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Class of 2016

Mamadou Diallo

Hometown: New York, NY

high school: A. Phillip Randolph Campus HS

college: Stanford University

MAJOR: Computer Science

Mamadou hosts hackathons for teenagers, teaches underprivileged kids how to code, and carries a full schedule of AP classes. His excellence and determination to succeed has earned him an early seat at Stanford University.

However, the road to Stanford wasn’t exactly paved for him. Born in the Bronx, his family hails from Guinea. When Mamadou, who is one of nine children, was less than a year old, his cousin Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times and killed by police in Mid-Manhattan. Not able to balance the responsibility of working while organizing and attending protests, Mamadou’s parents sent him to Guinea to live with their extended family. Mamadou –a proud Fulani– whose first languages are Pular and French, moved back to New York when he was 8.

At age 14, Mamadou discovered his first coding class while scrolling through Facebook. The promise of a free laptop was enough to lure him into spending a weekend learning programming fundamentals. Shortly thereafter, Mamadou began attending more computer science workshops, with hopes to better the world, one line of code at a time.

In love with creatively solving problems, he sought out other coding opportunities and emailed the NYC Tech Meetup. An organization called All Star Code responded and invited him to be one of 20 students to participate in their inaugural summer program. The free program provides students of color with mentors and computer science training. Mamadou went on to cofound The Young Hackers (YH), an organization of high school students dedicated to empowering the next generation of programmers. Having gained a passion for improving diversity in the tech industry, he made sure YH would bring together students from a multiplicity of backgrounds through hackathons and field trips to tech companies. For his work with YH, Mamadou was awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations for diversifying the next generation of engineers, as well as NY’s 10 under 20 Young Innovators award.

At 16, Mamadou spent his summer at Princeton University, learning about diversity and leadership with LEDA: a non-profit helping disadvantaged students gain admittance to top tier colleges. There, Mamadou taught a workshop on web development to get his peers interested in tech. No one in his family is involved in – or quite understands – the tech industry. In order to pursue his goals, he has sought his own opportunities, and nothing has been handed to him.

Besides hackathons, Mamadou enjoys freestyle rapping, cracking jokes, and playing pickup basketball games. He is currently creating a Hack Club at the Double Discovery Center and compiling resources to help students in his community successfully navigate high school and gain admittance to college. Mamadou vows to make it his lifelong mission to foster under resourced tinkerers who are underrepresented in the tech industry. With his firm belief rooted in self determination, Mamadou wants to someday start his own social impact firm that helps underprivileged young people achieve greatness.

Ultimately, Mamadou hopes to use his successes to alleviate poverty and social injustice everywhere.

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Class of 2016

Mati Alemayehu

Hometown: Stone Mountain, GA

high school: Chamblee Charter HS

college: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MAJOR: Management (Minor in Computer Science)

Mati Alemayehu is a senior from Stone Mountain, GA, a suburb just outside of Atlanta. He lives there with his mother, father, and two siblings. He attends Chamblee Charter High School, where he is known for is academic and extracurricular involvement. As a top student, Mati strives to take advantage of the most challenging courses his school has to offer, taking a total of seventeen AP courses over four years. Mati believes this academic rigor to stem in part from his interests in math or science, which comprise the majority of his advanced classes. As an aspiring engineer, he has gone particularly in depth in Physics, Biology, and Chemistry, and his interest in these fields has inspired him to join clubs and organizations such as Math Team, Science Olympiad, and Science Bowl. When he isn’t competing in tournaments however, he is often devoting himself to his other activities. He has served two terms as class president, volunteered as a tutor for the Clarkston Community Center and the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, and currently serves as president of the Environmental Club on campus. Though much of his community involvement was inspired through the lessons he learned in class, such as Environmental Club, the issue of tutoring is very near to his heart.

As an Ethiopian-American immigrant, Mati feels a connection to disadvantaged students. He considers himself lucky to have been raised in an environment that promoted learning, and he seeks to make this environment a reality for others. During his free time, Mati enjoys computer games, movies, running, music, and classical and contemporary art. Mati hopes to pursue a degree in bioengineering, and then continue to an MD/PhD program. In order to prepare for this future, as well as to get some practical experience, Mati would like to do begin doing research as soon as possible. He would also like to continue this level of community involvement, especially in tutoring, throughout his undergraduate years.

