Five North Carolina Members of Congress Celebrate Youth Achievement in Virtual Award Ceremony

North Carolina – December 14, 2020Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), Congressman Dan Bishop (NC-09), Congressman Ted Budd (NC-13), Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (NC-05), and Congressional Award Board Member, Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-08), today recognized youth achievement in the Tar Heel State during the first-ever virtual awards ceremony held by the Congressional Award Foundation.

Members of Congress, Medalists, and guests gather via Zoom to participate in the ceremony.

The 2020 Virtual North Carolina Statewide Ceremony honored 59 youth across the state for personal goal-setting and volunteerism in their communities. The shift to a virtual format allowed more Members of Congress to attend than ever before and provided them with the chance to personally congratulate their young constituents across the state.

Each youth recipient set and achieved goals in four program areas – Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. This year’s group contributed 23,712 hours of service to their communities, an average of 402 hours per medalist.

“I wish we could all be together in-person to honor your accomplishments during this challenging time. However, I know our future is bright because of your efforts,” stated Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-08). “You are all the best of our country, and I’m thankful for your work to make your communities and our country better.”

Following Congressman Hudson was his co-host for the event, Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), who commended the students for their efforts amidst the pandemic. “The strength you have displayed in earning this award during this period of adversity is immense and admirable.” She continued with words of encouragement stating, “Don’t stop here. Take the lessons you’ve learned on your Congressional Award journey and apply them to building a better and brighter future.”

The ceremony was made possible by title sponsor, Smithfield Foods.

“Smithfield Foods’ sustained support of The Congressional Award reflects our commitment to the same values that the Award upholds,” said Mike Skahill, Vice President of Government Affairs at Smithfield Foods and Congressional Award Foundation board member. “Each of the Congressional Award recipients dedicates themselves in service to their local communities, a parallel to the importance we place on supporting our neighbors in the communities we call home. We are proud to support all of these efforts that help build a stronger tomorrow for everyone.”

The Congressional Award aims to foster principles of good citizenship and equip the next generation of leaders with tools to succeed. The program offers a superlative experience to include on resumes and college applications and makes goal-setting and service to others a habit for the youth who earn an Award. In recent months, The Congressional Award has shifted its priority to offer virtual programming for its participants and encourages youth to work on their goals in safe ways.

“While virtual programming has been a challenging adjustment, we are excited that we can use the increased accessibility of these virtual spaces to reach more students, more Members of Congress, and provide more opportunities for youth despite the obstacle of staying at home.” stated Erica Heyse, National Director of The Congressional Award Foundation.

Kayla Anderson of Harrisburg, NC was one of the Silver Medalists presented at the ceremony.

Kayla Anderson displays her Congressional Award Bronze and Silver Medals.

“As I look back on these past two years of participating in The Congressional Award, I can say that my participation was very rewarding. It allowed me to become more involved in my community and to invest in myself. This Award is a symbol of my all-around growth.” said Anderson.

A video recording of the event is available to view.

A copy of the ceremony program is available to view and download.

These, along with the full listing of medalists and their hometowns can be found on our website.

The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ only charity and the highest honor bestowed upon a youth civilian through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Established by Congress as a public-private partnership in 1979 under Public Law 96-114, the program recognizes initiative, service, and achievement in youth ages 13 ½ – 23.


The Congressional Award and Intuit Launch Personal Finance Program to Help Teens From All Backgrounds ‘Own their Financial Futures’

Contact: Bethie Woodall






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Washington, DC (October 22, 2020) —Intuit, maker of TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint, and the Congressional Award Foundation (CAF) strengthened their commitment to student leaders of diverse economic and social backgrounds, in coordination with CAF’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative, by launching a new program to help youth take ownership of their financial futures.

The two organizations announced their collaboration, which will address the knowledge-gap in personal finance and prepare tomorrow’s increasingly diverse workforce with the tangible skills and attributes necessary to excel in their professional and personal futures. This collaboration with Intuit will be the founding corporate partnership of CAF’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative.  The program aims to provide benefits that are inclusive of those in under-served communities across the nation.

