21 High School Seniors Tapped as 2012 Milken Scholars

Published 07/25/2017 in Program Updates
Written 07/25/2017

Equipping talented young men and women with the resources to become "Lifelong Leaders for a Better World" is goal of Milken Scholars Program

Equipping talented young men and women with the resources to become "Lifelong Leaders for a Better World" is goal of Milken Scholars Program


SANTA MONICA, Calif. (July 13, 2012) – The Milken Family Foundation announces the selection of 21 high school seniors as 2012 Milken Scholars. Each Scholar receives a $10,000 scholarship plus opportunities for ongoing mentoring, counseling, assistance with internships, opportunities for community service, and access to a range of resources for their academic and professional careers.

"The remarkable young women and men who've been selected as Milken Scholars over the past 23 years have consistently worked to make the world a better place," said Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Michael Milken, who with his wife, Lori, instituted the program in 1989. "Whether they become doctors, research scientists, educators, entrepreneurs or diplomats, the common denominator of their pursuits has been a genuine sense of service. Lori and I look forward to working with our newest class of high-school graduates as they join the Scholars family to continue that spirit of accomplishment and contribution."


The 2012 Los Angeles Milken Scholars are:

  • Kennedy Agwamba, North Hollywood High School's Highly Gifted Magnet, will attend Harvey Mudd College


  • Victor Arechiga, South East High School, will attend Williams College


  • Shilpa Bhongir, Granada Hills Charter High School, will attend Occidental College


  • Lucky Ding, Agoura High School, will attend the University of California, Berkeley


  • Jasmine Fernandez, Eagle Rock High School, will attend Harvard


  • Nicholas Fine, Palos Verdes High School, will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology


  • Nhi Ho, Santa Monica High School, will attend the Harvard


  • Jacob Kim, Village Christian School, will attend Harvard


  • Joshua Lee, North Hollywood High School's Highly Gifted Magnet, will attend Wesleyan University


  • Joy Ohiomoba, Redondo Union High School, will attend the University of Southern California


  • Dennis Ojogho, Los Angeles High School, will attend Harvard


  • Vaneshia Reed, Middle College High School, will attend Harvard


  • David Wang, Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, will attend Harvard


  • Caitlin Zellers, Palos Verdes High School, will attend Dartmouth College



To take advantage of the outstanding academic opportunities offered at North Hollywood High School's Highly Gifted Magnet program, which only admits students who score above 99.5% on the IQ test, Kennedy Agwamba endures a four-hour commute via public transportation. "My teachers promise to push me to excel academically," he says. "The brilliant and bright students around me arouse an indescribable competitive nature that compels me to always do my best." Kennedy has amassed an impressive academic career with honors including National Merit Commended Scholar, National Achievement Scholar, AP Scholar with Honor, Questbridge College Prep Scholarship and National Match Finalist, POSSE Scholarship Finalist, and California Scholarship Federation gold seal bearer. Though his daily travels require a minimum of four buses and considerable walking, Kennedy is committed to fully immersing himself in the complete high school experience.


He is a member of the school's national award-winning Science Bowl A Team and the Ocean Science Bowl team. An interest in marine biology led Kennedy to co-found the school's Zoo Magnet QuickSCience team, which participates in a laborious competition to create lesson plans about environmental issues that affect marine environments. In addition to his extra-curricular science activities, Kennedy was vice president of the varsity speech and debate team, a violinist in the school's Advanced Orchestra, a staff member of the literary magazine, a member of the math club, and a starter on the championship junior varsity basketball team. Last summer, he conducted astronomy research at the Summer Science Program, a highly selective and prestigious program affiliated with Caltech and MIT. At Harvey Mudd College, Kennedy will study bioengineering and plans to pursue his doctorate in environmental science with an emphasis on marine biology.



