Meet the Civic ScholarsClass of 2017
Class of 2018
Class of 2019
Class of 2020 


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Esha Bansal

Hometown: Cocoa Beach, Florida

Major: International Studies, Business, Spanish

Civic engagement interests: My civic engagement interests center on public health and its power to design innovative, scalable interventions that reach people with complex healthcare needs. In particular, I enjoy making documentary films on health inequities facing immigrant communities and the role of HIV/AIDS in creating Philadelphia's public health infrastructure.  As an EMT, I am passionate about mitigating the root causes of trauma through compassionate and effective healthcare.

How do you hope to impact the world?: In the future, I hope my work will provide a creative means for thought leaders and activists in our community to expand their partnerships with community stakeholders. By combining service and research, I hope to bring awareness of under-researched public health problems to the forefront of the public mindset.



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Aiden Castellanos

Hometown: San Bruno, CA 

Major: Urban Studies (minor in Urban Education)

Civic engagement interests: Activism work is something that I'm very passionate about. I've worked the longest with GSA Network (NorCal chapter) and, as a result, I've been a part of advocating against school push out and the School to Prison Pipeline as well as spoken on a variety of issues, such as racial justice and income inequality. I strongly believe in youth empowerment being significant in creating social change because of the strength and passion that comes with self-advocation.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to continue being an advocate for issues that are impacting the world; however, the extent of how much I can be involved varies regarding the issue. This is me needing to do my part on whatever concern is brought up; I can speak on certain points with being a low-income transgender Mexican-American, but I need to stand in solidarity and speak when asked in the Black Lives Matter movement. I want to impact the world in any opportunity available by being involved in advocacy and activism.

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Alba Disla

Hometown: Lawrence, MA

Civic engagement interests: My junior and senior year of high school, I was part of a group called Out of the Blue with 7 other upperclassmen and we facilitated discussions about identity with peers and faculty. We also presented at several diversity conferences so that other institutions could establish similar conversations. For the last three years, I was a tutor/mentor at Si, Se Puede, a homework-help center in my hometown, Lawrence, MA. As a mentor at the Powel School, I hope to meaningfully connect with my students.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I I firmly believe in the power of the youth. Young people are the driving force behind today's social movements. I believe that by mentoring young people, especially those who are traditionally marginalized, to recognize their potential, the world will change in many different shapes and forms. Whether informal or formal, mentoring changes lives, and consequently changes the world.



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Cameron Hellerman

Hometown: Massapequa, NY

Major: Political Science, concentration in Internation Relations

Civic engagement interests: I am very invested in helping the homeless, immigration reform, and local community engagement with children from immigrant or low income families. In high school I worked for four years with a local men's homeless shelter, and for the past year or so with an organization called "La Fuerza Unida". At La Fuerza, I helped run an after school day care program and summer camp program that was state funded. This relates to my passion for immigration reform and personal assistance.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to be a community "helper", as pointed out in PennCORP. All the ways to help ones community are important, however, I think the relationships forged at a helper level are the most meaningful. I hope to impact the world through random acts of kindness and the hopefully meaningful relationships I forge with those I help.



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Celine Jo

Hometown: Fullerton, CA

Civic engagement interests: I am passionate about addressing homelessness and food insecurity through my learning and service in Philadelphia. I also hope to pursue my interest in educational equity by engaging in local high schools and continuing my past participation in education policy reform. Having led free music education programs in a low-income area, I am especially interested in expanding academic and extracurricular opportunities for underprivileged youth.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to implement change by providing resources, opportunities, and support for people living in poverty. I would like to help reduce inequities and increase access to basic needs such as food, so that day-to-day survival does not have to be a source of concern. I hope to make a lasting impact in communities that I am a part of, by becoming involved in individual lives and listening to those who need to be heard.