“Financial literacy is a critical skill needed to be successful in today’s job market and in the future. Many young people, including those in economically challenged communities, would benefit from increasing their financial literacy to better prepare them for future jobs. We’re proud to partner with the Congressional Award Foundation to empower the next generation to build strong skills that prepare them for future success,” said Chris Leahy, Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, and Chief Public Policy Officer at Intuit.

In the spirit of CAF’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative, the program is open to all youth regardless of ability, circumstance, and socioeconomic status. The personal finance program will help students build critical financial knowledge, develop and apply their skills using project based learning activities using real world tools, and enforcing their learnings by volunteering their time to give back to their community.” As part of the program, students will also be encouraged to volunteer their time to give back to their communities.

Participants of the Congressional Award program, current and previous, are encouraged to utilize these resources to hone their money management skills, regardless of where they are starting off.  Whether a student is complete beginner or has experience managing personal finances, the Congressional Award and Intuit have created a program to help those of any background gain expertise for a more secure financial future.

The online Financial Literacy Center consists of four main playlists – Financial Foundations, Investing in your Future, Building Financial Capability, and Adulting.  Each playlist hosts interactive modules and lessons for youth to make their way through as they review topics from how a credit card works, to budgeting, to homeownership, retirement, and more.

The new partners are optimistic that exposure to different simulations, lessons, and curriculum resources will ignite students’ passions and interests in money management.  The program will also create a path for upward mobility for students who may not have access to these resources on their own.

“We are so pleased to offer our medalists and aspiring medalists the opportunity to take control of their future in this way,” said Erica Heyse, National Director of the Congressional Award Foundation. “The program aims to help students implement financial management strategies through a seamless, simple, and fun process.  Our participants can take what they learn from these lessons and apply it to their real lives at a young age.  The impact this can have is immeasurable.”

Partnership Launch

The Congressional Award and Intuit announced their partnership during the 2020 Virtual Gold Medal Ceremony. The announcement directed the class of 478 Gold Medalists to complete the modules as they prepare to graduate high school and college and head off into the workforce.

During the event, medalists also heard from Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut’s 4th congressional district.  Congressman Himes, a member of the Financial Services Committee, has made it a priority throughout his political career to help American consumers, support small businesses, and assist middle- class families through policy.  “These modules that have been crafted by Intuit and the Congressional Award Foundation will provide immense opportunity for upward mobility in our country’s youth,” says Himes. “All Americans should have the chance to feel secure with their finances, become homeowners, or start small businesses to help grow our economy.  Learning about these principles at a young age is extremely advantageous to individual financial success and to our economy as a whole.”

About The Congressional Award

The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ only charity and the highest honor bestowed upon a youth civilian through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Established by Congress as a public-private partnership in 1979 under Public Law 96-114, the program recognizes initiative, service, and achievement in youth ages 13 ½ – 23.

About Intuit

Intuit’s mission is to power prosperity around the world. We are a mission-driven, global financial platform company with products including TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint and Turbo, designed to empower consumers, self-employed and small businesses to improve their financial lives. Our platform and products help customers get more money with the least amount of work, while giving them complete confidence in their actions and decisions. Our innovative ecosystem of financial management solutions serves more than 50 million customers worldwide. Please visit us for the latest news and in-depth information about Intuit and its brands and find us on social. Learn more about our education programs at:



Feel Good News: COVID-19 Edition

Have your own Feel Good News story to share? Submit here.

Gold Medalist shrinks the PPE deficit by hand-making over 600 masks

Eunice Lee, a high school junior from Reseda, California, is addressing the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) one stitch at a time.

She assembled and mailed an initial 235 kits, each containing 2 masks, disposable gloves, sanitizing wipes, and a heartfelt letter. Eunice soon found herself out of money and materials to continue so she set up a GoFundMe for her cause. Within a matter of weeks the project was revitalized by generous donors.

“I studied in the morning and spent my afternoons and many nights making masks. The process was undoubtedly tedious but it was worth every minute.” Eunice’s masks have been sent to pandemic epicenters all around the world like California, Germany, Italy, Korea, and New York.