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Class of 2016

Menelik Graham

Hometown: Auburndale, FL

high school: Auburndale HS

college: Princeton University

MAJOR: Economics

“You’re black. That’s one strike against you in this country. You were not born here. That’s another strike. Remember, the fittest of the fittest may survive. The choice is yours.”

This was the harsh reality Menelik’s mother characterized for him when he first moved to the United States from Portmore, Jamaica. However, he saw this not as a hindrance, but as a challenge. He knew from that moment on he would have to work hard to succeed in the US. As a young boy, Menelik moved around frequently, attending 5 elementary schools— one in Jamaica, two in South Florida, and two in Central Florida. However, that did not affect his love for learning. His older brother, to whom he credits most of his life’s achievements, ensured that he was always reading and thriving in school; he knew that knowledge is the key to success.

Menelik continued to excel in his academics through elementary and middle school, receiving stellar grades. This trend did not change in high school, as he is currently on track to graduate as valedictorian. He serves as the founder and president of his school’s Interact Club, National Honor Society Vice President, Parliamentarian for the Future Business Leaders of America, and a mentor for the SHINE Mentoring Program. He also founded a club called Finally Our Voices Are Heard (FOVAH), a diversity club for marginalized groups that provides a safe space for discussions on pressing issues. When Menelik visited Jamaica, his cousin asked if she could borrow soccer cleats. After he received six cleats in one size from his friend, he founded Boots4Ballers, a program that collects donated cleats for children in Jamaica. During his junior year, he attended Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA), a 7-week college preparatory summer program at Princeton University for high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

When a young black peer told Menelik he would surely grow up and get a “white people job” because he was so smart, Menelik knew he had to change this notion somehow. This, combined with an incident where a few of his female friends told him they had been sexually assaulted, prompted him to start Men Against Sexual Assault (MASA), a program committed to educating young men about preventing sexual assault and assisting them with career planning.

Menelik is also a scholar athlete, as he serves as captain for both his club and high school soccer team. He is an All-County select, All-Academic Player of the Year, and an All-Academic State Team nominee. He also runs the 400 meter dash and the 4×400 meter dash for his school’s track team.

Menelik’s future plans include studying Economics at Princeton University, where he was accepted this past December, and continuing to combat the strikes against him that his mother described years ago. He is determined, above all, to not only survive, but thrive in whatever he does.

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Class of 2016

Adinawa Adjagbodjou

Hometown: Denton, TX

high school: Denton HS

college: Harvard College

MAJOR: Economics / Accounting

Adinawa Adjagbodjou was born in Benin, a small country in West Africa, where dashes through open-air markets filled her days and stories around the dinner stove beneath starry skies filled her nights. A spirited child, her enthusiasm grew with her as the years progressed and still fuels her today in all of the activities in which she partakes, whether it entails the thrill of solving a complicated math equation, or the excitement of raising funds for clubs such as the National Honor Society over which she presides or organizations such as the American Cancer Society. Her enthusiasm and determination have led her to be an avid member of her community as she seeks ways to give back to those who have devoted so much to her community. In honoring her mission, she has organized for several years and volunteered at the Veteran’s Day Assembly held at her school to honor local service men and women. As Adinawa pursues all of her passions, she has always managed to keep in mind her goal of giving back to her community; through her love of writing-the president of her school’s Creative Writing Club and the founder and editor of the school’s literary magazine, she found another means through which to give back to her community: the written word. Adinawa published a children’s book whose funds are being donated to the Children’s Heart Foundation, to bring awareness to Congenital Heart Defects.

Adinawa aspires to a career in which she is able to continue giving back and so she plans to study in the economic fields which will enable her to help empower youth in communities such as those she herself has been a part of, by not only investing in but establishing much needed programs and institutions in poverty-stricken regions whose lack of resources result in poor health and education, and help build stronger foundations on which the youth can thrive.

