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Eight NYC High School Seniors Selected as 2015 Milken Scholars

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

June 5, 2015

Santa Monica, CA—The Milken Scholars, a joint initiative of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation, has selected eight exceptional high school seniors as 2015 Milken Scholars. The Scholars, from six high schools across NYC, were chosen based on academic performance, community service, leadership and their ability to persevere in the face of adversity. Each Scholar will receive a $10,000 scholarship but what makes the program unique is the access to a lifetime of resources provided to scholarship recipients. They will be recognized at a dinner held in their honor at the Grand Hyatt in New York City on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

“Despite encountering challenges and adversity in their young lives, these students have overcome hurdles and now stand ready to embark on what may be their most significant journey yet – college,” said Gregory Milken, the program’s director. “We are happy that the Milken Scholars program will be there for them by providing ongoing mentoring, assistance with internships, opportunities for community service and numerous resources that will help guide them throughout their academic and professional careers.”

The 2015 New York City Milken Scholars are:

Frank Aguilar - University of Pennsylvania

Frank AguilarFrank Aguilar’s mother marveled at the change in her son. He had just returned home after spending two weeks helping impoverished families at the Working Boys’ Center in Quito, Ecuador. He had traveled to his parents' homeland because he had wanted to bring about change but, after witnessing resilience, hope and joy in the midst of such incredible hardship and poverty, it dawned on him that it was he who had changed. The experience gave him valuable insight into the sacrifices his parents made for him and how there are a wealth of opportunities available to him in the United States. For three summers, he worked alongside his father and helped him with his landscaping business. “I found the scorching summer heat unbearable and I soon grew frustrated with how backbreaking my dad’s job was. For over 20 years, my dad’s selflessness in sacrificing his body for his family has allowed me to get to where I am today and never once did he give up. Thus, it turns out that over these past summers my dad was not only teaching me the skills needed to become a successful landscaper; he was actually helping me develop into a man.” Aguilar, the first in his family to attend college, wants to become a doctor someday and he will be studying the bio basis of behavior and neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania. His interest in medicine has led him to volunteer at Metropolitan Hospital Center – Pediatrics Clinic and to work in a New York blood center. He is a National Merit Commended Scholar, an AP Scholar, and a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar at Regis High School in New York City. 

John Alvarez - Cornell University

John AlvarezJohn Alvarez was only eight months old when he and his family escaped the violence of the Colombian drug cartels and moved to the United States. Life here was not much easier. One reason was he did not speak English when he started school. “As I was growing up, my parents constantly instilled the belief that I had an obligation to get good grades and succeed,” Alvarez recalled. The coordinator of the Gateway Program, an organization at the high school geared towards college-bound minority students, backed him up. “I have known John since the end of his freshman year,” the coordinator said. “He made it known then that for him ‘failure is not an option.’” Alvarez became an integral part of the Gateway Program and soon became a leader and a mentor, encouraging his peers and taking other students under his wing. “His ‘can-do’ and ‘will do’ attitude has been so inspiring to not only all the students in the program but to me as well,” the coordinator noted. “John has such an endearing quality that he is one of the most revered and respected members of the program. His ability to believe in everyone is so beautiful that there are no words.” While at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in New York City, he donated over 200 hours at North Shore University Hospital in the cardiology unit and he tutored neighborhood children every summer. Alvarez will attend Cornell University and study biology for a career in medicine and public health. He is an AP Scholar, won the bronze medal at the New York Math Fair and is a member of the Arista National Honor Society.

Chase Lin - New York University

Chase LinFreshman year of high school was tough for Chase Lin so he transferred to Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in New York City the following year. According to Lin, those experiences made him stronger and more determined to succeed, and ultimately, become a leader. “In the classroom, Chase is a relentless and voracious learner,” said one of his AP teachers. “He grasps the concepts with ease and can always apply them to solve more challenging problems. When I think of Chase, I can’t help but relate him to the legendary phoenix, one who rises from the unimaginable hostile environment and soars into the sky of success.” Lin, who will study business at NYU, said that being on the debate team helped transform him from a shy, timid boy into a courageous leader unafraid to voice his opinions and speak in front of crowds. When Lin’s school decided to cut funding for AP and Honors classes, he took a stand and led a school protest that garnered media attention and the support of local politicians. The classes were re-instated. He is also quite the Renaissance man with his ability to play seven musical instruments and speak four languages – English, Mandarin, Cantonese and conversational Spanish. He was the Secretary of the Key Club and President of the Future Business Leaders of America. He is an AP Scholar and a member of the Arista National Honor Society. Lin is strongly interested in pursuing a career in environmental engineering or business. His tenacity led to an internship at Thornton Tomasetti, a prestigious engineering design firm, where he assisted in the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project.

Michael McAloon - Duke University

Michael McAloonMichael McAloon “has continuously distinguished himself in every way. He is unique among others – a passionate learner, a steadfast friend, a dedicated athlete and team captain, a young man of strong faith and a compassionate human being set on making a difference in the world,” shared an admissions officer who has known McAloon for five years. McAloon is known for his dynamic leadership in all that he does. He has conducted over 100 tours for families considering his high school, Poly Prep Country Day School in New York City. He’s the varsity soccer captain, the president and founder of his school’s Irish Club, and his interest in the business world led him to a stint interning at the New York Stock Exchange for two summers. He went to Cambodia to teach soccer and fell in love with, in his words, “the country and her people.” He became involved with his school’s Cambodia Club as a sophomore and volunteered at Global Children Cambodia to provide aid for Cambodian orphans and college scholarships. He credits his mother, who passed away in 2012 from breast cancer, with inspiring him. He wanted her to be proud of his choices in life. “Every word I write, every breath I breathe, every step I take, and all of my accomplishments are inspired by her memory,” he writes. “I live each day with the motivation to make myself stand out and to become an important part in someone else’s life.” He is an AP Scholar and has a National Merit Commendation. He will attend Duke University and study international studies and management for a career in international business and finance. 

