North Allegheny Foundation presents scholarships to 10 graduating seniors
The North Allegheny Foundation recently awarded a total of $10,500 in scholarships to 10 graduating seniors who have exemplified the highest traits of excellence in their specific areas of interest.
“Part of NA Foundation’s mission is to expand opportunities for students. We strive to do that through grants in the classrooms, as well as by helping NA students beyond the classroom,” said Abigail Tobia, executive director of the foundation.
Each scholarship applicant completed an application, wrote an essay, and submitted their high school transcript and a letter of recommendation.
A selection committee — comprised of three NA Foundation trustees and Tobia — used a rubric containing values that weighted activities, leadership roles and accomplishments. Applications were blinded and graded on a scale.
This year, the foundation received 85 applications, the most ever.
“It never ceases to amaze us what students are doing through service in the community, academic pursuits, and leadership in their areas. Every year, we think we’ve seen the best NA students, then the next year’s class surpasses that,” Tobia said.
This year’s NA Foundation Scholarship recipients are:
• Janet Wang — NA Foundation Scholarship for Excellence in Academics
Janet maintained a GPA of 4.6696 while immersing herself in a variety of activities in and out of school.
She served as business project manager, programmer and volunteer for the Girls of Steel Robotics Team, competed on NA’s cross country and track and field teams, served as a Key Club Distinguished Club vice president, performed the violin as a member of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, participated as a research scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Academy, and participated as a programmer and student at Leap@CMU.
She will attend Princeton University to study computer science.
“At NA, I’ve learned how to learn, love learning, and open my mind to new learning experiences,” she said.
• Matthew Rees — NA Foundation Scholarship for Excellence in the Arts
This $1,000 scholarship is awarded annually to the top senior applicant in the performing and visual arts who has a desire to continue to pursue excellence in artistic or musical endeavors.
Matt, 18, of Franklin Park, will major in music education at Slippery Rock University, where he received three of the school’s most prestigious music scholarships for jazz, concert band and marching band.
As a trumpet player, Matt was a member of NA’s Honors Wind Ensemble and Jazz 1 Band. He also performed in a variety of honors and community ensembles throughout high school.
In the Tiger Marching Band, he served as trumpet section leader, brass caption head, and performed multiple trumpet features at the halftime shows.
During adjudications at the 2017 band trip to Virginia Beach, he received the Most Outstanding Jazz Soloist Award.
He also performed in the orchestra pit during NA’s spring musicals and in a musical quartet for NASH’s 2017 fall play, “Almost Maine.”
“I think NA challenged me in a way that no other school could have,” he said. “During these past four years, I learned the importance of time management, responsibility, and persistence. I often think of Wayne Gretzky’s quote, ‘You always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.’ NA has definitely influenced me to take every shot, stay dedicated, and work hard at what I love.”
• Sebastian Immonen — NA Foundation Scholarship for Excellence in Leadership
Sebastian, 18, of Franklin Park, has demonstrated leadership throughout his high school career. He was a drum major for the marching band, president of Key Club, secretary of student council,publicity director for class council, and vice president of Junior Classical League (Latin Club).
In addition, he introduced a bracelet fundraiser that provided three years of education for Guatemalan students, co-started a talent show that raised more than $2,000 for kids in need, and created a new student lounge on the first floor of North Allegheny Intermediate High School.
Outside of school, he serves as a Franklin Park junior councilperson and has performed 11,000 hours of service as a Camp Kon-o-Kwee/Spencer Summer Volunteer.
He will pursue an academic degree in international relations from Brown University while simultaneously working toward a fine arts degree in either painting or digital art from the Rhode Island School of Design.
“The program takes five years to complete, but I’ll end up with prestigious degrees from two schools that are somehow right down the road from each other. They only take around 14 students a year (in the Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program) so I am still in amazement,” Sebastian said. “It’s an opportunity that I’d accept one million times over.”
This year, the Excellence in Leadership Scholarship was fully funded by the NA bus drivers.
• Samidha Sane — NA Foundation Scholarship for Excellence in Service
Samidha, 18, of Franklin Park, has served with the Women and Girl’s Foundation, volunteered at Kids for Kids at Children’s Hospital, and advocated for early childhood education through Save the Children while maintaining a 4.55 GPA.