16-year-old pilot flies medical supplies to rural hospitals

TJ Kim has turned his flying lessons into missions of mercy, bringing desperately needed supplies to rural communities in need. Dubbed “Operation SOS — Supplies Over Skies, TJ carries gloves, masks, gowns, and other equipment to small hospitals. “Every hospital is hurting for supplies, but it’s the rural hospitals that really feel forgotten.” TJ has been featured on AP News, NBC Nightly News: Kids Edition, and WSLS.

Siblings create non-profit to raise funds and support for local organizations

Annie and Jaime Wang moved from Texas to Hawaii in 2018. They were shocked to see how prevalent the homeless population was in Honolulu. To address the issue, the siblings established Support Hawaii Keiki, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on bringing help, hope, and happiness to homeless families.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wangs launched a fundraising campaign to purchase over 400 medical masks and make a donation to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children to show their support to health professionals working on the front line.

Teen delivers surprise gift bags to local doctors & nurses

13-year-old Charles Hoppe delivered gift bags to Advent Health doctors and nurses in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Each bag included a drink, snacks, and a special letter of encouragement. “I’d been reading about COVID-19 and I know that everybody here is at a great risk and I wanted to do this to show my appreciation.” Read more.

Silver Medalist creates non-contact food and essentials delivery service

“Teens Helping Seniors” is an organization that aims to provide no-contact grocery deliveries to senior citizens and other vulnerable populations. Dhruv Pai of Potomac, Maryland says he started the organization when he saw a need that hit close to home. His grandparents were scared to leave their home to go grocery shopping, so he offered to help. That’s when he realized other people might be in a similar situation. Learn more about Dhruv’s work.

‘Performing a civic duty’

Simoni Mishra works with children from other schools in Montgomery County, Maryland to create Personal Protective Equipment to deliver to the county office. She makes and delivers 25 masks in each batch. “The email from county officials shows the desperate need for PPE. And emergency workers do so much for us…this is a tiny contribution from my part to do my civic duty.” In addition, Simoni also sends inspirational video messages to nearby seniors and the elderly care center where she volunteers.

Zachery deploys traveling library service for COVID-19 relief

Through his own service project, Gustine Traveling Library, Zachery Ramos is distributing free vegetables to those in need, free water to a local elderly home, and making masks to give out to fieldworkers and first responders to keep them safe. Zachery’s team has provided 100 gallons of water, 30+ plus bags of vegetables, and 50 masks already!

Song = Therapy

The world around us is changing every second. Anjali Sanghavi of Fairfax, Virginia felt that as a high school student there was only so much she could do to help others while staying safe at the same time. So she decided to do the thing she loves the most…sing! Anjali assembled a group of singer friends and called all of her family and friends to put together a message for those on the frontline fighting the coronavirus. She has shared her message of hope with hospitals, medical professionals, senior homes, and those who are alone during this crisis in hopes that it “makes them feel not so alone!”

Teen shares science lessons online

Before the quarantine, Dhruv Balaji created an organization called Spectrum Robotics to teach robotics to children with autism through in-person sessions. He brought together a group of high school students interested in robotics to teach the classes.

Now that everyone is stuck at home, Dhruv is trying to make an impact digitally by making videos about simple computer science to educate children who are interested. “I really enjoy educating people and knowing that I made a difference in their life, whether I am physically there with them or not.”

‘A beautiful gesture from today’s youth’

15-year-old Ayush Desai felt compelled to help first responders in his Woodbridge and Edison, New Jersey. He contacted local businesses asking for either monetary donations or supplies to benefit the Avenel Fire Department and Woodbridge Police Department. Ayush was humbled by the generosity of community members who helped him raise nearly $1,000 ($400 of his own money) and materialize 400 masks, 50 boxes of gloves, and several boxes of sanitizer. “Hopefully this will be the start of something that can change many more lives.”

New Jersey teen launches 24-hour mask-a-thon

On Sunday, April 5th, Isaac Buckman of Manapalan, New Jersey constructed face masks and face shields for 24 hours straight, without any extended breaks. He streamed the entire process live on Twitch. In the end, Isaac was able to make over 200 face masks and 5 face shields that he donated to his local hospital.