Gladys Obaji - Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education

Gladys ObajiIn 2012, Gladys Obaji was selected as the only high school freshman for an internship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She pushed through by learning unfamiliar lab concepts, poring over journal articles and helping her mentor conduct experiments. “Not only was I able to acquire laboratory skills,” Obaji recalls, “but I was also able to gain knowledge on how to work with people from various backgrounds and ages. I learned to look past my insecurities and make the best out of a special opportunity I was given.” Obaji was awarded two gold medals from NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics in medicine and biology. Nationally, she was awarded a silver medal in the category of medicine. Her parents were born in Nigeria and she was immersed in her family’s traditions, food and language. Being Nigerian-American made her feel like an outsider because of the contrast between the two origins. It wasn’t until she joined an Ibo cultural dance group that she came to appreciate how important her culture is to her identity. At Queens High School for the Sciences at York College in New York City, she was president of the Academic Integrity Committee, dedicated to instilling integrity among students and eradicating cheating, and she debated at Model UN conferences. She is also an Anti-Defamation League Advanced Peer Trainer who lectures about the dangers of bullying, racism and bigotry. She is an AP Scholar with Honor and member of the Arista National Honor Society. Obaji was a nurse’s assistant during her summers and shadowed health professionals at NYU’s School of Medicine as a High School Fellow. She will attend Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education to study medicine for a career as a primary care physician. 

Ariel Sanchez - Yale University

Ariel Sanchez“For all of Ariel’s success in the classroom, he is a kind-hearted, good-natured young man. He is hard-working but humble – a student more concerned with knowledge than grades.” At Regis High School in New York City, Ariel Sanchez was chosen as the Indoor Track captain and in his position encouraged his teammates to develop their own abilities. He was also president of the Science Olympiad and was selected for REACH, Regis High School’s Big Brother program with middle school students.  Over the summer, he interned in a genomics lab at Johns Hopkins. He was a member of the Regis Repertory, which stages musicals and other shows, all throughout high school.  For three years, he tutored students in French and Math. He is finishing up his EMT certification and hopes to work as an EMT at Yale. Sanchez has an introspective nature and philosophical bent. In an essay, he questioned why society places such a high premium on being outspoken. An illuminating experience during his junior year of high school helped him recognize that he had been lacking the confidence to accept his reserve as an asset, rather than a deficit. “True happiness isn’t hopelessly struggling to change one’s personality to garner approval,” he writes. “Nor is it repudiating those who just don’t operate like everyone else. It’s simply embracing the fact that we all learn to enjoy life differently.” He is a Questbridge National College Match recipient, a National Merit Commended student, an AP Scholar with Honor and part of the National Hispanic Recognition Program. Sanchez will study molecular, cellular, developmental biology and philosophy at Yale in hopes of becoming a doctor. 

Moie Uesugi - Brown University

Moie Uesugi“Moie is the sort of student one encounters only rarely.” “… She is also one of our very strongest, most wonderful students in the ways that really count: she is brilliant and creative and full of real and valuable ideas.” “I can honestly say she is one of ’few in my career,’ and I have been teaching and advising college students for 42 years.” “She is the type of student you wait for as a teacher.” These accolades for Moie Uesugi, valedictorian of Bard High School Early College in Queens, New York City, describe an incredibly talented young woman who stands out among her peers. Uesugi will graduate from high school with an Associate’s Degree and will attend Brown to study computer science and English. She intends on pursuing a career as a programmer, librarian or editor. After attending a summer course in computer programming, Uesugi co-founded “Girls Who Code” at her school.  The club also works with middle school girls to spark interest and instill confidence in computer science. Her parents were born in Japan and she has native fluency in Japanese. Her diverse set of extracurricular activities throughout her youth included learning 20 traditional Japanese dances. She is also fluent in Spanish and spent a summer caring for children and infants at a hospital in Guatemala. She placed first in a regional writing contest called the Marie Wanek Essay Prize and was the winner of 2015 Aspirations in Computing New York City.

Simrankaur Wahan - Columbia University

Simrankaur WahanThe pride Simrankaur Wahan has in her Sikh religion lays a strong foundation to her identity. Both of her parents were born in India. Post-September 11th, Wahan is dedicated to eradicating racial stereotypes by making those closest to her – peers, teachers, members of her community – familiar with Sikhism, which preaches equality of all humans. Singing was a key part of her household growing up and she now assists in hosting meditation sessions in the kirtan-style singing. She has been playing the harmonium for 10 years. At Townsend Harris High School, a highly selective magnet school in New York City, she founded The Suhavi Foundation to combat gender stereotypes and raise awareness about women’s rights. She is the founder of the Sikh Student Association at her high school and youth president at the Flushing Interfaith Council. For three summers, she interned for U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng. She was also a science research and lab intern at Columbia University. She volunteered over 200 hours at a hospital during summers. She was also copy-editor for her school’s newspaper and editor of the Quantum Cat Science Newspaper, which promotes the connections between science and humanities in her high school.  One reference said she is first among equals. “Simrankaur Wahan’s academic motivation coupled with her exemplary character, will assuredly contribute to her successes. Every opportunity offered to her now will reap abundant rewards for our society in the future.” Her awards include being a member of the Arista Honor Society, the Archon Honor Society and the Mu Alpha Theta Honor Society. She will attend Columbia University to study biochemistry for a career as an orthodontist.

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 NYC Scholars will be their first encounter with fellow Scholars chosen from the District of Columbia 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. This year, we received 218 nominations from 54 high schools. 

For details about the Milken Scholars program, visit

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