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16 Los Angeles High School Seniors, All Attending Elite Universities, Selected as 2015 Milken Scholars

The Scholarship Program is Unique Due to its Lifetime of Mentoring and Resources

July 20, 2015

Santa Monica, CA—The Milken Scholars, a joint initiative of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation, has selected 16 exceptional high school seniors as 2015 Milken Scholars. The Scholars were chosen based on academic performance, community service, leadership and their ability to persevere in the face of adversity.

“Tomorrow’s leaders will need more than a keen intellect and a willingness to work hard if they are to successfully confront rapidly changing global challenges.  They will need strength of mind and character,” said Mike Milken, who cofounded the Milken Scholars program with his wife Lori in 1989. “Those are the qualities we seek to identify and develop through the Milken Scholars program. We’re delighted to welcome these 16 exceptional young men and women to the family. Like earlier Scholars, they’ve overcome major obstacles to their early success and some are the first in their family to attend college. They’ve accomplished so much already, and now they’ll have the resources of more than 350 past and current Scholars to help them navigate the crucial next steps in their lives.”

Scholars receive a $10,000 scholarship, but what makes the program unique is the access to a lifetime of resources provided to scholarship recipients.

The new Scholars will deliver inspirational remarks during the Milken Scholars Recognition Dinner to be held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Rey on Saturday, July 25, 2015, which will be preceded by a Milken Scholars Summit in Los Angeles.

The 2015 Los Angeles Milken Scholars and the universities they will attend are:

Milla Anderson, City of Bell
Dartmouth College

Anderson Milla resizedThe city of Bell became a household name in 2010 after a scandal, which would directly influence the direction Milla Anderson would take in her life. “Working in politics has been an ambition of mine since corrupted officials devastated my community,” said Milla, the salutatorian at Bell High School, in Bell, California. Out of hundreds of applicants, she was chosen as one of 30 members of the 33rd Senate District Young Senators program designed by State Senator Ricardo Lara. Now as an alumnus, she will be interning for Lara. She is an AP Scholar, a National Achievement Scholarship finalist and her awards include a National Merit Scholarship Commendation and a QuestBridge College Prep Scholarship. Milla was captain of the track team and the cross country team for her high school and she has run three marathons as part of Students Run Los Angeles. Her biracial identity, which she has always struggled with, has also helped shaped her as a person. “I realized I would never fit into society’s cookie-cutter stereotypes or requirements and my identity would be my sole responsibility to define. I found a new freedom in accepting that I am multicultural and multiracial.” Senator Lara says of this talented young woman: “I am particularly impressed with Milla’s work ethic and leadership within her school and community. Milla’s experience in the Young Senators Program has contributed to the empowerment of her character and a relentless spirit of activism and leadership. Her impressive trajectory in high school demonstrates her extraordinary resolve to succeed, not only academically but also within the larger community.” She plans to major in government at Dartmouth College.

Richard Ballena, Palmdale
Pomona College

Ballena Richard resizedRichard Ballena is an only child but, at home, it feels like he has 34 siblings. His parents run a home daycare and he often helps by coordinating field trips, managing the website, supervising and helping kids with homework. “My life has been surrounded by children who face significant challenges and seek the feeling of security. They constantly remind me to appreciate the little things and to never settle for average.” Richard says he longs to make a difference in children’s lives by demonstrating to them that their challenges should not prevent them from happiness. At Highland High School in Palmdale, California, he was a QuestBridge Prep Scholar, won the National Physicians Award of Excellence and was Outstanding Member of the Year as part of the Key Club, where he was vice president. Richard is founder and president of the Hero (Helping Everyone Reach Out) Club, a community service high school club that recruited 100 students and 300 members of the community to plan service events that included a prom for special education students, building a garden and singing at hospitals. He also served as vice president and captain of The Golden Ratio, his high school “mathletes” team and was the varsity captain of the swim team. He interned at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and has done community service at Antelope Valley Hospital where he won the President’s Service Award for performing 150 hours of service. At Pomona College, he will study math and hopes to become a physician. His parents emigrated from Peru and he will be the first in his family to attend college.