Described by his Academic Decathlon coach as "one of the most talented young men I have had the privilege of teaching and coaching," Victor Arechiga has earned the respect of the staff as well as his classmates at South East High School. Teachers note that Victor "has the rare ability to shine as a leader in all of his pursuits," and his maturity and talents make him a motivating role model for his peers. His dedication and determination are evident in his involvement as co-captain of the Academic Decathlon team, a cabinet member of the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Club, an officer in the National Honor Society and Interact, co-founder of the chess club, and captain of a championship soccer team. He plays first trumpet in the mariachi club and volunteers as an after-school tutor. A summer internship at Kaiser Permanente cemented his interest in pursuing a career in stem cell research and cardiology. Victor will study molecular biology at Williams College.


Academic recognitions include the national High Honor Roll, POSSE Scholarship Finalist, Christopher Warren Scholarship Finalist, AP Scholar with Honor, and multiple titles in local and national Academic Decathlon competitions. Victor is co-president of Wise-Up!, a club that provides assistance to immigrants and is affiliated with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in LA.. He was one of two students in his school selected to lobby in Sacramento for the DREAM Act and shares, "I consider myself fortunate for living the life of a legal U.S. citizen, but it is for that reason that I fight for those who don't. Helping one another is the only way I believe our culture and community will prosper. I know I have a duty to help others."



With plans to serve as a foreign diplomat, Shilpa Bhongir will study international relations at Occidental College and enroll in the School's nationally recognized Diplomacy and World Affairs Program. This career choice is well matched for a student described as a "big picture person who skillfully finds the connections between lofty concepts and determines how they can be applied to the world around her." A teacher notes that "when Shilpa speaks, people listen and reflect on her ideas." He credits her demeanor and rapport with peers as the catalysts that initiated a learning environment in which students successfully worked together. Shilpa celebrates her family's heritage and culture through the study and performance of classical Indian dance and vocal music.


At Granada Hills Charter High School, Shilpa founded and serves as president of the One Voice club, an organization motivated to form a generation of charismatic leaders by instilling public speaking skills in youth. Members work with elementary students in the Boys and Girls Club of America. "One Voice has helped students and volunteers discover their own passions and given them the skills to follow their dreams," says Shilpa, and that "following my passion made me a leader." A club advisor adds, "Shilpa is hands down the strongest club leader I have ever had the pleasure of working with." An academic standout, Shilpa is a National Merit Commended Scholar, a recipient of the President's Award for Educational Excellence, an AP Scholar with Honor, a member of the National Honors Society and a Center for Future Global Leaders National Essay Winner. She is editor-in-chief of the newspaper, a varsity member of the Speech Team, and vice president of the school's American Red Cross chapter. Each month, she designs and edits the Granada Hills Chamber of Commerce newsletter.



Lucky Ding, a straight A student and Valedictorian at Agoura High School, is a National Merit Finalist, an AP Scholar with Honor, and a recipient of the school's Tradition of Excellence Award. This fall, she will study molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley with a goal to work on cures for immune diseases through the dual application of modern and traditional medicines. Lucky volunteers as a peer counselor and was recognized with the Outstanding Math Tutor Award by the Math Honor Society, an organization for which she serves as senior vice president. Passionate about karate, she earned a second degree black belt and co-founded a program teaching martial arts to pre-schoolers. "I take the greatest pride in teaching karate to children in my neighborhood. Helping them reach their potential, both on and off the mat," shares Lucky, "is the greatest way I can give back to my community." A counselor observed that Lucky's martial arts training "is incorporated into every aspect of her life."


Fluent in Chinese, English and Spanish, Lucky spent the summer of 2011 as an English translator and teaching assistant at an elementary school in Taiyuan, China. Working in such an unfamiliar environment helped her develop a level of confidence born from savoring the possibilities that come with new experiences. "Today," says Lucky, "I welcome the unpredictable possibilities that my future holds in store for me, and I look forward to beginning a new adventure on my own. I will not lose myself, for I have the self-assurance and tolerance necessary to guide me through unfamiliar terrains." She learned "the value of real self-confidence is the ability to find humor and courage in uncertain situations."