“My goal was to motivate others to help out in the effort against COVID-19, whether this be by making masks or by getting groceries for those who are more at risk.” Learn more about Isaac’s project at, New Jersey News Network, and The Two River Times.

Silver Medalist prepares neighbors for the fight

“This pandemic has affected everyone’s life in different ways and I wanted to provide people with a little relief and ease the stress for attaining the necessary equipment to fight the virus.” Before the demand for masks went high, Runfei (Ray) Zhou of Temecula, California was already advocating the need to wear protective masks on his social media platforms. After finding suppliers, he collected and received donations from friends and family to purchase an initial box of masks. Ray then went to grocery stores and big box stores to hand out masks to employees and residents. He later posted on the neighborhood app Nextdoor to garner more attention from his community. Before his state’s stay-at-home order, Ray even delivered masks to seniors and residents with pre-existing health conditions as well as his local park.

Helping the community through ‘dignified service’

With help from Hearts for the Homeless International, Valory Anne Vailoces of Lakeland, Florida created portable hand-washing stations for the homeless at food shares in Orlando and Tallahassee, Florida. She also helped educate food share volunteers about social distancing and personal hygiene measures in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “Without the foods shares, hundreds of homeless people would go hungry. We want to show volunteers and the homeless that they are not forgotten and that someone cares enough to keep them healthy.”

Sibling Gold Medalists turn frustration into action

Caroline and Ian Bonner were both notified that they had each earned The Congressional Award Gold Medal earlier this year. Fast forward a few months: The coronavirus hits and their plans to travel to Washington, D.C. this summer for the Gold Medal Ceremony came to a sudden halt. Instead of planning their trip to the nation’s capital, they decided to put the spirit of The Congressional Award into action in their community by packing and distributing food through a local non-profit. “We’re grateful for this opportunity to serve.”

Leadership grows in times of crisis

As news of the coronavirus first broke several months ago, Eric Chang of Johns Creek, Georgia sought to find a way to help those in China who had been affected. Of course, the disease soon made its way to the United States. From this point, Eric understood that it was but a matter of time before it would impact his own community, so he began to assemble a team and develop an idea to combat the issue locally. Within the first few weeks, he was able to create a base for his newly founded nonprofit, Covid Care, establishing that their mission would be to use our actions to encourage more students to act out. Erica was able to partner with OurHouse Atlanta, Caringworks, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and several more, spending weeks just collecting supplies and materials from drives and donations.

Since Eric’s team knew that many materials, such as face masks and hand sanitizer, were limited and highly expensive, they decided to construct their own. Following their first distribution, Covid Care released a documentary outlining their work, launched a website, and secured a sponsor – multiplying their impact to hundreds of individuals across the state.

“We are now looking to expand upon the student network that we had originally conceived, and we want to build a channel across the country with branches led by student nonprofits and organizations.”

Non-profit founder rises to the occasion

In 2018, Srilaasya Yenduri of Portland, Oregon established the student-led non-profit organization CyberBORN to help impoverished children gain better access to education, food, and shelter in places like India, Guatemala, and Ethiopia. Since the coronavirus outbreak, CyberBORN has delivered over 200 masks to senior homes and a local children’s hospital. “We are also in the process of establishing digital classrooms in orphanages so that remote learning can finally be a reality in rural parts of India. Additionally, we will be sponsoring meals for doctors and nurses in the coming weeks.”

Teen connects organizations with youth volunteers

Volunteers are needed now more than ever to combat the spread of the coronavirus and provide relief to community members. Students are out of school with many looking for purposeful ways to fill their days. But Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania teen Nicholas Zonarich noticed one piece was missing – connecting organizations in need with volunteers in a simple and efficient way. “This is where I realized that I could help.”