Michael Chang, Hacienda Heights
University of California, Berkeley

Chang Michael resizedDriven by a curiosity for gaining knowledge in various fields, Michael Chang has had a versatile high school career. As the founder and president of the American Red Cross Club at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, California and as a former intern at Red Cross Headquarters, Michael has immersed himself in the world of blood drives and other service events. He is moved by blood donors and has worked at the Annual KLOS Blood Drive for two summers. “Service is important to me because it taught me people are willing to help and I believe giving them the opportunity to can create incredible outcomes,” he said. He shadowed a pathologist for over 100 hours and has also volunteered at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. In addition, Michael was the design team leader at his school’s Academy of Engineering, heading a team in creating electric vehicles. “Michael’s world is not self-centered but focused on how he can impact those around him,” said his school principal. It should come as no surprise that Michael, the valedictorian at Los Altos, wants to become a cardiologist. He will study biology and computer science at UC Berkeley, as a Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholar. One of his goals at Berkeley is to explore how computer science can be utilized to improve the medical field. He is a National AP Scholar, Coca-Cola Scholarship Semifinalist, and National Merit Finalist. In school, he competed in varsity tennis and volleyball, and plays the saxophone. He was the sophomore, junior and senior representative for KIWIN’s, a community service club. “Michael stands alone among his peers for his capacity for absorbing, synthesizing and applying knowledge,” says his former English teacher.

Alyssa Chiang, Granada Hills
UC San Diego

Chiang Alyssa resizedAlyssa Chiang has earned the Certificate of Merit Advanced Level in piano after playing for 12 years and gets good grades at Granada Hills Charter High School in Granada Hills, California, but at each step of the way, she questions how to do things that may not always align with her values. “I pushed all the buttons and tested all the limits. I color outside the lines and write my own stories,” says the independent young woman. She has spent 13 years in the Girl Scouts and is working toward her Gold Award. “She is the quintessential Girl Scout: intelligent, kindhearted, humble and open to learning,” according to her college counselor. Alyssa founded the Girl Power Club so young women could be more self-reflective, develop confidence and build their own bridges to success. She is heavily involved in robotics and helped establish a robotics club at a local elementary school. Besides being a school valedictorian, her Awards include National Merit Scholarship, AP Scholar of Distinction and National Honor Society. She was president of the California Scholarship Federation and led service opportunities. During the summer of her sophomore year, Alyssa attended the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, held at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center – an all-expense paid week. For four years, she volunteered at a local hospital and library. She will major in biomedical engineering as a Jacobs Scholar at UC San Diego with the goal to become an engineer. “Alyssa is a well-rounded, mature young lady and a joy to have as a student. She always has a willingness to learn new things. She understood the subject matter very well and was always willing to help others,” said her science teacher.

Susan Chor, Palmdale
University of Pennsylvania

Chor Susan resizedService to her community is essential to Susan Chor, the valedictorian of Highland High School in Palmdale, California. As part of the Key Club, she performed over 300 hours of community service. The “pinnacle” of her Key Club career was when she was appointed as the Cali-Nev-Ha (CNH) Kiwanis Family and Foundation Chair. She was tasked with overseeing the delegation of several service projects sponsored by the CNH Foundation. “As a leader in an organization that promotes leading by serving and leading by example, I made sure to actively attend as many meetings as possible at all levels of the organization,” she said. She received the City of Palmdale Recognition for the Global Youth Services Day and “Guide Dog” acknowledgement for helping new students navigate the high school campus. At Highland High, she was president of the Creasian Club, an organization that celebrates the different cultures of Asia represented by the student body. She was also on the cross country team and plays piano. Susan received an IB diploma and her awards include a National Merit Scholar Letter of Commendation, the American College of Musicians: National Piano Guild Auditions National Member, the President’s Volunteer Service Award and silver and bronze medals from the National Latin Exam. She is a Gold Seal Bearer in the California Scholarship Federation. She was the treasurer of the AP Club, the secretary of the Gay-Straight Alliance, and a member of the Varsity Mathletes for the last three years. During her off hours, she has volunteered at a retirement home during the holidays and worked at Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park and in her family’s business, the Donut Inn. Susan plans to study biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania in hopes of becoming a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control.