“One of my most memorable experiences was planning the Teacher Jeopardy game fundraiser with fellow Key Club officers this past December. What started out as just a crazy idea to see some teachers participate in a game show against each other turned into something much more valuable: an event to raise funds for supplies for an underfunded local elementary school. Opportunities to organize events like this continually encourage me to think bigger, reminding me that the possibilities in which I can serve my community are endless,” she said.
Samidha is enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s Huntsman Dual Degree Program, where she plans to earn degrees in International Studies and economics.
“I hope to make an impact on the world, especially by utilizing economic principles to aid international development and policy work. I yearn to be engaged in human rights work, aiding marginalized communities in the U.S. and beyond,” she said.
• Carll Stanley Owens — NA Foundation Extra Effort Scholarship
This $1,000 scholarship is awarded annually to the top senior applicant who has demonstrated an ability to overcome personal hardships or challenges when pursuing personal goals
Carll Owens was the fourth of five boys growing up in Haiti. His father, a farmer, worked from sunrise to sunset every day to support the family. When Carll was 9, his father got sick and died. Unable to support the family, his mother sent him and his younger brother to an orphanage.
In 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake leveled Haiti. Carll and 52 other children from the orphanage were rescued and flown to Pittsburgh. He was 11.
He lived at Holy Family Institute for a year, until Carmen and Michael Owens, of McCandless, adopted him the following year.
“I worked hard to keep outside forces from affecting me. I learned to speak fluent English, I studied, I got a job. My grades drastically improved, my friend circle tightened, I dedicated myself to succeed. I finally began to achieve self-actualization. I stopped waiting for the world to affect me and I began to affect the world,” he said. “NA offered me a stable environment, a place where teachers wanted the best for students, and a safe place to learn. All things which I lacked in the past”.
In April, Carll, 19, returned to Haiti to reunite with his biological family for the first time since 2008.
“My goal in life is to have a good job, raise a family, and also be able to help my mom and brothers who are still in Haiti come to the U.S.,” he said.
Beginning this fall, Carll will study computer engineering at the University of North Carolina. “Before he died, my father told me that his dream had always been for my brothers and me to get a college education. Now that I’m on track to do that, it’s a dream coming true for both my father and me,” he said.
• Brennen White — Kyle Chase Johnson Memorial Scholarship
This $1,500 scholarship is a living memorial to Kyle Chase Johnson, an NA football player and alumnus who suffered cardiac arrest and died at the age of 23 while running the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2013. The scholarship is awarded to a graduating senior who has maintained an adequate level of achievement despite personal challenges and will attend Penn State University, Johnson’s alma mater.
“I was excited and grateful (to be awarded this scholarship). It was an honor to be chosen,” said Brennen White, 18, of McCandless.
He has maintained a 3.83 GPA, competed on NA’s inline hockey team, and volunteered as a Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer counselor despite being born with a hereditary trait that causes bilateral hand tremors.
“My hands have shaken for as long as I can remember,” he said. “Early in elementary school, I needed extra time to finish papers because it was hard to write and draw steadily. People still notice them shake when I eat or try to show something with my hands. Sometimes people think I’m nervous when I’m not. There are certain careers that I can’t pursue — like being a surgeon. Simple things like drawing a straight line and cutting perfectly with scissors are difficult.”
Brennen will attend Penn State University to study business.
• Anna Barton and Julia Puntil — Sally Duffett Memorial Scholarship
Sally (Hughey) Duffett was a lifelong educator, beginning her career as a health and physical education teacher and varsity swimming coach at North Allegheny Senior High School and concluding it as a paraprofessional at Bradford Woods Elementary School. She dedicated her life and career to helping others and left a lasting mark on many aspects of scholastic life at NA.
This is the first year for the scholarship. Duffett’s family planned to offer one $1,000 award to a graduating NA senior who demonstrated a passion for athletics and community service. Because of the quality of applicants, however, they decided to award two $1,000 scholarships this year. Anna Barton and Julia Puntil, both 18, of Franklin Park are the recipients.
