2014 Award Winners

Jason Chanthanasak

De Anza High School, Richmond

Jason Chanthanasak was 8 years old when a 15-year-old honor student was killed on her front doorstep in his Richmond community – a victim of gang violence. This murder brought the community together to form SEAYL, or South East Asian Young Leaders; Jason joined the group when he was in the eighth grade.

When several older members left, it was left to Jason and three other remaining members to reinvigorate the Stopping the Violence Summit in Richmond and to rebuild the organization, recruiting and inspiring younger members.

SEAYL and its activities have been credited with dramatically decreasing the incidence of Asian-on-Asian violence in Richmond.

As Jason looks forward to college life, he hopes to leave a legacy of younger members who can assume leadership positions in their turn and can help others learn the lessons he takes with him: what it means to lead, and how to inspire through communication. Jason may leave Richmond to continue his education, but he plans to continue giving back to his community, being an example for others, and ultimately making a difference.

Sammi Chen

Oakland Technical High School, Oakland

Sammi Chen is a dynamo with heart. In addition to her volunteer work with the Asian Health Services Youth Program, she has served as Associated Student Body president at her high school, using this role to promote collaboration and establish a sense of community.

Noting that 46 percent of the students at her school qualified for the free or reduced-fee lunch program, Sammi felt that it was important to ensure these families were able to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home without expenses being an obstacle.

To this end, she launched an extensive effort to collect canned food for these families’ dinners. A few short months saw 2,100 canned goods and nonperishable items, along with frozen turkeys, donated and distributed to families in need. This was followed by a December Toy Drive to benefit low-income children at surrounding elementary schools.

Sammi wishes to continue to organize events and activities that bring individuals together, building a stronger foundation for fellowship and community service.

Jessica Chiu

Los Gatos High School, Los Gatos

Jessica Chiu is a rocket scientist, an artist, and a humanist. As president and founder of the Hepatitis B Awareness Club, and as a member of the South Bay Outreach Committee on Hepatitis B Prevention, Jessica works tirelessly to improve the health of the Los Gatos community.

She leads efforts to increase Hepatitis B awareness, screening and vaccination, and her club has coordinated several outreach events benefitting the Jade Ribbon Campaign and the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University. Jessica helped organize and publicize a widely viewed webinar hosted by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on Hepatitis B and Reducing Prenatal Transmission, which featured speakers from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Hep B United.

Even as she embarks on a path to become an aerospace engineer and build the next generation of multi-disciplinary unmanned aircraft, Jessica will always lend a listening ear and an encouraging word to those who need a helping hand. She’ll continue to have her head in the skies, and her heart grounded in the lives of those around her.

Anika Kumar

San Rafael High School, San Rafael

Dissection Access for All. To many, this can seem an odd rallying cry. To students in under served high schools, who may not have access to the hands-on experience that can further a future in the sciences, it can also be a beacon for hope.

When Anika Kumar and her peers realized that their high school did not have the resources to provide hands-on opportunities to explore anatomy through dissection, they began the search for ways to address this educational inequity. Using high-profile education sites as their model and with help from Next Generation Scholars, Anika and her team created Dissection Access for All, a website that makes scientific procedures accessible to low-income high school students who are passionate about science.

Members of Teachers for Social Justice encouraged the youth group to further publicize their site through links to school websites in several districts, as well as through social media channels. Dissection Access for All combines science and technology that helps bridge the educational inequity gap.

Michelle Nguyen

Mission High School, San Francisco

Michelle Nguyen calls San Francisco’s Tenderloin home. While she celebrates the district’s unparalleled diversity and architectural richness, she also recognizes that it has earned its gritty reputation.

When a research project she conducted revealed that more than 75 percent of Tenderloin residents buy their groceries outside the neighborhood because they couldn’t find healthy affordable food closer to home, Michelle decided to address the phenomenon head-on.

With other residents, she helped create the Tenderloin Healthy Corner Store Coalition. Through endless research, outreach to community leaders and a letter-writing campaign to the departments of Public Health and Public Works, Michelle helped raise money to expand the coalition and, ultimately, to pass city legislation to renovate a corner store into one that fulfills the community’s needs.Michelle hopes this inspires other neighborhoods to create similar change.

Even as she aspires to a career in technology, Michelle recognizes the economic disparity between the expanding tech industry and her home. She aspires to bridge the gap between both worlds, maintaining a foot in each.

Preethi Raju

Mira Loma High School, Sacramento

Preethi Raju has a mission. 74 percent of India’s population is illiterate; only 51 percent of secondary school-aged girls actually attend school, and at least 12 percent of children under the age of 14 are child laborers.

These shocking statistics prompted Preethi to found a Free the Children Club at her high school. This group raises funds to build schools for child laborers in India so they can escape the poverty cycle, focusing on areas that suffer the most from economic crises, gender disparities and child labor rates.

To date, Preethi’s chapter of Free the Children has raised more than $2,300 to purchase furniture, text books, school supplies and other necessities for two schools. They are now aiming to raise $10,000 to build a school for child laborers in Rajasthan, and they are broadening their sights to build a school in every third world country, looking next at China.

Preethi plans to continue supporting her high school club, and to found a Free the Children chapter at her university. Ultimately, Preethi wishes to found a non-profit organization that builds schools and hospitals in rural countries.

Sabera Talukder

Los Gatos High School, Los Gatos

Sabera Talukder stepped outside her aunt’s affluent, gated community in Dhaka, and was faced with shanty huts immediately outside.

Although on the surface, the children appeared smiling and healthy, a visit to the Sajida Foundation’s day care centers for children in need revealed a more serious truth: the children of destitute single mothers who contracted diarrhea and cholera from untreated drinking water. Determined to make a difference, Sabera learned about water-borne diseases, tested the water at 24 locations in Dhaka, and built a $25, solar-powered, easy-to-maintain water purification system.

With her family’s support, Sabera returned to Bangladesh to implement her new system. Despite numerous glitches, she managed to build, deploy, and train locals to be self-sufficient with the new water purification systems in two daycare centers – providing clean drinking water to hundreds of children.

With proper funding and further research, Sabera hopes that her system – or an improved version – can be globally deployed to developing countries and communities where clean drinking water, a luxury we take for granted every day, is desperately needed.