In summer 2019, Nicholas created a website,, to promote youth volunteer opportunities in his community. He has since connected 100 organizations with 20,000 local students. is now providing the link between local youth and organizations in need of volunteers to support many needs in the community due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many benefits come from volunteering for youth: improvement and/or development of new skills, decreased stress, and a sense of purpose. In some way, if many can find a way to contribute to the common good, our communities will remain strong. I challenge all youth to find a way to add value to their community by getting involved now or in the future.”

Middle school student 3D prints ‘Ear Savers’ for medical professionals

Krishna Venugopal of The Woodlands, Texas wanted to help his area medical community. He came across an idea for ‘Ear Savers,’ a product designed to alleviate the pressure and irritation caused by the bands of face masks when worn for extended periods of time.

Having never even seen a 3D printer before, Krishna felt compelled to borrow one from a friend to create his own ear savers. He spent a week researching the technology and resources for beginners then built his first prototype in about 5 hours. Krishna has now made a total of 30 ear savers and distributed to three doctors/practitioners for use in their practices. “The experience has been very uplifting and satisfying for me in that I have been able to contribute my little bit to our community and have learned that every small bit counts.”

Have your own story to share?

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  • Share photos, videos, or documents that illustrate your project or story.
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Tools and tips for navigating The Congressional Award during COVID-19

A letter to our community:

We realize this is an uncertain time and it is becoming increasingly difficult to complete your Congressional Award activities.

Luckily, our program is designed to be flexible for participants and our team remains available for you as we enter uncharted territory together.

We’ll get through this together by extending our kindness, keeping healthy, and remaining connected virtually.

Your friends at The Congressional Award

It’s helpful to remember…

1) Participants have until their 24th birthday to complete any level of the award, removing any perceived timeline pressure and allowing participants to safely and comfortably complete their activities.

2) Activities DO NOT have to be logged in consecutive months. You may pause your goals and resume them at any point, completing the program at your own pace.

3) Through June 30, 2021, our team is will show more leniency with direct vs. indirect service requirements, enabling participants to complete the bulk of their activities from the safety of their homes. Read the full statement here.

4) Participants may change or adjust their goals to suit social distancing and self-isolation practices.

5) Virtual Expeditions/Explorations will be accepted through June 30, 2021.

Creative service ideas that fit social distancing

-Meeting immediate needs: Making and/or securing PPE (personal protective equipment) like masks, face shields, isolation gowns, disposable gloves to be donated to health workers.

-Volunteering remotely for non-profit organizations

-Assisting public schools with the implementation of remote learning and/or helping educators with grading/administrative work

-Virtual tutoring/mentoring

-Packaging and delivering essential supplies to the elderly or home-bound or to students who rely on meals from their schools

-Organizing digital fundraisers for non-profits or crisis response groups

-Writing letters to those serving in the armed forces abroad, children in medical isolation, or persons under quarantine

-Making articles of clothing for hospital patients

-Donating blood the safe way

-Making signs and writing thank you notes for first responders, hospital staff, and medical workers.

Many organizations are offering free online classes, webinars, and workshops that can be completed from home. These may be creative solutions to accomplish goals in other programs like Personal Development and Physical Fitness.


COVID-19 Updates – Learn how we are responding.

Program Book – Download this guide for your one-stop-shop to the program.

Record Book – Set your goals and document your activities on the Record Book.

Contact Us – Need assistance? Find your program manager and receive a quick response.

Personal Finance Program – Complete our Personal Finance Program, powered by Intuit, as part of your Personal Development activities and take ownership of your financial future.

Media Center – Stay up to speed with the latest news and updates from Congress’ award for youth, join our email list, and connect with other participants and supporters on social media.

Call for 2020 Gold Medal Record Books

Going for Gold this year?

In order to be eligible for the 2020 Gold Medal class, participants must meet two deadlines:
Record Books are due no later than February 1, 2020
Revisions are due no later than March 15, 2020

Are you planning to be part of the annual Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington, D.C. this summer? Be sure to submit your Gold Medal Record Book to the national office no later than February 1, 2020 at 11:59 p.m ET. This is a postmark, email, and fax deadline.

Submissions made after February 1st will be grouped with the 2021 Gold Medal class.

If you currently have a submission in review or pending, you have until March 15, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. ET to submit any revisions.