Kayla Gonzalez, North Hills
Vassar College

Gonzalez Kayla resizedIf Kayla Gonzalez, the valedictorian of James Monroe High School in North Hills, California, wanted to pursue a career in law, she would be way ahead of her peers. During Mock Trial as the Chief Justice when she was a senior, she presented a case to seasoned, real-life lawyers who observed that “students in law school could not have done so well.  She was the only lawyer for the respondent’s side to prevail that day.” Her team placed in the top eight in the LA County Championships and she was nominated for the Top Defense Attorney Award. She has won the Constitutional Rights Foundation Award and the California State Legislature Academic Achievement Award. She helped reinstate Key Club in her school after it was suspended, then tripled the membership and quadrupled the service hours as president. She served 230 hours in nine months and was named outstanding president in the CA-NV-HI district. She credits her single mother, who was born in Mexico and has encountered many hardships in her own life, with giving her the guidance and support she needed to achieve all that she has thus far. In the 11th grade, Kayla wrote an op/ed poem describing the fears of teenagers being mired in debt from paying for college and, out of 1,500 entries, it was among the few published in the Los Angeles Times. As her English teacher said, “With Kayla’s natural talents, unimpeachable integrity, and incredible work ethic, I believe she is capable of great things. She exemplifies the best characteristics of young people today.” Kayla will major in creative writing and English at Vassar College and wants to someday become an author or screenwriter.

Eli Gramajo, East Los Angeles
Princeton University

Gramajo Eli resizedEli Gramajo was nervous as he stood in line to buy a pack of Camel Light cigarettes at a local store in his East Los Angeles neighborhood. It was his first experience as a youth decoy for STAKE (Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement) and he was working with law enforcement to reduce the sale of tobacco to minors. “Although I knew I could not save my entire community on my own, I wanted to be proactive.” At Downtown Magnet High School in LA, he founded the Chess Club, participated in the YMCA Youth and Government Club, and ran two marathons as part of Students Run Los Angeles. Since sophomore year, Eli has spent six hours every Saturday at Minds Matter Los Angeles, a program dedicated to inspiring low-income students to reach their full potential. He served as mentor to underclassmen. He is the lead guitarist for his church music group, and is the substitute bass and guitar player. He participated in Academic Decathlon and his awards include the National Honor Society, AP Scholar with Distinction, National Hispanic Scholar, Coca Cola Semifinalist and the California Scholarship Federation. At Princeton University, he will study economics and philosophy. Eli’s parents were born in Guatemala and three older siblings are in college on scholarships. “Mr. Gramajo is, without a question, an invaluable student whose potential for success in higher education is evident in all his work,” said a former teacher. “His work extends beyond what is required of him. He is a true leader, but acts as a mentor to many of his classmates who respect him and many times request his insight on discussions.”

Irene Kim, Los Angeles
Stanford University

Kim Irene resizedEver since her freshman year, Irene Kim has kept busy non-stop with extracurricular activities and community service projects. The accolades are impressive for this Stanford University-bound young woman who wants to study international relations for a career in government. Awards include winning the silver President’s Volunteer Service Award twice and the bronze once, AP Scholar with Honor, a National Merit Scholarship Program Letter of Commendation, a County of Los Angeles Commendation and a Society of Women Engineers Certificate of Merit. At Marymount High School, she was the co-founder of Do, which engages the community in socio-economic issues through meetings and events. She has worked as a student reporter for a local newspaper called the Korea Times, and was a writer and editor for the school newspaper. She was also the Secretary General for her school’s nationally-ranked Model UN team. “She’s in charge, no question about it,” says a teacher and Model UN moderator. “Quick-witted with a sparkling sense of humor, savvy and smart, she effortlessly attracts supporters and persuades others to her point of view.” Irene interned in the LA Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and at the International Visitor’s Council of Los Angeles where she learned about international diplomacy and the global community. She went to Haiti as a medical volunteer and helped raise money for an orphanage. Her parents are from Korea and she will be the first to attend college in her family. When times got tough financially for her family, she demonstrated resilience and helped her parents. “Not only did this experience test my capability to be optimistic about the future,” she said, “it also gave me insight into my character and my goals.”