After moving to the United States at the age of eight, Adinawa witnessed the sacrifices her parents endured as they worked their hardest to help each of her four siblings attain the better life that they had so desperately aspired for in migrating to this new world. This same drive lies in her as moves forward in the future and has been at the root of all the endeavors throughout high school, allowing her to not only become a role-model to her younger siblings but to become a leader in her school and community; her experiences have led her to become a compassionate and open-minded peer. In her arrival to the United States, she came face to face with an amalgamation of new cultures, a plethora of which she learned to embrace and appreciate; she now strives to incorporate a global awareness into all her intellectual pursuits which led her to become a part of her high school’s International Baccalaureate Program. Her hard-work and unwavering dedication has earned her a first ranked position in her graduating class, despite the program’s rigor.

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Class of 2016

Paul Adams, II

Hometown: Washington, DC

high school: Georgetown Prep

college: University of Southern California

MAJOR: Computer Science / Economics

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in a Maryland suburb, Paul Adams II’s hunger for knowledge took root at an early age. This same hunger propelled him through both elementary and middle school with only “A’s” on his report card. However, after transitioning to Georgetown Prep, he met his match and earned his first “B” during the first quarter of his freshman year; he did not allow this debacle, his four-hour (125 mile) roundtrip commute to school—via bus, train, and foot—or his family’s finances to deter him. His parent’s bankruptcy, foreclosure, and subsequent eviction only strengthened him and his resolve to learn.

Throughout his high school career, Adams immersed himself in athletics, extracurricular activities, internships, and volunteer projects. Adams began playing tennis at age 4, and as a freshman, he led the Varsity tennis team at #2 singles position to win the conference title, which his school’s team had not won in the previous 13 years. Alongside tennis, Adams also joined the Junior Varsity Cross-Country team. His sheer determination pushed him to finish each 5K course ahead of the pack. His passion for the violin and viola, which had begun over 10 years ago, flourished in Prep’s String Ensemble. After working his way through the ranks, Adams achieved the Concert Master position in the orchestra during his senior year. Among his other extracurricular activities, his leadership in the Young Democrats Club, Stock Talk Club, Black Student Association, and the Neuroscience Clubs stands out the most. Adams had the pleasure of serving Washington’s underprivileged youth at the SETLC, assisting disabled youths at KEEN and Special Olympics, tutoring underclassmen as a member of the National Honor Society, and creating sustainable produce in HOBY MD 2014 Frederick Farm Project. Adams’ most notable internship was with Spend Consciously, a DC-based tech startup. Their app was previously featured on The Colbert Report, NPR, and CBS. Within the past four years, Adams received the following accolades: Questbridge College Summer Prep Scholar and College Match Scholar, HOBY Leader, AP Scholar with Honor, POSSE Finalist, Ron Brown Finalist, and #2Philly4Francis Leader.

Adams will further his education at the University of Southern California during the fall of 2016. He has his mind set upon double majoring in Computer Science and Finance; he would like to use his computer programming skills, his education, and his language skill (German) to develop and program electronic stock trading algorithms in Frankfurt, Germany (the capital of European finance).

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Class of 2016

Alexander Iyabor

Hometown: Austell, GA

high school: Kennesaw Mountain HS

college: Stanford University

MAJOR: Electrical Engineering/Computer Science

Alexander Iyabor Jr, is a senior at Stanford University studying Computer Science with a specialty in Artificial Intelligence. As a Nigerian American immigrant he believes that his family’s sacrifices, hard work, and focus on education, gave him the opportunities he needed to excel and provided him with the work ethic and love of learning that would go on to become an integral part of his personality. From a young age it was clear that Alexander had the intelligence and talent to have a significant impact on the world. Due in no small part to his insatiable love of learning, he exhibited signs of success in every stage of his early life.

Alexander has spent most of his time pursuing technological interests. In freshman year of high school his programming project categorically won first place in a competition at Georgia Tech. He participated in a nine-month digital exploration program at General Electric. He spent most of his sophomore summer researching and developing quad-copters in an internship program at Georgia Tech’s Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory. As a junior he was selected for the prestigious MITES program, an intense residential six-week summer STEM program at MIT. In his senior year of high school he completed a robotics research internship and authored a paper under Dr. Ayanna Howard at Georgia Tech’s HumAnS lab.

