively affect the lives of children diagnosed with cancer.

As a peer health educator, she collaborated with campus organizations such as Campus Care Advocate and Strength United to develop rape crisis training. She has also led an effort to incorporate sexual health, self- defense and safety training into Greek life, helping educate a community vulnerable to alcohol and substance abuse linked to sexual violence. Her efforts to mandate sexual violence programs as part of Title IX have improved the health and safety of students.

Diop Russell

"Health equity occurs when black and brown people can nourish their bodies and culturally specific affordable and wholesome foods."

Listen to Diop share more about her vision.

Sophomore, English, Spellman College, Atlanta

In high school, Diop started the Put Some Respect on My Plate initiative to help teach and empower young people to eat healthier. The initiative elevates the lessons students learn in health class by offering nutrition education at their fingertips. On social media, Diop provides visual representations of tasty, high-quality, nutritious foods. Her 300 followers
also share their creativity in the kitchen and seek out local restaurants that serve healthy meals.

As part of the initiative, Diop hosted after-school workshops with cooking demonstrations, exercise routines and interactive health lessons. She started a Put Some Respect on My Plate chapter at Cass Technical High School in Detroit and hosted workshops for organizations such as the Rhonda Walker Foundation and the Generation With Promise program.

Diop drives change as a Spelman College Social Justice Associate. She plans to further her social justice work by organizing the first Put Some Respect on My Plate Symposium to highlight how food inequity contributes to starkly different existences in urban Atlanta.

Katelyn France

"Health equity means equal access to health care regardless of where you live. I work toward this by creating solutions to health care problems in rural communities like my own." 

Learn more about Katelyn's work in the community.

Sophomore, Pharmacy, University of Minnesota Duluth

Katelyn comes from a small town of less than 100 people in one of the poorest, most illiterate counties in Minnesota. In high school she participated in science competitions around the world and coordinated her school’s blood drive even though she was unable to donate herself due to a chronic illness. Now she’s working toward a Doctor of Pharmacy degree while advocating for STEM students who lack the funding and resources to follow their dreams.

She says her community volunteering experiences have helped shift her sights from biomedical research to pharmacogenetics — the study of how people respond differently to drug therapy based on heredity or genetics — with a focus in etiology, or the causes and origins of disease.

Katelynn created a system of Bluetooth-connected QR code medical bracelets with an auto-translate feature and an updateable medication list that shows drug interactions and possible side effects. She has filed for the first of three patents and presented her medical technology company before the Governor of Minnesota.

Lady Dorothy Eli

Lady Dorothy Elli"Nothing warms my heart more than to see the smiles on the faces of people I serve as I teach little children the value of food and nutrition or volunteer at local refugee centers."

Freshman, Public Health and Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, University of Arizona

As a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, Lady Dorothy witnessed how food insecurity and poor nutrition could hinder school performance and overall well-being. In high school, she volunteered with Casa Maria, Casa Alitas and the Iskashitaa Network to prepare and serve food to impoverished populations and refugee groups in Tucson. As an intern at Martha Cooper Library, she was involved in the lunch program for children in the nearby neighborhood as well as the library club that provided free academic resources to high school students.

Inspired by her mother, who graduated from college in the Philippines and supported her family, Lady Dorothy was determined to make college a priority and make an impact in her community. Now a college freshman, she is passionate about advocacy and health education. She holds nutrition talks in parishes, libraries, science centers and schools to teach about healthy eating and living. She has also created the Wildcat Garden for students to grow their own produce on campus.

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Lorena Melendez Chavez

Lorena Melendez Chavez "I want to develop culturally competent curricula and focused research that will help people lead healthier lives. In addition, I want to inspire others to go to college, get a degree and give back to disadvantaged communities."

Learn more about Lorena's work in the community.

Junior, Nutrition and Dietetics, California State University, Northridge

With a passion for public health, nutrition and eliminating health disparities, Lorena wants to help combat obesity and chronic disease around the world and inspire people, especially first-generation college students, to become involved in research and social change. As a student intern in the Marilyn Magaram Nutrition Center, she taught children and adults in the San Fernando Valley about healthy eating habits and gardening skills as part of a grant to reduce obesity in low-income communities.

Working in an NIH-funded program for underrepresented minorities in STEM, Lorena is a research assistant on a study focused on the outcomes of Latinos with pre-diabetes who receive prevention education and nutrigenomics testing. She has developed curricula, trained project members and recruited participants. She also serves as a co-fundraising officer for the Students Dietetic and Food Science Association and works as a nutrition educator to seniors in Los Angeles county community centers.

