Every student who received one of the 504 Elks National Foundation Most Valuable Student Scholarships is a star, brightening their communities through passion, service and knowledge. One of this year’s top winners, sponsored by Slidell, L.A., Lodge No. 2321, has truly astronomical dreams.
“My dreams are fed by celestial wonder, compelling me toward astrophysics as a means to serve to make our universe a bit less unexplained and a bit more knowable to all,” says Kaden Oquelí-White. “The confluence of life and its travails set my course from infancy to this very moment.”
Kaden plans on attending Columbia University to study astrophysics and pursue a career in academia. Though he is focused on the vastness of the cosmos, he seeks to have an impact much closer to home by using his education and experiences to engage diverse populations, specifically encouraging Latino students to pursue STEAM careers.
“I feel called to serve by utilizing my insights, education and experiences to reach and engage diverse populations of students of every age and provide them with the resources and tools integral to creating their pathway to STEM,” says Kaden.
He has already made headway into achieving his dreams through an internship with the NASA John C. Stennis Space Center/Infinity Science Center and another with Caltech and MIT’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, where he helps curate online and hands-on learning experiences for students.
“My fervent resolve to contribute astronomically to humanity and increase STEM field awareness is as infinite as the heaves themselves,” says Kaden. “I am a resolute young man who yearns to know and inclusively share the stars.”
Breana Fowler, sponsored by Salisbury, N.C., Lodge No. 699, also dreams of furthering the education of others, and she has already started by creating a Peer Mediation Program at her high school. The program allows students—who have been suspended or received other disciplinary action—access to a safe space led by trained mediators before or after an altercation occurs.
Students who finish the program by doing community service and completing a creative consequence, like a reflection essay, have the suspension or other repercussion permanently removed from their school record.
“The program allows students to come to peace with their past and recognize their feelings, not ignore them,” says Breana. “I am proud to say that more than three dozen students have completed the program so far, and it will be implemented into various schools, district-wide, this year.”
Breana will start at Spelman College this fall, where she will study education. She hopes to open her own boarding school and to influence education policy and curriculum by becoming the secretary of education, but that is a dream for the future.
“Right now, I am currently investing in myself, gathering all the tools and resources that are presented to me,” she says. “I believe that I am the change I am so desperately seeking, and I want to inspire others through advocacy, telling my journey, or simply demonstrating my passion to others.”
Breana and Kaden are two stars in the bright cosmos of Elks scholars whose empathy and passion can be learned from. They both earned $50,000 scholarships toward college by winning the top awards. The second-place winners, who earned $40,000 scholarships, are Jang Choe, sponsored by Henderson/Green Valley, Nev., Lodge No. 2802, and Florence Oniyuke, sponsored by Sanford, Fla., Lodge No. 1143. The third-place winners of $30,000 are Mohamed Ibrahim, sponsored by Fort Morgan, Colo., Lodge No. 1143, and Anita Zahiri, sponsored by New Orleans, L.A., Lodge No. 30.
For 2022-23, the Elks National Foundation allocated $2.8 million to fund the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, which includes 500 four-year scholarships ranging from $4,000 to $50,000. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, visit enf.elks.org/MVS.