Unsure about your status?
Contact your state’s program manager with your question.

Meet the 2020 Gold Medal class:
Once again, this year’s class is on pace to be the largest in program history. See where each hail from.

Q&A with Program Manager Makaila

We sat down with the newest member of our team, Makaila Davenport, to learn more about what motivates her and why she chose The Congressional Award.

Prior to joining our team, Makaila held congressional experience in the offices of U.S. Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Scott Rigell (VA-02), focusing on legislative affairs and constituent relations. Ms. Davenport also served as Assistant to the Director of Congressional Relations for the Peace Corps.

Makaila holds a B.A. from Hampton University and has commissioned as an Army Reserves 2nd Lieutenant. She is a proud member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Why did you choose The Congressional Award as the next step in your professional career?
I was introduced to The Congressional Award while working at Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s office and I admired the mission to encourage youth to make a more positive impact in their community while also improving their lives by accomplishing their own personal goals. I wanted to work for an organization that held the same passion I do for youth and community.

What’s trending in your life?
My favorite show is Grey’s Anatomy. One of my sorority sisters made me watch it a couple of years ago and I have been hooked since. Waiting for the rest of the season to air in January is killing me! Also, my newfound hobby is painting. I went to a paint night with my mom a couple of weeks ago and I am actually pretty good at it!

Is there a moment from your childhood that you use as inspiration in adulthood?
My parents always stressed the importance of honesty and integrity. I think having integrity is one of the most important traits a person should possess. It is always important to me to make sure that my integrity is never compromised regardless of the circumstances.

How do you adapt The Congressional Award program areas to your life?
Voluntary Public Service: I am currently working on starting a non-profit called NextStep. It is a program geared towards helping youth and young adults that have been diagnosed with a blood disorder. We give back by donating to local hospitals and charities as well as donating money to help lift some of the financial pressures that many families experience in order to give their child the best treatment possible.

Personal Development: I love music and have always been avid about learning about different languages and cultures. I play the piano and the violin and I am currently working on learning Spanish!

Physical Fitness: I am in the United States Army and because of this it is very important to stay fit and healthy. I enjoy running and competing in races with my family as well as doing any fun physical activities.

Expedition/Exploration: I have always loved to travel and have been to many different countries over the years but my new goal for 2020 is to explore and visit all 50 states. There is so much culture and history that can be found within the United States borders and I want to experience it with my friends and family.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
My biggest accomplishment so far has been joining the military and commissioning as an Army Reserves 2nd Lieutenant. I am very passionate about my country and it is a great honor to serve. There is a long line of army officers in my family and I am proud to carry on such a profound and rewarding legacy.

What advice would you give newly registered Congressional Award participants?
To work hard and make sure that your hours are completed by doing something you are passionate about. The goal is to continue your service far beyond earning the Gold Medal and to continue making a difference.

As Central Program Manager, Makaila is your contact if you reside in the following states:
Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, or Wyoming.


My STEM Story: Aman Shaik

Aman used his ability and passion for robotics to teach workshops and bridge cultural gaps.

Malala Yousafzai once stated, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” It is said that once you teach someone a concept you tend to learn the concept better.

My robotics journey started when I was a 3rd grader. I have loved building Legos as a child but watching my Legos come to life was astounding. I started to get involved in multiple robotics Lego league teams through a program called FLL (FirstLego League). Each robotic season we had a new robot with a new name and built it depending on the certain theme.

After all those many years of building robots with Legos it was time to move on to more complex robots. When I became a 7th grader, I began to build robots out of metal pieces and enrolled in First Tech Challenge.

I volunteered at the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville, Florida showcasing these Lego robots. Children were baffled when they saw these objects driving on the floor. At this time, I realized it was time to teach robotics in underprivileged areas.

India, a developing country, is a beautiful place. It’s a place like no other. For someone traveling there every year since a toddler it’s a place you can’t miss. I decided to serve as a youth ambassador for the North South Foundation’s APNA program. My mom is from Hyderabad, so I decided to volunteer at the Vidyaniketan School. I remember walking into the classroom and everyone standing upright as if they were soldiers and stated, “Good morning, brother!” I found this very surprising since they were relatively the same age as me.