Since entering college, Alexander has worked on various research and industry projects including, bioinformatics for cancer research, natural language processing in app development, chatbots for childhood learning, and artificial intelligence for club sports. He’s spent part of his free time as an educational officer for Stanford’s undergraduate AI group, playing club sports such as rugby, and studying abroad at Oxford University. He plans on continuing his education into graduate school and he hopes to dedicate his career to developing technological fields that have the capacity to dramatically improve the lives’ of others.

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Class of 2016

Vernon Johnson

Hometown: Dallas, TX

high school: JBS Law Magnet HS

college: Columbia University

MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering

Maturing in a low income and single parent household, Vernon Johnson learned the value of education and philosophical inquiry. Vernon’s passion for learning started early. In elementary school he loved to read, write, and study science. He was also involved in Talented and Gifted programs throughout elementary and middle school. Vernon’s family and teachers have provided the support network necessary for his success. Particularly, his elementary school track coach, Ernest Sims, served as a positive role model and constantly pushed him to succeed.

As a student at the Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet, Vernon cultivated an enthusiasm for philosophy and the legal profession. Vernon’s involvement in policy debate exposed him to a wide range of philosophies, including the works Jacques Lacan, Paulo Freire, Frantz Fanon, and other influential thinkers. The activity taught him the importance of agonism and how to use disagreement to foster the productive clash of ideas. Despite the lack of resources, Vernon and his partner, Crayton Gerst, consistently broke district records. They were the first in the history of the Dallas Independent School District to attend and qualify twice to the Tournament of Champions, the most prestigious and competitive high school debate tournament. Vernon and his partner were also the first in their school district to qualify twice and reach elimination rounds at the annual National Speech and Debate Association Tournament.

Vernon’s success and ambition, however, does not stop there. Vernon also served as a US Ambassador to Japan with the Tomodachi Initiative. He had the opportunity to visit Sendai and Tokyo, Japan to enhance the cultural understanding between Japan and the US. Vernon was also one of thirty two students to attend the Telluride Association Summer Program at Cornell University, a seminar centered upon interrogating the linkages between literature, philosophy, and American identity. The Telluride Program further influenced his interests in philosophy, critical theory, and cultural studies.

In addition, Vernon has consistently demonstrated leadership and dedication to community service. He founded the East Dallas Leadership Association to help mentor and tutor low income youth within his community. As President, Vernon emphasized the value of critical reflection and inquiry. He encouraged his fellow peers to interrogate the connections between education and larger structures of power. Vernon currently serves as President of the Townview Ambassadors, which is a student-led organization that assists in hosting school activities and community service projects. He also encourages environmentally friendly practices by participating in the Townview Recycling Club.

Vernon will attend Columbia University as an undergraduate. He plans to major in Mechanical Engineering and minor in Psychology. His undergraduate research will be oriented towards developing technologies to help combat climate change. Vernon plans to leverage his Psychology minor to interrogate the anxieties and drives that generate public apathy towards the climate problem. After achieving his undergraduate degree, Vernon plans to attend law school to become a patent attorney. His legal work will be dedicated to assisting innovators achieve patents for climate mitigation technologies. It is clear that will be an asset to both his community and society writ large.

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Class of 2016

Arinton Davis

Hometown: Winston-Salem, NC

high school: West Forsyth HS

college: Duke University

MAJOR: Genetics / Molecular Biology

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Arinton Davis has been raised in a single-parent household that highlights the ethic of hard work and the importance of education and intellectual curiosity. From a child he was taught that if you don’t know yourself and what you believe in, you will not succeed in life. He was also taught the importance of community and his responsibility to make a contribution to his community.

Arinton was born and raised in Louisiana but moved to Alabama at the age of seven and to North Carolina two years later. There, he has taken advantage of several educational opportunities made available to high-achieving students. While attending middle school, he enrolled in two online courses, Algebra I and Honors Geometry, offered by North Carolina Virtual Public School. His enjoyment of online learning and intellectual curiosity led to his enrollment in a Duke University MOOC entitled Introduction to Genetics and Evolution and to him successfully pursuing admission into the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) Online Program. His NCSSM concentration in computational science has resulted in him wanting to combine his interest in genetics with the skills he has learned online. As a NCSSM student, Arinton completed his own genetics research through the NCSSM Summer Accelerator program. His research was entitled RNAi of ERK Substrates in the RAS-RAF-ERK Pathway of C. elegans and was presented at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium (SNCURCS).

