Five Stanford students awarded Obama-Chesky Voyager scholarship

Five Stanford juniors have been selected for the first Voyagers cohort, a scholarship program that aims to support students embarking on careers in public service. The program was created by former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama in partnership with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

The first Voyager cohort is made up of 100 students chosen from a pool of nearly 1,800 applicants from across the United States. The scholarship program includes financial aid of up to $50,000, a 10-year travel allowance, and access to a network of mentors. Fellows also receive funding and free Airbnb housing to pursue a so-called “summer trip,” where fellows can work and travel around the world to gain international experiences. Additionally, the Stanford Fellows will gather Nov. 17 for a fall summit in New York, where they will meet Obama, Chesky, and the fellow scholars in person.

In keeping with Voyager’s broad definition of public service, the five Stanford Fellows bring different backgrounds and interests. Their commitments to public service include supporting the queer Hmong community, developing human-centered technology standards, educating the public, equality of resources in global technology, and inclusion in technology-driven industries. technology.

Chali Lee

Chali Lee ’24, who is studying political science and a minor in Asian American studies, intends to continue her work within the queer Hmong community through the scholarship program. “Growing up, I truly believed that I was the only queer Hmong person there was, and I didn’t meet any other queer Hmong individuals until I was about 17,” Lee said.

With the travel opportunities provided by the scholarship, Lee said he plans to explore new perspectives from queer Hmong communities in Southeast Asia and other parts of the United States and become a voice for their stories.

Erik Rozi

Erik Rozi ’24, a computer science student, said he was passionate about the intersection of technology and government. In particular, he said he was interested in exploring how people can use technology and artificial intelligence for social good to modernize governments.

For his “Summer Voyage,” Rozi hopes to intern at a tech and government-related startup, and he plans to travel to Europe. “I’ve never traveled alone outside the country, so it would be super cool to experience the culture as well as the tech politics in Europe,” Rozi said.

Frances Suavillo

Frances Suavillo ’24, an English major, said she’s passionate about equity in public education. Suavillo has worked with the Los Angeles Unified School District since high school and intends to continue her work in public education throughout the Voyager program.

She grew up in Carson, California after immigrating to the United States from the Philippines when she was nine years old.

“I’ve seen how difficult it is to try to make it in a community like mine where few people really expect you to make it,” Suavillo said. “There are hardly any people in my town who go to college.”

Through mentorship and travel opportunities as a Voyager, Suavillo hopes to further build her public education skills to advocate for teachers and students in her hometown of Carson. “The only way I know to really make a difference in my community is through education,” Suavillo said. “So I’m doing my best to go back and help whenever I can.”

Itban Nafi

Itbaan Nafi ’24 is a Bangladeshi American student studying product design and international relations. With the funding and mentorship provided by the scholarship, Nafi hopes to set up an educational workshop in Bangladesh during her “summer trip”.

The goal of the workshop is to teach low-income university students in Bangladesh how to use the intersection of computer science, political science, and product design to better solve problems within their own communities.

“I had an idea about [the workshop] before applying for the scholarship,” Nafi said. “Once the [Voyager] the opportunity presented itself, I thought now was my chance to implement it and make a difference in the world.

Makenna Turner

Makenna Turner ’24, who majors in computer science and product design, is focused on using her background in technology to make tech spaces fairer. His passion for creating more equitable technological work environments is rooted in his personal experience. “It feels like there’s a lot of disrespect and people don’t appreciate women’s ideas,” Turner said.

Turner said the Voyager Fellowship would allow her to travel to Japan and the Netherlands, two places with different work cultures from the United States. She hopes to observe and interview women who work in booming tech companies in these places and observe how they navigate their environment.

“A wonderful opportunity”

The five Voyager Scholars expressed their gratitude for the program’s mentorship network and financial aid that eases their academic debt. As the scholarship is need-based, applicants had to demonstrate financial need to be considered for the program.

“I’ve worked three jobs in the past two years to complete my undergraduate studies and also send money home to my family in the Philippines,” Suavillo said. “It’s just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders knowing that I don’t have to put in the work to finish college.”

In addition to funding, the Voyager Fellowship provides coaches who support Voyagers throughout their journey. Referring to the mentorship offered, Nafi said, “It’s a great opportunity and I want to make the most of it.”

Rozi echoed Nafi, expressing her gratitude for the different perspectives and lived experiences that mentors can offer: “Mentors have great ideas about other [career] opportunities that I didn’t even consider.

Lee said his coaches helped him connect with Hmong teachers and work out his travel plans. “I’m really looking to take that from their mentorship, to see how I can achieve this vision that I have for my community,” Lee said.

As students who have passed the application process, the Stanford Voyagers share their personal advice for students interested in applying on their own.

“Being engaged in public service at the grassroots level, and not just ticking boxes to get a scholarship, is really important,” Rozi said.

“Show that you really care and that you really want to make the most of this opportunity,” Nafi said, adding that showing willingness to be an active member of the community is essential in the academic cohort.

“Don’t underestimate yourself,” Suavillo said. “Just do it. Ask for it.

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