“There were three minutes left in my physics class when I read (the email) about winning the scholarship, so concealing my excitement was very tough,” Anna said. “Once the bell rang, I immediately called my mother to tell her of my accomplishment and sprinted downstairs to give my teacher that wrote my recommendation letter a hug! Each time someone mentions what an amazing person Sally Duffett was, I become even more humbled by this award. She represents the qualities of a person whom I strive to be every day: kind, selfless, and supportive.”
As a student, Anna competed on the varsity lacrosse and soccer teams, as well as junior varsity track and field. She also played basketball in the North Allegheny Basketball Association. She worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor, and volunteered as a tutor at Ingomar Elementary School and Grandview Elementary School. She also led all National Honor Society activities at Vincentian Nursing Home, including weekly bingo nights and fundraising. She will be studying pre-medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and hopes to become a pediatrician.
Julia also was honored and thrilled to get the scholarship.
“It’s humbling to know that I was chosen. Knowing the impact that Mrs. Duffett had on the North Allegheny community and everyone she met means so much to me to be able to carry on her legacy through the scholarship in her name,” she said.
Julia was a scholar athlete and captain for the girls varsity lacrosse team, where she was named a 2017 WPIAL All-Section Player and Defensive Player of the Year. She also volunteered at NA’s TigerThon dance marathon to benefit cancer patients, participated in Key Club, volunteered in a week-long summer work project in Philippi, W.Va. through her church, and was active in student council, ski club, French Club, and YoungLife. She will attend Penn State University to study elementary education.
• Chris Fedor — Frank J. Farina Jr. Award for Musical Excellence
Frank Farina served as the chairman of the North Allegheny Music Department and director of bands for 26 years. He led the marching band to many college bowl game appearances, including the Rose Bowl, and took students abroad to perform concerts in Europe. He showed goodwill to others through music as the director of the American Youth Symphony, chaired many musical boards, and helped to create local performing groups.
This year’s Frank J. Farina Jr. Award for Musical Excellence was awarded to cellist Chris Fedor, 18, of Franklin Park.
As a student at NA, Chris played in the Honors Chamber Orchestra, Strolling Strings, and orchestra pit for the high school musicals. He represented NA at the All-Nationals Honors Orchestra in Grapevine, Texas, and has been a member of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Three Rivers Young People’s Orchestra.
“This was the work that Mr. Farina did — to showcase his goodwill toward others throughout our community, the United States, and Europe. Mr. Farina was also the founder of the now-named Pittsburgh Philharmonic in which I recently won their annual concerto competition, playing the Dvoák cello concerto in B minor. I am proud, honored, and humbled that the Farina family chose me to be this year’s recipient of this prestigious award,” he said.
Chris will double major in bio-chemistry and cello performance at Northwestern University.
• Heya Lee — Joseph Wissinger Memorial Scholarship
“Even in the cramped city of Seoul, South Korea, I kept a garden as a child. It was a motley collection of pots in our apartment’s veranda, where I loved to conduct mini-experiments. What would happen if I water this white-flowered plant with blue food coloring? Can I plant this piece and grow back a whole plant? I liked to observe various samples from this garden under the microscope and marvel at life’s mysterious workings,” said Heya Lee, 17.
Her passion for science and desire to pursue a career in the medical field helped her win this year’s Joseph Wissinger Memorial Scholarship.
Wissinger served as a science and biology teacher in the North Allegheny School District from 1953-86. He received many awards and accolades for his teaching skills and devotion to his students.
Heya will study biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and plans to complete an MD-Ph.D. program to become a physician-scientist in the field of tissue regeneration and immunotherapy.
As a student at NA, she participated in the PA Governor’s School for the Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University (involving rigorous courses and lab classes for five weeks during the summer), won region finals in the Southwestern PA Science Bowl sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, served as co-president of the Biology Club, and was a member of Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA). She also volunteered at UPMC Passavant, Wexford Nursing Home, and tutored at Franklin Elementary School.
“I’m glad to know that the Wissinger family thought me most representative of Mr. Wissinger’s ideals of science education,” she said.
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.