Announcing the Inaugural Better Make Room Student Advisory Board Members
In October of 2015, as part of her Reach Higher initiative, the First Lady announced a new public awareness campaign, Better Make Room, to target Generation Z, or young people ages 14–19, to celebrate education, change the national conversation, and reach students directly where they are and give them a space to create content while also navigating the college-going process. Now, Better Make Room needs students to help Mrs. Obama build this movement from the ground up. So, today we’re announcing the launch of the Better Make Room Student Advisory Board and the appointment of 16 student members to the Board.
The Board’s mission is to: (1) create a college-going, college-persisting and college-graduating culture at their schools; and (2) connect fellow students to any information and resources they might need to succeed. They wake up every day with a mission, working towards a vision that sees every student at their school enrolling in and completing their education past high school — whether that’s a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.
The inaugural Board has twelve high school students and four college students. Two-thirds of the Board members are, or will be, the first in their families to attain a postsecondary degree. Two-thirds of the high school student Board members currently attend Title I high schools. And the Board members come from all over the nation, representing 13 states.
These students are deeply and personally committed to the mission of Better Make Room and have already demonstrated their remarkable ability to create change in their own communities. In the months to come, Better Make Room’s Board members will be mobilizing their peers to build college-enrolling, college-persisting, and college-graduating cultures at their schools and on their campuses. As proven leaders, organizers, changemakers, and innovators, these students will help the country achieve President Obama’s North Star goal — that our nation will once again lead the world in college completion rates.
Each of these students has a story to tell — and they’re bringing other students with them. The world #BetterMakeRoom.
The Better Make Room Student Advisory Board members will be traveling to the White House this Friday, January 6th to attend First Lady Michelle Obama’s School Counselor of the Year Ceremony.
Better Make Room Student Advisory Board Members:
Ghawayne Calvin — Omaha, NE
Ghawayne Calvin is a senior at Omaha Northwest High Magnet School in Omaha, Nebraska. He was born and raised in Jamaica but immigrated to the United States with his family in 2013. Ghawayne is a LEDA Scholar, a College Possible student, a member of student government, an Ambassador for the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission, a Relay for Life Team Captain, and a founding member of the Omaha Student Voices Advisory Council. His passion for health led him to create the Youth Expressions of Health Club at his high school. Ghawayne believes that attending college will be the first step to accomplishing his goal of becoming a surgeon and changing the lives of his family.
Jenny Ha — Oklahoma City, OK
Jenny Ha is a junior at Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She is her school’s Key Club Vice-President, Junior Class Vice President, and Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America Vice President. She represents Ward 3 in Oklahoma City’s Youth Council and is a member of the National Honor Society. Jenny has also worked with The Oklahoman on their Teen Journalism program and served on the Federal Reserve’s Student Board of Directors for Oklahoma City. As a daughter of hard working Vietnamese immigrants, she had to take every opportunity available for her in the U.S. to succeed. She has challenged herself diligently in academics and immersed herself in extracurricular activities because she believes that education is the great equalizer which enables all young people to reach their full potential and change the future for the better.
Kitana Holland — Minneapolis, MN
Kitana Holland is a first generation college sophomore at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While at Augsburg College, she has served as a member of College Possible, TRIO, as a LEAD Fellow, an Auggie Tour Guide, an URGO Research Assistant, and as a Senator in the Augsburg Student Government. Through these experiences, she has been able to use her creativity, relationship building, and process thinking to create impact in her community. Kitana is driven by her motto, “If the opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” and aspires to help first generation, low-income, and underrepresented high school and college students push through barriers to attain a college degree.
Kevin Ji — Palo Alto, CA
Kevin Ji is a senior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, CA. He founded the peer-to-peer Financial Literacy for Youth (FLY), an organization that teaches teens practical skills to sail through economic turbulence. As a board member of Palo Alto Youth Council, he raised awareness for teen mental health issues and was recognized by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for his leadership. A history buff, he also founded Historians in Action through which he has established Palo Alto’s first history tournament and developed interactive history curriculum with teachers.
Trey Leveque — Gilbert, AZ
Trey Leveque is a senior at Williams Field High School in Gilbert, Arizona. He is very involved on his high school campus, serving as his school’s Student Council Student Body President, Academic Decathlon President, Best Buddies President, and Key Club President. Trey is also a member of the National Honor Society, National English Honor Society, and Higley Unified School District Student Advisory Committee. Trey is also a member of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, Boy Scouts of America, Order of the Arrow, and volunteers for organizations such as Relay for Life, Feed My Starving Children, and Special Olympics, while serving on the Special Olympics Arizona Youth Activation Committee. From helping lead fundraisers, to raising thousands of dollars to support organizations such as UNICEF through Key Club, to helping others become leaders every day through his school’s Student Council, he is truly passionate about making a positive impact in the lives of others.