I first began teaching 8th graders the robotics workshop. The first day they built the robots and found it fun. The boys and girls were split into separate groups and the girls built the robots faster due to their organization and cooperation. The boys group had some commotion because they were deeply engaged. The next day we programmed the robots using the software on the computers I had brought.

One thing that stood out to me was the pride they showed when they finished. It was such a great thing to see. The boys and girls individually showed the principal their robot and how it moved.

Word about the workshop grew quickly. The 9th graders saw the robots and wanted to participate. They individually talked to the academic director and stated that they wanted to experience this workshop. They were given the chance and I did the same workshop for the 9th graders.

They asked me if I knew Hindi and Urdu. It was a big deal for them to see someone their age but from a different country. I felt great that I had helped some kids that did not have the learning experiences I had as a child.

Overall, The Congressional Award has motivated me to give back to the global community. It is a humbling experience to have the opportunity to help others and to make a difference. The Congressional Award opened my eyes regarding time management and tracking. I now keep track of not just my volunteer, personal development, and physical fitness but also time spent on academics, with friends and family, etc.

I made new friends overseas and made an impact on over 50 kids the same age as me. What I did was a simple thing that anyone can do. Anyone can change someone’s life for good.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Luke Jankowski

Luke harnessed his environmental science studies to provide disaster relief and build stronger communities.

Many of my Voluntary Public Service activities involved STEM. Volunteering as a hurricane relief worker in New Orleans through Camp Restore serves as an example. I used carpentry and engineering to rebuild and provide maintenance of homes for under-served people who suffered severe damage to their homes due to Hurricane Katrina.

One homeowner had been the victim of a contractor who had been paid to re-build her home but had re-used wet, ruined insulation resulting in severe mold growth throughout her house. Working with others, I demolished the interior walls and ceiling of her four-room, one-story house, removed the offensive insulation and then installed clean, dry insulation, carried, placed, and nailed new dry-wall, and then taped and plastered the walls and ceilings.

Through this experience, I learned not only carpentry and engineering skills but also how to work safely on a construction site.

In Puerto Rico, my group partnered with a local grassroots organization named CAMBU to work on projects designed to aid the local community as it struggled to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

In particular, CAMBU acquired an abandoned school and surrounding land with the goal of turning it into a multi-purpose community center with a kitchen, garden, and meeting center for the people of Las Marias. One of my projects included making the empty kitchen utilitarian by constructing shelving units through cutting planks, assembling them into shelves and painting them.

In creating a community garden with the people of Las Marias for the purpose of providing fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables and a meeting location, I weeded, tilled, terraced, and fertilized the soil on a hillside with others and was then tasked with determining the best lay-out for the fruit trees, vegetables, and sitting areas. I dug holes for and planted numerous banana trees to provide shade as well as fruit. I then established, leveled, and stabilized the area for the sitting benches and finally placed the benches.

During this process I learned a farming technique known as the “crescent moon” where a hole in the shape of a crescent moon is dug for the plant to be placed because, when rainwater falls, the design of the hole makes it so that the soil around the base of the plant does not flood and creates soil stability, especially on a hillside.

Most recently, I volunteered at Third Street Elementary School in Los Angeles to help educate students on environmental science by applying concepts I learned in my high school class. I created a fun, informative PowerPoint for the third-grade students and, with them, assembled a self-sustaining Eco-Zone System to demonstrate how the three primary environments interact with each other.

Furthermore, I helped reclaim lost garden space and created an eco-friendly area that utilizes rainwater capture systems to water vegetation and serves as an outdoor learning area. I learned how to better apply STEM concepts I learned in my environmental science course, such as how to retain and reuse rainwater, to real life situations.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Krishna Parikh

Krishna Parikh analyzed DNA sequences for her Congressional Award Personal Development goal.

While striving to achieve The Congressional Award Gold Medal, I tapped into my interest in genetic engineering, research, and science in general.

