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20 Bush Institute Scholars Who Made a Difference in 2020

Our Scholars inspire us every day with the incredible work they are doing and the profound impact they are making across the globe. Here, we’re highlighting 20 Scholars who have had particular achievements in 2020.

Article by Katie Kardell December 18, 2020 //   10 minute read

The Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program

Lauren Augustine, Class of 2019

As Vice President of Government Affairs for Student Veterans of America, Lauren Augustine played a crucial role in creating and testifying for the passing of two bipartisan bills, Restoring Education Access for Student Veterans Act H.R. 6322and Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, H.R. 7105. These extraordinary packages of veteran’s legislation address some of the most important issues raised by SVA chapter leaders in recent years and ensure that COVID-19-related changes and closures in Higher Education do not negatively impact the ability of student veterans to take advantage of the benefits they have earned. 

Richard Casper, Stand-To Class of 2018 and Jeremy Valdez, Team 43 W100 Alum 2015, Stand-To Class of 2019

Did you know you can ask Alexa to play music by veterans? That’s thanks to Richard Casper, Co-Founder of Creativets, and Jeremy Valdez of Amazon’s Military Affairs. The two worked together to forge a partnership with Amazon Music and Creativets. Learn more about the partnership, Amazon’s work with veterans, and how Casper is reaching his goal of helping veterans heal through music and creativity.

The Liberty and Leadership Program

Nay Lin Tun, Class of 2017

Burma has some of the fewest COVID-19 medical resources in the world. Living in one of the most conflict affected areas of Burma, Nay Lin Tun spent his year raising awareness about COVID-19 among some of the most vulnerable communities in the Rakhine State. His organization, The Center for Social Integrity, led four COVID-19 prevention projects in Buthidaung, Maungtaw, and Rathedaung Townships in Rahkine State, and he also served as a volunteer doctor. Learn more.

Vijayar, Class of 2020

As leader of the Jamoi Foundation, Vijayar works to encourage hope in local youth by giving them an opportunity to pursue a quality education internationally. They are encouraged to follow their passions, contribute to their communities, and to bring positive changes to Burma. On December 6, 2020, Jamoi provided its first ever certification to 10 successful students. All of these students serve their relative communities by teaching English and Mon language. Because of Jamoi, two students will join the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) as interns in Yangon, one student is preparing to study abroad, two students are working with the Mi organization - a shelter for girl and women victims of any kind violence in Mon State, Burma, and the others will begin interning for Jamoi.

Aung Kyaw Moe, Class of 2017

This past year, Aung Kyaw Moe continued his work as a human rights activist, an advocate for the Rohingya people, and a leader in the humanitarian response effort for Rakhine. As Founder and Executive Director of Center for Social Integrity, Aung Kyaw Moe ensured continuous emergency humanitarian support for over 18,000 people throughout 2020 and put together a COVID-19 awareness and response campaign that reached over 85,000 people. Through this campaign, he was able to distribute 100,000 reusable masks, 100,000 surgical marks, 100,000 liters of hand soap, and installed hundreds of hand washing stations in public places - targeting the most vulnerable area of Rakhine.

Phyoe Phyoe Aung and James, Class of 2015

In 2020, Phyoe Phyoe Aung and James faced two major challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic and James' unexpected arrest for his former political-related case. However, despite these challenges they were able to continue their reconciliation programs, which build trust among different diverse youths. They also focused on Alumni follow-up (regional-based activities, networking, and gathering) via online platforms, which enabled them to conduct research on alumni about youth space of reconciliation, and reinforced training and lecture to strengthen their long-term participation within the Nation Building Process.

Salai David, Class of 2016

Starting in 2018, Salai David led the Burma’s first Parliamentary Internship Programme (MPIP), which seeks opportunities for two-month internship experiences with members of Parliaments in Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. These opportunities teach young leaders the function of parliaments, the bill-making process, data management skills, and research skills, and also gives them the opportunity to visit relative constituencies. In 2020, MPIP alumni were elected in the general election. Salai David calls this one of the major achievements of his career.