Lorena Leza — San Antonio, TX
Lorena Leza is a high school senior at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio, Texas. She is the co-founder and president of the Young Women’s Coalition, a school organization dedicated to promoting social awareness and girls’ global education, and served as vice-president of the Gamma Sigma Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas program as well as vice-president of the Theater Arts Guild. She was also an intern for the Women’s Global Connection’s Girls Global Summit, an annual event inviting high school girls to learn about female empowerment and the responsibilities of being a global citizen. As a low-income Hispanic female ready to become a first generation college student, she had to develop a mindset, with the help from her family and mentors, to push past the hurdles, pursue her goals in computer science and political science, and shatter glass ceilings to inspire those coming after her.
Laura Muñoz — Miami, FL
Laura Muñoz is a freshman at Brown University from Miami, Florida. She is the freshman liaison for First-Gens@Brown and the freshman representative for the Latin American Student Organization at Brown. In high school, she was member of the National Honor Society and the French Honor Society and founded and directed her school’s National Honor Society Mentoring Initiative, which supports eighth graders in their transition to high school. She is a Cuban woman, a Miami girl, a believer in the endless power of dreams, a relentless list-maker, a daughter of immigrants, a mentor, a feminist, a budding Historian, and a Brunonian. She is a believer in the profound influence of education and a lover of knowledge.
Bethania Perez — Pico Rivera, CA
Bethania Perez is a senior at El Rancho High School, which is located in her hometown of Pico Rivera, California. She is the president of her school’s California Scholarship Federation organization, which promotes scholarship and service and raises funds for scholarships and field trips. She is also a Link Crew member, a peer advisor, the captain of her school’s girls’ varsity soccer team, and a member of her school’s Athletic Council. Bethania is a first-generation Latina student from a low-income household who aspires to become a biomedical engineer and strives to make a positive impact for females in the field of STEM. She is passionate about everything ranging from academics to athletics. She is a compassionate and goal-oriented dreamer who lives a very active and adventurous life filled with extracurriculars and rigorous courses.
Ana Pérez-Villagómez — Omaha, NE
Ana Pérez-Villagómez is a senior at South High Magnet in Omaha, Nebraska. She is the president of the student body and a member of the executive board for the National Honor Society and also serves on the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission. Additionally, Ana is an honors team representative for her school at Academic Decathlon competitions and served as the public relations point person for the Green Team, which increased awareness about her school’s carbon footprint. She is the eldest of six children in her family and will be the first to graduate from high school and attend college. She intends to study chemistry and mathematics, while becoming a tutor for students, at her future institution.
Swetha Prabakaran — Ashburn, VA
Swetha Prabakaran is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) in Alexandria, VA interested in Computer Science. She is extremely passionate about introducing Computer Science to younger students and is the Founder and CEO of Everybody Code Now!, a national nonprofit. For her work, she was honored as a 2015 White House Champion of Change. Swetha is also a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and performed her arangetram (solo debut) in 2015.
Alezandro Ruvalcaba — Thornton, CO
Alezandro Ruvalcaba is a senior at York International in Thornton, Colorado. He is the founder of Mexican & Chicanx Activists, a youth-led advocacy club centered around Brown social issues and activism. His passion for social justice pushes him to work towards ending the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects low-income students. After college, he intends on going to law school to study human rights and aspires to create a non-profit for homeless queer youth.
Christopher Suggs — Kinston, NC
Chris Suggs is a young leader and changemaker from Kinston High School in Kinston, North Carolina. Chris is the founder of Kinston Teens, Inc. and Co-Founder of Black Youth Network. He is very passionate about young people having “a seat at the table,” Chris is a member of the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission and a Youth Advisory Board for Facebook. Chris has been recognized on platforms such as NBC’s The Real and the Nickelodeon’s HALO Awards.
Santiago Tobar Potes — Miami, FL
Santiago Tobar Potes was born in Cali, Colombia, and came to the US seeking asylum after the FARC — Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — killed both his grandparents. As a low-income, first generation college, LGBT student, he sometimes felt isolated. Nonetheless, in spite of those challenges, he studies at Columbia University as a Jack Kent Cooke, Questbridge, and Alexander Hamilton Scholar on a full scholarship. His goal is to make higher education readily available and feasible to all.
Taylor Vidmar — Assumption, IL
Taylor Vidmar is a writer and student at Richland Community College from Assumption, Illinois. She has written for Huffington Post Teen and MTV Founders. Growing up in a small town, she always had big dreams for the future. She hopes to help end the stigma against community college students and prove that it’s possible to achieve your goals no matter where you come from. In the future, she wants to be a political journalist.
Fatima Wahidi — St. Louis, MO
Fatima Wahidi is a senior at Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience Magnet High School in St. Louis, Missouri. When her local high school was at risk for becoming unaccredited, Fatima decided to apply to Collegiate School of Medicine, where she will soon be part of its inaugural graduating class. Her biggest passions in life are social justice and neuroscience. Fatima is a LEDA Scholar and a dedicated volunteer in her St. Louis community.
Mina Yakubu — Wilmington, NC
Mina Yakubu is a senior at New Hanover High School, located in Wilmington, North Carolina. She immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana, West Africa. She is an ambitious young woman who has found strength in her African heritage, a passion she hopes to further in college. She believes that the opportunity to attend college or learn a trade should be made available and affordable for everyone. Mina is a LEDA Scholar and President of the International Club.