Gerardo Lira, North Hollywood
Carnegie Mellon

Lira Gerardo resizedGerardo Lira, a valedictorian of North Hollywood High School in Los Angeles, has faced many challenges. “I now live a more peaceful life, but it was my childhood full of solitude that helped me to understand the true importance of education and relationships with others,” according to Gerardo. “I aspire to one day help make a difference for other children who are undergoing similar personal strife.” Gerardo, whose mother was born in Guatemala and whose father was born in Mexico, will be the first in his family to attend college. He will be attending Carnegie Mellon, studying biomedical engineering for a career in research and academia. His awards include National Hispanic Scholar and AP Scholar with Distinction. He attends North Hollywood High School, which is known for their Highly Gifted Magnet program. Gerardo convinced counselors to enroll him in AP classes with the Magnet students. “Gerardo is a successful, committed student athlete who strives to take the most challenging AP course selection available to him,” according to his guidance counselor. “This young scholar is academically curious and driven to challenge himself while being involved with his school and community.” He was captain of the varsity soccer team, and involved with the Interact Club and Key Club. He was one of 35 students selected as a peer counselor to provide advice to other students applying to college. 

Brian Matusovsky, Santa Monica
Yale University

Matusovsky Brian resizedIn front of 3,000 of his peers, Brian Matusovsky gave a speech outlining his qualifications, accomplishments, and why he should be the one elected as student body president of Santa Monica High School near Los Angeles. Then he broke out in song, much like as in American Idol, and somehow made it work. Soon, the crowd was singing along to his revised lyrics to a popular radio song. This is how an “underdog,” according to a teacher, won the election. “In all the school assemblies I’ve attended in my 13 years, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said his AP Biology teacher. “This victory exemplifies the sheer power of will and determination that Brian has to accomplish with just about anything.” Brian will be the first in his family to attend college and he will be studying biology and cognitive science for a career in medicine or research at Yale University. In high school, he was the president of the Associated Student Body, and is the founder and president of the school’s chapter of No Limits for Deaf Children. He was an intern in a Neuroscience Laboratory for one year, and shadowed a nephrologist during the summer. As program director of the Music Students’ Service League, he raised money for music themed charities. His awards include QuestBridge National College Match Finalist, National Merit Scholarship Finalist, AP Scholar with Honor, and National Society of High School Scholars.

Christian Mendez, Los Angeles
Yale University

Mendez Christian resizedChristian Mendez spent much of his childhood at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech where his parents, who were both born in El Salvador, worked as custodians. When he witnessed a spacecraft under construction, he was enthused. “It was outstanding. How could these people construct something so complex?” Christian asked himself. “My parents taught me to challenge myself and question the world. Now I dream of becoming a scientist to satisfy my curiosity.” The valedictorian of Franklin High School in Los Angeles will be the first in his family to attend college. He will attend Yale and study chemistry for a career in research. His many activities include being the varsity team captain of the CyberOps team which advanced to state cybersecurity competitions and then on to the national competition in Washington, D.C. He was also vice president of the Solar Cup Team, an environmental and engineering program, which builds and races boats. He is the founder and secretary of Generation Green, an environmental club that partners with the National Forestry Service to provide outdoor experiences for underserved urban youth. He was a member of Tree People that addresses tree restoration and removal of invasive plants in the community. He tutors elementary students, volunteers at a convalescent hospital and was a member of the cross country and track and field teams. His awards include Dartmouth Bound Program, CyberPatriot semifinalist (6th in nation) and the Penn Early Exploration Program. “While certainly ambitious and intent on challenging himself, Christian is a thoroughly kind, decent young man,” according to a counselor with College Match. “He is thoughtful of others, appreciative of his teachers and counselors, and open to others’ ideas and opinions. He plans ahead, paces himself, and consistently makes a 100% effort.”