Valedictorian of Eagle Rock High School's Gifted Magnet Program, Jasmine has maintained a perfect 4.0. In passing 10 Advanced Placement exams with scores of 4s and 5s, she earned the distinction of AP National Scholar, the highest AP award possible. Her outstanding academic record was recognized with a President's Education Award for Educational Achievement. "Jasmine is simply exceptional," says the science department chair. "She is the quintessential intellectual and the type of student that all teachers dream of having in class." Another teacher notes that Jasmine's "ability to grasp difficult concepts is at as high a level as I've ever encountered in my years teaching AP English courses."


To raise awareness of the impacts of new budget cuts and regulations on the student body, Jasmine founded and is president of the Student Voice Coalition. For three years, she has volunteered as a mentor for junior high and freshman students. As varsity captain of the volleyball team, Jasmine has been honored as Scholar-Athlete, L.A. Volleyball Coaches Association Academic Player of the Year Award, Captain of the Senior All-Star Team, Northern League Player of the Year, and California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Honorable Mention. For Jasmine, "Volleyball isn't merely about scoring points; it is about setting a goal and working with ‘focused intensity' toward achieving it. The importance of the sport doesn't come with ‘the winning point' or championship game, but rather the work that we as a team put in to bring it all to fruition." Leading her volleyball team helped Jasmine learn to not hold back when setting her goals. She now "strives for the best, and to be the best." Jasmine will study neurobiology at Harvard.



After 47 years of educating students, a Palos Verdes High School engineering teacher states, "Nicholas is the most mechanically capable student I have ever taught and his ability to form a concept, draw it up, make a prototype and turn out exemplary finished products is absolutely remarkable." A physics teacher adds, "When teaching Nicholas, whether as [a] teacher or science club advisor, it always feels as if I am working with a colleague. In every school project, Nicholas instinctively conducts himself in ways that seek to make the whole experience better for everyone." His leadership talents are evident, as he is an award-winning member and captain of the Science Olympiad's engineering team who led a team of 20 students in the construction of a solar powered boat that took third place in a California-wide tournament. His craftsman skills include glassblowing and multiple certifications in welding.


Nicholas' academic recognitions include National Merit Finalist and AP Scholar. Although an injury curtailed his participation in cross country, Taekwondo and soccer, he is thankful to be able to serve as an American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) referee. With a personal philosophy to "never let an obstacle delay me longer than it takes to devise a way to circumnavigate it," Nicholas thrives on challenges and doesn't put limitations on himself. When inspired to construct his own musical instrument, he read a few books on the subject and then built two electric guitars and a ukulele. His career ambition is to work in the prosthetic design of human limbs and he has already thought deeply about how to approach the complex issues involved. In the fall, Nicholas will enter the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study mechanical engineering.



In the nine years since Nhi Ho arrived in the United States from Vietnam, she has distinguished herself as an exceptional scholar and communitarian. She attributes her experiences as an immigrant in helping her to become self-reliant and value her native culture more, and cites her independent identity and willingness to learn as her greatest assets. A straight-A student at Santa Monica High School, Nhi scored a perfect 800 on both the Biology-M (Molecular) and Math Level 2 SAT II exams. She is a National Merit Commended Student, an AP Scholar with Honor, and a member of the National Honor Society. In addition to taking college level courses while in high school, she pursued and received scholarships for summer language programs in China and Germany. Another summer was spent studying computer programming in biophysics and robotics at the University of California, Davis. Nhi will enter Harvard to study biomedical engineering; as for career goals, she aspires to be a pediatrician.