WE-Lead

Nadia Zrelli, Class of 2019

Nadia describes 2020 as, “An exceptional year rich in learning, exchanges and sharing.” During 2020, she had the opportunity to serve Tunisia as a consultant to the government and to the World Bank. Thanks to this mandate, she was able to participate in the development of public-private partnerships, and advance not only the functioning of state structures, but also their importance as a pillar to the economic development of the country.

Noha Elsebaie, Class of 2019

This year, Noha worked on a project in Egypt that aims at reducing inter-religious tensions through the activities of religious and community leaders. These activities include spreading peace messages and participating in conflict mediation. The project also works to improve trust and cooperation through youth activities, such as peace camps, trips, and initiatives for adolescents and connector projects for youth.  

Farah Abu Shammah, Class of 2019

While 2020 proved to be astoundingly different than anyone expected, Farah Abu Shammah was able to use lockdowns and travel restrictions in Jordan as a chance to pursue her passion as an economic justice project manager, and to pursue her personal leadership project that she started through her time in the Bush Institute’s WE Lead program. She was able to start her small, handmade business, “Taraheeb,” where she empowers women in marginalized areas through art, creativity, and culture. Farah has used her mentor’s words, “The danger has passed and the masks have fallen” as inspiration. 

The Presidential Leadership Scholars Program

Daniel Anello, Class of 2015

CEO of Kids First Chicago Daniel Anello has described 2020 as “one of the most challenging years in our lifetime.” He notes that it has “exposed and deepened inequities in our society’s fabric” – yet, that it has also ignited a new commitment to meaningful change. Anello helped to spark that change in his community by developing a proposal for a “community-based, sponsored internet service program,” based on a Kids First Chicago report that found that nearly half of households in the Chicago area didn’t have broadband at home. This eventually led to the Mayor of Chicago providing a plan to provide free internet to 100,000 Chicago children. Read more.

Roya Mahboob, Class of 2019

Founder of the “Afghan Dreamers,” a female robotics team, Roya Mahboob worked with her team of young girls to build hand-operated, low cost COVID-19 ventilators. The ventilators use a design from MIT and old Toyota Corolla parts to function. Learn more about the Afghan Dreamers and their incredible efforts here.

Daron Roberts, Class of 2015

Daron Roberts debuted his book, A Kids Book About Empathy, which incorporates experiences he has had as a Black man in the U.S. and lectures he’s given to his students. The book defines empathy as “when you stand in someone else’s shoes. It’s when you feel with someone who is experiencing something that’s hard, sad, or scary.” You can find Daron’s latest book on Oprah’s 2020 Christmas list.

Nona Jones, Class of 2016

Nona Jones, head of Faith-Based Partnerships for Facebook, has been a leader in Facebook creating a new online resource hub for churches needing connectivity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Faith on Facebook Resource Hub” offers five steps churches can take to build an authentic faith community on the social platform. Find the Faith on Facebook Toolkit here.

Byron Sanders, Class of 2017

Named one of the 500 most influential leaders in North Texas, and one of the Dallas Business Journal’s Most Inspiring Leaders of 2020, CEO of Big Thought Byron Sanders has worked through the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that kids are still learning the skills they’ll need to be successful in the future. Learn more about Big Thought.

Russ Kavalhuna, Class of 2016

President of Henry Ford College Russ Kavalhuna executed a partnership with Eastern Michigan University that provides an affordable path toward a four-year degree to frontline workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership builds on Governor Whitmer and the state of Michigan’s “Future for Frontliners” scholarship program. Read more about the first-of-its-kind partnership.  

Chequan Lewis, Class of 2018

In August, Pizza Hut announced the appointment of Chequan Lewis as its first ever Chief Equity Officer. The establishment of this new, critical role served as a first step in delivering on the company’s commitment to advance equity and create meaningful change.

Learn more about Chequan and his new role.  

Michael Hole, Class of 2019

As Founding Advisor of Good Apple, Michael Hole helped his team navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant increase of demand the program saw. Before the pandemic, Good Apple had 50 active subscribers. Today, the organization has delivered over 750,000 pounds of healthy food to over 24,000 older adults and people with weak immune systems. By hiring local residents who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, Good Apple was able to keep up with their growth and even partner with the City of Austin by delivering healthy food to older adults and people with chronic illnesses in quarantine.