Kevin Ou, Temple City
Yale University

Ou Kevin resizedKevin Ou’s future medical patients will receive the best type of care available – regardless of their ability to pay. Kevin envisions offering good, affordable healthcare to everyone, which is why he realized that becoming a doctor is not a big enough goal. “I need to be more than just a medical doctor; I need to be a bold and experienced entrepreneur,” Kevin says. His dream is to manage a hospital so that he can create networks with other hospitals, negotiate with insurance companies and directly execute his business plan. He will attend Yale and study biomedical engineering for a career in public health. As a student at Temple High School in Temple City near Los Angeles, Kevin’s awards include National Merit Scholar Commended, AP Scholar with Distinction and Presidential Service Award Gold. He was the co-founder and vice-president of a nonprofit called National Business Science Society, and he created a five-day science program called Science Starting Now at a local Boys and Girls Club. He is a president of Future Business Leaders of America, attending conferences and competing in events. He co-founded the Los Angeles Education Foundation (LAEF) to give underprivileged children more educational opportunities and is the co-founder of the Pre-Med Society, which helps students explore the field of medicine and raise awareness in the community of health issues. Kevin, a black belt in Taekwondo, created a Taekwondo Club and grew the club from 5 to 25 members. “Kevin easily stands out amongst his peers because of his personal drive, his natural leadership capabilities, and his genuine desire to positively impact our world,” says his advisor and mentor. “Kevin is not waiting until he is older to start making a difference in the community, he has already begun!”

Joyce Ou, Hacienda Heights
Yale University

Ou Manyan Joyce resizedWhen Joyce Ou moved from Chinatown, a dense area near downtown Los Angeles, to suburban Hacienda Heights more than 20 miles away, she saw her old neighborhood in a new light. She was born in China and moved to the United States with her parents when she was five years old. They lived in poverty but she didn’t notice that until she lived in an area where, as she described it, “the streets were nice and quiet, the houses around our condo looming large, the sidewalks relatively uncrowded.” The move gave her a fresh perspective and she looked at her parents with new respect. “For them, hard work isn’t a guarantor of success; it’s just something you have to do if you want to survive.” Joyce, who graduated from Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights, will be the first in her family to attend college. Her awards include National AP Scholar, AP Scholar with Honor and National Merit Semifinalist. She will attend Yale and study molecular and cellular biology and global studies for a career in medicine. She did research at the Shively Lab at City of Hope. She was also the editor-in-chief for the school’s paper Paw Prints Weekly, a student-funded publication, which ranked first in East LA and fourth in Southern California. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Givology online magazine, which aims to address educational opportunities in impoverished countries. “There are few students that encompass the traits that Joyce possesses,” according to her newspaper advisor. “Not only is she a leader and an innovator, she is also kind, giving, thoughtful, creative, and a person of strong moral integrity.”

Debbie Park, Torrance

Park Debbie resizedDuring a church trip to Sri Lanka, Debbie Park, for the first time in her life, was exposed to blatant sexism and discrimination so “embedded in the culture that nobody seemed to question it,” said this outspoken young woman with a strong sense of right and wrong. She grappled with what she witnessed and reflected on it for months. She later realized that the experience transformed her “into a more humble, respectful individual regarding the exchange of contradicting ideas.” What transpired in that foreign country taught her the importance of adhering to her morals while maintaining an open mind. Debbie, who is the first in her family to attend college, will attend Harvard University and study government for a career as a prosecutor or judge. As a student at Torrance High School in Los Angeles County, her awards include National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist, National Honors Society, AP Scholar with Distinction and California Scholarship Federation. She was the Congressional Debate Captain of her school’s Speech and Debate team, earning first place. Debbie is president of the National Honor Society and was vice president of the Associated Student Body. She was selected as the student representative on the Torrance Youth Council, which promotes volunteerism among youth, and is on the advisory board for the City Council. She has also taken a mission trip to Paraguay and did an internship in Los Angeles Superior Court. “It was clear to me that Ms. Park is an extraordinary young lady,” according to the judge she interned with last summer. “As I think of her, words like leader, special, standout, remarkable and genuine come to mind. She is destined to be a person that everyone she meets will be proud to say they know.”