A member of the Academic Decathlon program, Nhi chose biology as her specialty and earned the prestigious recognition of U.S.A. Biology Olympiad National Finalist. Her coach observes, "When Nhi sets a goal, she will not be deterred." Nhi is principal violist for her high school orchestra and participated in the California Honor String Orchestra, a member of both the solar cup and electric car competition teams, and president of the Invisible Children Club which raises awareness on global issues. Through her involvement with Team Marine, a student group that raises awareness about marine debris and climate change crises, she became part of a legislative-changing movement to ban single-use plastic bags. "I had wished for change, worked for change, and change did happen," she says. "My experience with Team Marine showed me that change would happen if I pushed for it."



In sharing a personal insight, Village Christian Schools' Salutatorian Jacob Kim offers, "The most important thing I have learned is the difficulties and challenges I have faced did not make me who I am – they revealed who I always was." A confident, intensely curious and hard-working student, "Jacob is off the charts with his involvement in meaningful activities," cites a science teacher. "He is very passionate about service projects and wants to become a philanthropist." Through his involvement with the ChangePoint Ministry Leadership Council, Jacob leads a worship band and provides underserved children with free guitar lessons. Each summer he organizes a free children's day camp and cooks meals for the poor.


Jacob's energetic leadership was instrumental in his success as Key Club president in "taking the club from oblivion to the most enthusiastic club on campus." For three years, he served as the Associated Student Body class president. He is an AP Scholar with Honor and a California Scholarship Federation Seal Bearer. His academic record of all A's and a perfect score of 800 on the Biology-M (Molecular) and Math Level 2 SAT II exams is a testament to Jacob's intelligence and drive. A science teacher observes that "Jacob persistently and boldly asks questions, never concerned what his peers might think, until he fully understands the concept." A genuine scholar/athlete, Jacob, who captains the tennis team, has twice received MVP recognitions and was selected as an All-Olympic League First Team Doubles Player. In the summer of his junior year he co-founded a clothing business, Little Guy Apparel. This fall Jacob heads to Harvard to study economics or computer science.



Joshua Lee's career goals are focused on urban planning. By bringing green spaces to cities, he intends to combine the best of urban and rural environments and bridge the gap between cultures in inner cities across America. Interning at the K.W. Lee Center for Leadership opened Joshua's eyes about what he could do politically to advance a goal that he strongly supports. Peers at the Center presented him with a People's Choice Award for his exceptional interpersonal skills, dedication to his community and leadership abilities. Joshua's community service efforts, such as the publication of a report representing the lost voice of youth in the development of city parks, merited the prestigious national President's Volunteer Service Award. His enthusiasm and passion for the community positively influence and inspire everyone around him, observes a teacher. "Joshua proactively serves as an example for other students to follow as he shows genuine interest in the well-being of his community.


At Wesleyan University, he will pursue environmental studies, economics and possibly pre-law. A top student in North Hollywood High School's extremely competitive Highly Gifted Magnet program, Joshua has been recognized as a National Merit Commended Scholar, an AP Scholar with Distinction and a Questbridge Finalist. Teachers note that he is a student of the highest caliber and "is unusually bright, a virtue that he reinforces with a solid work ethic and affable maturity." His extensive and varied extracurricular activities include senior Boy Scouts patrol leader, award-winning member of the school's Model United Nation's team, a Mock Trial prosecution lawyer, and a lead drummer and dancer in a traditional Korean drumming ensemble. Joshua credits his mother's spirit and actions as the catalyst for "empowering me to pour my heart and soul into all of my efforts, to make the most of every opportunity, and to live a life through service."



As a seven-year-old, Joy was caught in the midst of a murderous riot in Nigeria. "Though this experience traumatized me, it taught me the power of a single voice," shares Joy. "I decided that I want to be that person who acknowledges and tries to fix a problem when I see one. My passion for helping others fuels my mission to be that voice and my high school service experiences are only the beginning in fulfilling this life-long mission." At Redondo Union High School Joy helped make a difference by creating a People to People International Student Chapter, where she was instrumental in teaching others about cultural differences and current events. She was also selected as a Safe School Ambassador, where she uses conflict mediation and intervention skills to improve the school climate.