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Alex Johnson

Hometown: Washington, DC

Major: Philosophy

Civic engagement interests: Currently, I conduct research on the effects of regulation on socioeconomic inequality for Penn Law.  I also serve as the co-chair of the Diversity Initiative for the American Parliamentary Debate Association in order to ensure that debaters of color are not competitively penalized on account of their races and to create programs for collegiate debate teams to give back to their respective communities. Last summer, I built an app for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to identify and address pay inequity across genders and races, and I conducted research on the philosophical implications of race-based affirmative action from a justice-oriented standpoint.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to impact the world through a combination of institutional change and direct service action. I plan to attend law school after graduation such that I can pursue a career in public interest law, for organizations such as the ACLU or the Innocence Project. However, I believe it is just as necessary to engage in direct action with communities.

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Lara Jung

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Civic engagement interests: I am passionate about education, particularly in how to create engaging and culturally relevant atmospheres in which youth can explore their passions. I spent the last year working as an Americorps member with City Year Milwaukee, where I tutored and mentored in a 6th grade classroom. My students' passions ignited mine. Their curiosity fueled my own. I owe it all to them.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to learn big things in my time at Penn, so that when I go out into the world, I have big ideas to share. At the same time, I know that most of the big ideas won't be my own. I want to be a part of helping others realize their potential. There's so much to be done in this world, but we have to look for the answers in more places than textbooks. 


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Omar Khoury

Hometown: Cincinnati, OH

Civic engagement interests: I am very passionate about refugee and migrant rights, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, proper legal representation, and helping others gain access to fundamental rights like water, education, and a clean environment. In high school, I was involved with Hands Across the Water, an organization that raised awareness for lack of clean drinking water, the Ohio Innocence Project, and Palestine Children's Relief Fund.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I believe that the best ways to impact the world are through grassroots efforts to combat an injustice and through high and low-level policy changes. I want to be able to empower other students and community members to tackle issues at the local level and to create long-lasting relationships with people we serve and to promote independence. I also plan on going into law and government, instituting reforms and laws that best respect the dignity of human rights and environmental rights.

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Gabby Lott

Hometown: Clover, SC

Civic engagement interests: I'm interested in educational disparities and helping to alleviate them through community and school partnerships. I've done this through various tutoring and mentorship programs in high school, and would like to continue this work in college with an increased focus on culturally relevant education for all parties involved. I'm also interested in arts education and arts therapy, gender equality, LGBTQ (youth) rights, and racial inequality (specifically in Southern and urban spaces).

How do you hope to impact the world?: I'd like to work as a mediator between underprivileged and overprivileged communities in some fashion. Ideally, I'd leverage my educational and socioeconomic privilege to help balance the resources given out to members of the same areas.


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Ajjit Narayanan

Hometown: Fremont, CA

Civic engagement interests: I'm interested in international human rights, educational, racial and economic disparities, and the intersection of policy making with these issues.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to become an agent of change in the world. Don't ask me what that would look like, because I don't know yet.


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Brendan Taliaferro

Hometown: Lilburn, GA

Major: Comparative Literature, concentrtion in Globalization

Civic engagement interests: I hope to be involved with the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project, Big Brothers and Sisters, Amnesty International, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, as well the Roosevelt Think Tank for Social Policy. Specifically, I am most passionate about fighting for global human rights, preventing rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence, as well as ending the cycle of poverty in the United States.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to be a part in the erasure of the systematic oppression and/or societal discrimination against any people group. I believe every person has an equal right to the life they desire to live, and I hope to help erase the systematic oppression and societal constraints that stop people from doing that.

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Carolina Zuluaga

Hometown: Englewood, NJ

Civic engagement interests: I am interested in education for all and closing the literacy gap that exists within the United States and around the world. Throughout high school I worked on a literacy initative, Comprendemos Connection, to address the issue of literacy within my community. This was done through a collection of over 7,000 books which established three community libraries and one in Guatemala. I also translated documents for various nonprofits and set up tutoring sessions in my local community center.

How do you hope to impact the world?: I hope to incorporate what I learn here at Penn to better serve and empower others especially through education advocacy.