He was also selected to participate in the 2015-2016 MIT Online Science, Technology and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) program and learned how to be a successful science writer and mobile app developer. He attended the MOSTEC conference at MIT and took advantage of the opportunity to meet professors and students and to participate in molecular genetics and synthetic biology workshops. 

One of his greatest community service projects is being the Lead Tutor of the nationally known North Carolina Virtual Public School Peer Tutoring Center (NCVPS PTC). He has served as a NCVPS peer tutor since eighth grade. As a result of his commitment to peer tutoring, leadership and academic achievements, Arinton has been invited to speak at the 2016 North Carolina Collaborative Conference of Student Achievement.

Even though science is an important part of his life, Arinton will never stray far from his interests in music and sports. As a musician, Arinton plays the electric violin, cymbals, marimba, and synthesizer in his school’s marching band and is a member of the drumline. He is also Concertmaster in his school’s orchestra and has participated in the North Carolina All-State Honors Orchestra, the Western Regional Honors Orchestra, and the All-County Honors Orchestra. Classical music is how he relaxes with Antonio Vivaldi being his favorite composer. Arinton has run track since he was a child and is now experimenting with being a hurdler. His main events are the 400m, 200m and long jump.

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Class of 2016

Benjamin Bennington-Brandon

Hometown: Penn Laird, VA

high school: Spotswood HS

college: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MAJOR: Chemical Engineering

Ben Bennington has always wanted to be involved in different things. As a child, he spent summer days at poetry camps and technology programs, earned a black belt in martial arts, and played multiple sports. This desire to be involved has continued throughout his life, and he is now influential in many areas of his community, taking on leadership roles wherever and whenever possible.

A senior at Spotswood High School, Ben is the Senior Class Vice-President, National Honor Society Vice-President, Math Honor Society Officer, and a Captain on his football and track & field teams. Ben is an ambassador for Spotswood’s STARS Program, designed to prevent bullying across the school and bring students together. As the National Honor Society Vice-President, Ben’s senior year has consisted of an extensive fundraising effort to finance a Stop Hunger Now event at his high school; they have raised thousands of dollars this year in order to package meals for people in developing countries. Ben ranks second in his class and has received a Medallion each year, being recognized for academic excellence in the mathematics, science, english, and/or foreign languages departments.

As early as the first grade, Ben was interested in science and mathematics, helping his older sister with her homework. His interest in these subjects continued throughout his academic career, and Ben began attending the environmental science-based Massanutten Regional Governor’s School for half of his school day during his 11th grade year. This school offered unique resources and experiences unavailable at Ben’s home school and has allowed him time to work with a professor from James Madison University on two different chemical engineering projects over his junior and senior years. Through these projects and his experience at the Governor’s School, Ben has developed interests in chemistry, sustainable energy, and environmental protection, and he will study a combination of these subjects as an undergraduate.

Ben has also excelled athletically in multiple sports. For his senior season of football, he was named a first-team district and conference player in two positions, a second-team region player in two positions, and a Daily News Record All-Area player as a center. For his senior season of indoor track & field, he was the district & conference champion, he received all-region honors, and he finished second in the state for his classification in the shot put. Each season, Ben received the Scholar-Athlete Award and was a captain of his team, helping his peers and younger student-athletes develop.

In the summer of 2015, Ben attended √MathROOTS, a 12-day summer program hosted by MIT-PRIMES for promising high school students from underrepresented backgrounds or underserved communities who are interested in exploring creative topics in mathematics. After applying, Ben was accepted into MIT and plans to spend the next four years at the prestigious institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts studying chemical engineering.

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Class of 2016

Deja Chappell

Hometown: Montgomery, AL

high school: Loveless Academic Magnet Program HS

college: Yale University

MAJOR: Sociology / Women’s Studies / Foreign Affairs

Deja is from Montgomery, Alabama. She loves the radical possibilities that are always found in studying history, the environment, and global freedom struggles. Before matriculating at Yale, she studied Arabic in Morocco for a year as a NSLI-Y scholar. In New Haven, she has tutored with Refugee & Immigrant Student Education (RISE), worked against food apartheid with Love Fed New Haven, and coordinated public school programming for the Yale Sustainable Food Program.

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