News and UpdatesYoung immigrant works to eradicate diabetes, health gaps in her Latino community

Ngoc Vuong

Ngoc Vuong "I have a vision in which our communities have strong networks of advocates, activists and artists addressing mental health through innovative projects and policies; in which our schools have evidence-based substance use prevention programs; and in which we provide leadership opportunities for the next generation of public health advocates."

Watch Ngoc talk about his vision for communities, mental health and social concerns.

Junior, Psychology, Public Health and Economics, Wichita State University

An aspiring researcher, Ngoc facilitates focus groups on immigrant mental health and is working on a book for schools about bullying. An aspiring public servant, he meets with state legislators and advises school board members on issues such as food insecurity, access to mental health services and community collaboration. In high school, Ngoc created ICTeens in Mind to address youth mental health in Wichita, Kansas. He was later recruited by Safe Streets Wichita to direct efforts on substance use prevention.

Realizing the need for a comprehensive local endeavor to tackle both mental illness and addiction, he created Healing Kansas, a grassroots initiative addressing these issues through art, storytelling and civic engagement. The group produced Not Only You, a short film on the impact of addiction on families. Ngoc has been recognized by the Kansas Senate and was invited by the Kansas Prevention Collaborative to create a statewide, student-led health coalition.

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Noun Abdelaziz

Noun Abdelaziz"Amidst all the poverty and oppression, education is my path to success. Education will provide me with the tools I need to empower myself and my community."

Sophomore, Sociology and International Affairs, San Diego Miramar College

Listen as Noun shares her vision of health equity and advocacy.

Noun is a refugee from Sudan who grew up in Egypt and now lives in City Heights in San Diego, one of the most diverse and immigrant-populated communities in the nation. Her dream is to work for the United Nations as a refugee advocate and policymaker representing Sudanese communities.

Noun has helped more than half a million students in California get application-free nutritious school meals. She provided key testimony to the California Senate to help pass a bill to reduce food deserts. She was also a research assistant with Kitchens for Good, where she built a pilot program that helped distribute culturally relevant hot meals to the community at low cost, with part of the funds going back into supporting small community-owned food businesses.

Recently, Noun became the youngest staff member at the Jewish Family Service, where she is a refugee outreach coordinator. The Breaking Down Barriers program within JFS aims to destigmatize mental health in underserved and diverse communities through culturally relevant educational programs for community members and health care providers.

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This 'citizen of the world' empowers herself, then her community

Presley LeGrande

Presley LeGrande

"I want to work in health care to become an inspirational ally to those overcoming health challenges. Everyone is capable of being the strongest, healthiest version of themselves."

Freshman, Neuroscience and Public Health, Santa Clara University

Watch Presley speak more about her work with athletes with disabilities.

Presley was a competitive cheerleader her entire childhood, which helped her learn the value of a fit and healthy lifestyle. A teammate’s sister who loved copying the cheerleaders’ moves from her wheelchair inspired Presley to found and coach Team Gemini, the first competitive cheerleading team for athletes with disabilities in the South Bay area. The team provides an outlet for kids who often lack access to youth sports. Routines are adapted for the disabilities of the team’s 16 athletes, who practice twice a week and participate in conditioning classes to improve their strength and coordination.

Presley is working toward a physician assistant graduate program and is saving money to start her own business, a fitness studio for the special needs community. She wants to offer adaptive workout classes, opportunities to participate in different sports and a buddy system integrating able-bodied and disabled kids.

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Sierra Williams-Mcleod

Sierra Willams McLeod"I want to work in health care to become an inspirational ally to those overcoming health challenges. Everyone is capable of being the strongest, healthiest version of themselves."

Learn more about the work Sierra has done in her community and her efforts to impact students and food insecurity.

Junior, Biochemistry and Biomedical Research, Hampton University

Sierra is passionate about reducing health disparities and helping low-income, minority and first-generation students who face poverty and food insecurity. This passion led her to co-found Hampton University’s Pirate Pantry, a student-led effort providing free food and hygiene products to students in need. In the first week, she immediately saw the impact on students. Now, Sierra is establishing a partnership with the Virginia Food Bank to become a mobile food pantry with even more items available to serve the community.

Through Instagram and Facebook, HU Pirate Pantry reaches an audience beyond Hampton with content on food sustainability, volunteer opportunities and the insecurities nearly half of college students face. HU Pirate Pantry improves the health of the community by reducing food waste, relieving hunger and promoting good nutrition. Sierra has also served on the first Council for Digital Good at Microsoft and as a delegate for the State of Young People conference at Facebook.