As part of the Authentic Science Research class at my high school, I was able to participate in hands-on laboratory work. We correlated with the Waksman Student Scholars Program at Rutgers, following their procedures and techniques.

The current project is to focus on the DNA sequences of the duckweed plant Landoltia punctata and to further analyze the genes they are associated with. Duckweed is of interest because of its use in bioremediation and its potential in being a biofuel. Through this project, it is hoped that the genes compare to those found in other species.

Each of the students, including me, participate by isolating and sequencing genes from a cDNA library. These sequences have not been determined yet, so if a student successfully analyzes one, it will be published in GenBank. By comparing these sequences to similar ones of other eukaryotes, we are able to understand the evolutionary relationship between the two. This was accomplished through multiple lab days and through multiple hours sequencing on the DNA Sequencing Analysis Program (DSAP).

To increase these newly acquired skills, I attended a meeting at GenSpace in Brooklyn, New York. The meeting pertained to Optogenetics, which is a genetic tool that makes cells responsive to light.

Through the various experimentation, the end goal is to perfect an optogenetic system in which different colors of light shine onto a petri dish and cause the bacteria to respond. This response can lead to bacteria photographs with high resolution and the control of gene expression and useful enzymes, such as Taq Polymerase, in 2D.

By spending time with professionals and learning in the lab, I perfected my pipetting skills and better understood proper lab technique. I also learned how to transfer bacteria, making it anti-resistant to antibiotics such as ampicillin and kanamycin.

The most unfamiliar concept I worked with, regarding the optogenetic systems, was the on-off ratios. This ratio determines the resolution of a bacterial photograph produced by comparing the parts of the petri dish where light was directed to the parts where it was not. It is measured in Miller Units and requires the usage of a spectrometer that tells us the wavelengths of the produced light.

As the youngest in this class, it is difficult to fully understand what is going on at all times. This allows me to challenge myself and forces me to think beyond my comfort zone. I still attend these classes monthly, and I cannot wait to see the developments made.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

My STEM Story: Juan Aleman

2019 Gold Medalist Juan Aleman uses STEM skills to educate others and grow personally

While working towards my Congressional Award Gold Medal, I dedicated 385 hours as the head programmer, lead robot driver, and co-captain of the 4-H robotics team G-FORCE. My team works out of Accident, MD, but we also participate in numerous Community Outreach events globally.

SuGO, a game with sumo wrestling robots, is one of the most popular STEM activities and the reason I became interested in STEM. Utilizing SuGO, virtual reality, rockets, WeDO, and many other STEM activities, I volunteered at the West Virginia Children’s Hospital, Maryland State Fair, Mineral State Stem Festival, and 4-H Volunteer Forum.

I have had the opportunity to be the referee and robot and field inspector at FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Qualifiers and State Championships in three different states. All of these activities are free STEM activities available to the public.


The most memorable STEM events were the military activities, the largest of which was the Air Force STEM initiative. Team G-FORCE was given a budget of $250,000 to buy, package, and ship STEM products to over 52 Air Force bases. We live streamed webinars taught by the team members on how to use the STEM kits. The team also hosted two one-week residential Navy STEM camps where forty 4-Hers from bases abroad (Japan, Bahrain, and Italy) and domestic (Georgia) were taught lessons on hardware and software by me and my fellow mentors.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the USA Science & Engineering Festival where I volunteered at three booths: FIRST, 4-H, and Maker Space. While there, I demonstrated the robotics competition, lead the Junk Drawer Robotics, and ran the software that cut vinyl stickers, adding additional creativity to the patrons’ work.

Following this year’s festival, I joined my 4-H robotics coach in a special project where we learned a new programming language together. We were tasked by the Oakland Lions Club to create a belt sander race for their jubilee that they could use for years.

Last year my FIRST Tech Challenge team had a very intuitive program for our robot. It was able to make decisions about which claw to open and close and how high to raise its arm, based on simple choices made by me and my co-pilot. This year we plan to make the robot even smarter. As head programmer, I have already moved on from using pre-programmed vision software, to creating a custom image processing pipeline.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.