The Foreign Service Youth Foundation’s 2018 Youth Awards Ceremony Honors Six AAFSW Merit Scholarship Recipients

Left to right: Peter Banks, AAFSW Scholarship Chair Sherry Barndollar Rock, Asa Nugent, Benjamin Toyryla (accepting award for his brother Alex), Susan Pompeo at the Youth Awards Ceremony on July 13. (Photo courtesy of AFSA.)


The recipients of this year’s AAFSW Merit Scholarships were honored at the 2018 Youth Awards Ceremony of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation (FSYF), on July 13 at the State Department’s George C. Marshall Center.

Winners of the FSYF Art Contest, Essay Contest, and KidVid Contest were recognized during the ceremony. The winning artwork was displayed in the lobby and through slideshows, and the winning videos were featured in the lobby for all to see. The FSYF Academic Merit Award and Community Service Award winners were honored, and a special Foreign Service Youth Advocacy Award was presented to longtime FSYF founding member Dale Dean. Additionally, Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, President of AFSA, recognized and congratulated AFSA merit scholarship recipients.

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeanne Juliao from the Bureau of Human Resources delivered the keynote speech. A letter of congratulations from Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo was included in the printed program. Susan Pompeo, the spouse of Secretary Pompeo, also attended the event and spoke to the gathering about seizing the opportunities available to Foreign Service families.

At the ceremony, AAFSW was pleased to announce merit scholarships to six outstanding students. Since the 1970’s, AAFSW has awarded need-based and merit scholarships to Foreign Service dependents. The newly created AAFSW Twice Exceptional Merit Scholarships for current high school seniors, gap year students or college freshmen and sophomores, with a current IEP or equivalent program were presented for the first time.

Merit Scholarship winners Riena Harker and Naeema Hopkins-Kotb

Riena Harker is a junior at Bowdoin College, where she is pursuing a double major in Biology, and Government and Legal Studies, with a minor in Environmental Studies. She has lived with her family in Greece, Japan and Serbia, and she graduated high school from the International School of Beijing. It is her international experience that has influenced her goal of working abroad with the EPA or the UN. Riena plays the viola and is a member of Bowdoin’s orchestra and chamber ensembles, and she volunteers with the local high school. On top of all of this, she works multiple jobs during the school year. She recently received a grant to intern with the Environment Health Strategy Center this past summer where she worked on environmental policy.




Naeema Hopkins-Kotb is a sophomore at Duke University and plans to major in Biology and Global Health with a minor in Chemistry. She intends to pursue a career in medicine. She grew up in Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, and Malaysia, and in the U.S. She graduated Salutatorian from the International School of Kuala Lumpur in 2017. She enjoys writing poetry, playing volleyball and basketball, traveling, and working on scientific research. Naeema was a 2018 scholar for the Summer Scholars Program in Genome Science and Medicine where she worked on molecular genetics research as part of the Sullivan Lab at Duke University.





AAFSW Twice Exceptional Scholarship inaugural recipients Peter Banks and Celia Martini

With his family, Peter Banks has lived in Mozambique, Brasilia, Warsaw, and Geneva as well as the U.S. He has struggled with reading and writing because of dyslexia, but with his IEP and strong support from his family he has excelled in school. He is an avid reader and has strong writing skills. Following his high school graduation, Peter took a gap year and volunteered with the American Conservation Experience through AmeriCorps where he worked on projects across Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. He is currently studying economics and math at George Mason University where he is enrolled in the Honors College. This summer he worked on experimental economic research at the Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Research.




Celia Martini graduated with the full IB diploma from the American School of Vienna in June where she played varsity basketball and softball. This fall she entered Emerson College in Boston to study film. Her Foreign Service life has taken her to four countries on four continents – India, Ecuador, Cameroon and Austria. As such, she was exposed to several languages. In fact, she says that she switched languages so much that she never had the chance to learn any of them well. Coupled with her dyslexia, language learning was difficult. Despite this, she gained a certain respect for English, which she has used as an advantage in her writing.





The Judy Felt Memorial Volunteerism Scholarship was established in honor of volunteer extraordinaire and past-president of AAFSW, Judy Felt. This year’s winner is Asa Nugent. He is a recent graduate of the Parkmont School in Washington, DC. His extensive volunteer service includes being a member of Camp Fire since the age of 6, where he has been a participant, a volunteer, and has volunteered with Camp Fire at other organizations. In September, Asa will receive the highest youth award from Camp Fire, the WoHeLo. He has completed 310 hours of community service in four years, including 180 hours supporting public education programs at the U.S. Botanical Gardens, where you can often find him with a Discovery Cart under the cacao tree. His other volunteer work includes So Others Might Eat, Food and Friends, and a small church-based men’s shelter. In addition to all of this volunteer work, he listens to audiobooks, has played soccer for the past 12 years, and enjoys outdoor activities. He plans to study engineering at Northern Virginia Community College.


The AAFSW Best Essay Award is for an exceptional essay submitted by an applicant for the Merit Scholarship. Our winner this year is Alex Toyryla. He has lived with his family in Addis Ababa, Vientiane, Chengdu, Cape Town, and Sao Paulo. He has loved his life as a TCK because it has given him an appreciation for the beauty of the world and its people. It is his hope to share his experiences and considerable knowledge with others. He is a recent graduate of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at the International Community School of Addis Ababa. Alex is attending The College of William and Mary where he plans to explore physics and engineering.





Congratulations to all of the AAFSW Scholarship winners!

Sherry Barndollar Rock
AAFSW Scholarship Committee Chair