Congratulations to the Winners of the AAFSW Merit Scholarship Program!

Winners of the Merit Scholarship for College Students — $2,500 each

Julia Burleson

Julia Burleson is a sophomore pursuing a double major in Public Health and Economics at Johns Hopkins University. In her roles on the executive board of Partners in Health: Engage and the Public Health Student Forum, she organizes health advocacy and education events related to global health equity on campus. Outside of school, she works at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services and the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Alliance for a Healthier World initiative. She previously interned at the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai where she delivered a workshop on menstrual health and hygiene to underprivileged girls and served on a panel discussing the impact of menstrual health on women’s social and economic empowerment. In her free time, Julia likes to make ice cream, garden, and travel.

Julia Burleson also won the $1,000 Best Essay Award.


Sophie Kane

Sophie Kane (19) has spent almost her entire life abroad. Both of her parents serve in the Foreign Service, leading her to grow up in Nigeria, Portugal, Mozambique, Senegal, France, and Brazil. Throughout her travels she has picked up French and some Portuguese. Sophie graduated from the American School of Brasilia in 2019 and is a rising sophomore at Yale University where she is a prospective major in Ethics, Politics, and Economics. She considers Monterey, California home although she loves living in New Haven, Connecticut. Sophie is passionate about making voting accessible to university students, serving as a Voter Engagement Captain for her residential college. She is also a beat reporter for the Yale Daily News and swims on the university club team. After graduating, she hopes to have a career in public service.  


Winners of the Twice-Exceptional Merit Scholarship — $2,500 each

Benjamin Leese

Growing up for me has been quite the unique experience due to my Dad’s U.S. Air Force career and my Mom’s U.S. State Department career: I have lived in nine different homes and attended eight different schools. I have come to love my family’s vagabond lifestyle and look forward to traveling to new places. I have used my artistic talents and my extroverted personality to start conversations and meet friends in the 20+ countries I have visited. By living about 25% of my life in Naples, Italy and Maseru, Lesotho, I have learned to blend into any surroundings and make friends from all over the world. This has made me what I am today – a thoughtful, caring, intelligent individual with an expanded world view. I hope to earn my degree in fine arts and inspire the world with my art.  


L. R.

L.R. is about to begin his junior year studying computer science at a technical institute. He lives in the DC metro area, where he also attended high school. Before his parents retired from the Foreign Service several years ago, L. R. lived overseas in Europe and Asia for over ten years, where he picked up three new languages. This summer, he will complete his third year working as a software engineer at a local tech company. Outside of school and work, L. R. is interested in tropical fish and invertebrates and enjoys visiting public aquaria whenever possible. 


Winner of the $1,000 Judy Felt Memorial Volunteerism Scholarship

Alexander Toyryla

Alex is a rising junior at William & Mary, studying Physics with a minor in Computer Science.  He grew up across the globe, living and learning in Ethiopia, Laos, China, South Africa, and Brazil.  Alongside his studies he gained valuable experience in high school, teaching elementary and middle schoolers soccer and working with a group of international students to provide a local Ethiopian school with computers and the knowledge to effectively use them.  In college he works in his honor fraternity to plan, organize, and participate in service and philanthropy events including trash pickup, working on local farms, and raising almost two thousand dollars for a house providing care for elder patients.  He also works with a second fraternity to volunteer at a center for children with learning disabilities and at a local animal shelter.  Alex values learning and wants to provide everyone he can with the opportunities to learn traditionally and through unique experiences.