Joy's volunteerism earned her recognition as a Prudential Spirit of the Community Award Honoree. Faculty chose Joy for induction in the Ivy Chain, an honor given only to top students who demonstrate excellence in academics and school service. Joy is an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Society of High School Scholars Ambassador, and a member of Cervantes, the national Honorary Hispanic Society. She was copy editor of the newspaper and captained the junior varsity tennis team. Joy will be the first in her family to attend college when she enters the University of Southern California to study global health and journalism. Her experiences as a Wallis Annenberg Scholar at USC's Summer Seminar Program cemented her intention to pursue a career in medicine. While shadowing doctors at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles, Joy was inspired by the young patients who she describes as heroes. She shares, "The kids' smiles, laughs, resilience are forever etched in my memory. They truly exemplify the idea of smiling in the face of adversity."



"From my mother's village in Lagos, Nigeria to the Salesian Boys and Girls Club in Boyle Heights, I am who I am because of the people and community who nurtured me," states Dennis Ojogho, a student at Los Angeles High School. He will attend Harvard to study political science. "Even though I hope to enter the scene of national politics someday, I am forever tied to the people and the community who made me who I am." It is Dennis' lifetime goal to build more Boys and Girls Clubs around Los Angeles because he believes that a loving environment will foster tomorrow's leaders. Dennis's volunteerism with the Boys and Girls Clubs of L.A. County earned him the distinction of Co-Youth of the Year. For four years, he has served as a Youth Representative for the Boyle Heights Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community and was instrumental in helping pass a city-wide ordinance to address the problem of inhalant abuse.


Dennis founded the Wells Bring Hope club to raise awareness about the lack of clean drinking water in West Africa and is a Teach Africa Student Leader. His academic recognitions include National Merit Commended Scholar, AP Scholar with Honor, and recipient of a national Nordstrom Scholarship. He co-captains the varsity basketball team and is a local shot put league champion. His peers selected him to represent their class on the School Site Council. Teachers note that Dennis is a highly intelligent young man of "integrity, self-discipline and remarkable energy."As editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, Dennis shares, "being involved in the production of our school's first newspaper in nearly a decade has placed an unprecedented level of responsibility on my shoulders, but it's also opened a world of opportunity."



Senior Class President and Valedictorian at Middle College High School (MCHS), Vaneshia Reed also graduated with an Associate's Degree from Los Angeles Southwest College. While a student at the college, Vaneshia's academic record merited both the Dean's Honor Award and the President's Honor Award. She also served as the commissioner for MCHS on the college's Associated Student Organization. "A leader among her peers, Vaneshia leads by example with her strength of character," observes an English teacher. He adds, "She has let no challenge undermine her ambitions or her abilities. I know she will do great things in her life." Vaneshia, who will be the first in her family to attend college, will study neurobiology at Harvard.


As an intern and teaching assistant at the Charles Drew University Saturday Summer Academy II, Vaneshia gained an appreciation of the value of an education from a teacher's perspective. "I am proud to be a part of students' learning experience and realizations that they can become whatever it is they want to be in life." In helping "inspire young children to break through the glass ceiling and set higher expectations for themselves," Vaneshia found personal inspiration as well. Described by her mentor as a natural leader, "Vaneshia is fueled by a love of learning and broad interest. She embraces the opportunities presented to her. Instead of letting obstacles hold her back, they drive her to seek solutions and change for the better. It is not surprising that Vaneshia has become an influential voice at school and in all of her activities." Vaneshia, who conceptualizes ways to oppose injustices, believes that respect begins with self-respect and that self-respect ultimately can lead to justice on a global scale. "She is an exemplar of self-respect and personal responsibility."