Michelle Park, Los Angeles
Stanford University

Park Michelle resizedA frightening incident, which marked the beginning of a brave new life for Michelle Park, induced her to conquer her fears and courageously begin to take risks, like applying for an internship a t the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – and getting it. “Once held back by extreme caution and uncertainty, I am now the first to step up to a challenge with nervous excitement. Forward and backward, destroy and renew – I decided to hop onto the unpredictable roller coaster of change and barrel my way towards success.” According to her supervisor at JPL, “My colleagues and I were very impressed with the diligence, stick-to-itiveness, teaming and pleasant attitude of Ms. Park during the course of the six-week program. We were also impressed with her professional final presentation, which won the Outstanding Student Presentation award.” Other awards for Michelle, who is the salutatorian of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, include the National Merit Commendation, Harvard Prize Book Award and a two-time USA Biology Olympiad Semifinalist Award. She currently works at the LAC+USC Cancer Research Lab and will attend Stanford to study biomedical computation for a career in biomedical engineering. In high school, Michelle was captain of her school’s Science Bowl team, which placed 2nd in the 2015 Regional Science Bowl competition. She performed at Disneyland with Dances of the World, a cultural dance team. She was a member of the Ocean Science Bowl team, which placed 3rd in the 2015 Ocean Sciences Bowl Regional Competition. She is the founder and president of Kenya Opportunities Project, a club-turned-project that began in a church basement. It has now collected more than 2,500 books that will be used to build a new library in Nairobi.

Ted Zhu, Walnut

Ted Zhu resizedTed Zhu, the valedictorian of Walnut High School in a Los Angeles suburb, is inspired daily by his parents. He takes heart in a Chinese calligraphy poster, which hangs above their bed: “live fully, without fear.” His parents have battled cancer in the past and inspired him to translate his own fears into action. Ted conducted research during internships at the City of Hope and the Stanford Institutes of Medicine, both of which were funded by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine. He will study biomedical engineering and computer science at Harvard. In addition to biomedical research, he aims to work at the intersection of health sciences, journalism, and education advocacy to be a connector between the science community and the public to give people the information to make informed decisions about their health. “Initially, my endeavors took on an almost desperate meaning, a quixotic hope that I could somehow abolish my parents’ pain if I just learned a bit more. However, as I dove deeply into research to understand cancer and treatments, my eyes opened to the complexity and difficulty of finding a silver bullet cure.” Among his awards, Ted took first in the Southern California section of the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad, first in the State Science Olympiad, first in the American Open Scholastic Chess Championship, and is a Coca-Cola Scholar. He was co-captain of the Science Olympiad team and voted MVP four times. He was co-editor-in-chief of The Hoofprint, the school’s publication. He was also co-founder of the robotics team and co-founder and president of Live(r)On to raise awareness about liver cancer, and served as the fundraising chair of For All Mankind, a student nonprofit that raised $10,000 for Doctors Without Borders and The Water Project.

Since its founding in 1989 by Lori and Michael Milken, the Milken Scholars program has supported more than 350 Scholars from diverse backgrounds. Nearly one-third were born outside the United States and three-quarters have parents originating from over 60 countries. Nearly half were the first in their family to attend college.

Throughout their college careers, Milken Scholars are in regular communication with Milken Scholars staff, mentors and with one another.

Every summer, Scholars participate in a three-day Summit in Los Angeles, where Scholars staff and a range of distinguished speakers provide a forum for the participants to discuss issues crucial to their personal, academic and professional success. A Summit highlight for the D.C. Scholars will be their first encounter with fellow Scholars chosen from New York City and Greater Los Angeles. Over the coming years, the Summit will provide opportunities for Scholars to form and renew friendships, reflect on their personal growth, and exchange ideas and aspirations.

Milken Scholars are selected in their senior year of high school through a rigorous nomination, application review and interview process.

For details about the Milken Scholars program, visit

To schedule interviews, contact Ana Beatriz Cholo,; (310) 570-4773 (work); (312) 927-4845 (cell).