David Wang, Valedictorian of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, "is in a league of his own," says an English teacher. "He has an innate drive to aim big, whether he is working to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, earn the position of top scorer in Academic Decathlon, head a winning Model United Nations debate team, or merit first place in an essay contest." A National Merit Finalist, Presidential Scholar, and National Latin Exam Gold Medalist, David is also a member of the National Honor Society, National Science Honors Society, Mu Alpha Theta Honors Society, National History Honors Society, and the National Latin Honors Society. He maintained a record of straight A's and scored a perfect 2400 on his SAT I exam. Teachers use his work as models for other students. "David is an academic star, but his feet are firmly planted on earth. He will rise to the top of any pursuit and make a difference on this planet." This fall, David heads to Harvard to study regenerative biology.


As a student researcher at the University of California, Davis and the University of California, Los Angeles, David co-authored multiple papers and was selected as a speaker at a research symposium. A science teacher shares, "David's excellence across his spectrum of interests demonstrates his intellectual versatility. His achievements outside the classroom only serve to more vividly highlight his academic prowess and promise." David looks to his father as a source of inspiration. "From learning of the incredible challenges he faced and overcame as a child living through grinding poverty in China, I developed an irrepressible work ethic, trusting in the eternal currency of sweat and effort to achieve the goals I set for myself."



Caitlin Zellers has been a competitive sailboat racer since the fifth grade and is a member of the King Harbor Youth Foundation Junior Racing Team. "For me," says Caitlin, "sailing is not simply a sport, nor the whipping of the winds and the crashing of the waves a vehicle for relaxation. Sailing to me is the harmony of emotions flowing with the will of the wind. There is something special about becoming one with a force of nature as large as the ocean; it puts things in perspective." Caitlin is a positive force of nature at Palos Verdes High School, where she is a National Merit Commended Scholar, AP Scholar with Distinction, winner of the Dartmouth Book Award, and a California Scholarship Federation Seal Bearer.


She is editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, a Spanish Honors Society club officer, and her debating skills in the Model United Nations program earned her the title of Best Delegate. Her journalism advisor notes, "Caitlin's industrious and responsible attitude makes her the ideal staff member. In my 16 years of teaching, I have seldom worked with such a mature and talented student as Caitlin." A chemistry teacher notes, "Caitlin's attitude, focus, motivation, and sense of purpose, while not so very different from her high-achieving peers, somehow set her apart. Her problem-solving ability is exceptional but her modesty prevents other students from knowing how brilliant she really is." Through heart-breaking adversity, Caitlin has learned "how strong I really am and to live the life that I want to and to give it a purpose." This fall, Caitlin will study environmental science at Dartmouth College. She is interested in approaching the issue of healthy eating and nutrition through sustainable agriculture and gardens.


The 2012 New York City Milken Scholars are:

  • Abdel Ahmed, Bard High School Early College II, will attend Polytechnic Institute of New York University


  • Maryama Diaw, The Young Women's Leadership School, will attend Dartmouth College


  • Michael Glasser, Regis High School, will attend Wesleyan University


  • Valencia Lewis, Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, will attend the University of Pennsylvania


  • Juliansito Perez, High School at American Studies at Lehman College, will attend Princeton University


  • Hankyul (Laura) Song, The Brooklyn Latin School, will attend Vassar College


  • Ashley Vourakis, Bronx High School of Science, will attend Harvard University



When Abdel Ahmed enters the Polytechnic Institute of New York University to study computer science, he will be on familiar territory. Since eighth grade, Abdel has spent 24 weekends a year in classes taught by NYU faculty as part of the University's Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP). His participation culminated in a first place award at the 14th Annual STEP Conference. Teachers at the highly competitive Bard High School Early College II in Queens praise Abdel's exceptional intellectual abilities and note that he is a top performer in all subjects. Abdel's independent study professor observed, "Abdel's mathematical maturity and thinking are at par with very good juniors at a four-year university. A math teacher shares that Abdel "easily sees the big picture behind the mechanics and has the ability to remain patient with any problem he is trying to solve."


A passion for mathematics was his inspiration as a founding member of the school's Math Team. In his theory for redesigning math instruction, students should spend more time focused on relevance and less time on computation. Abdel's compassion for others is evidence