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Five Stanford students among inaugural cohort of Voyager Scholars

The Voyager Scholarship was created by President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky to support students pursuing public service careers.

Five Stanford undergraduates are among the inaugural recipients of the Voyager Scholarship, which supports college students interested in pursuing public service careers.

The scholarship was established by President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky. It provides college juniors and seniors across the nation with up to $50,000 in financial aid and $10,000 for a summer work-travel experience. Scholars also receive access to a broad network of mentors and leaders who can support their academic and professional goals, as well as an invitation to an annual summit to meet with Obama, Chesky, and other guest speakers to discuss approaches to service and leadership.

This year, 100 students were selected among a pool of nearly 1,800 applicants. Following are the Stanford students selected for the inaugural cohort of Voyager Scholars.

Chali Lee (Image credit: Jonathan Mao)

Chali Lee, of Fresno, California, is a junior majoring in political science and minoring in Asian American studies. He credits his work as an organizer for the queer Hmong community with helping him become a Voyager Scholar.

“This scholarship will allow me to travel globally in order to continue exploring what intersectionality is to different communities, what it looks like in the context of their geopolitical environment, and how to organize with and for multifaceted communities,” Lee said.

He hopes the program will also help him expand his knowledge of organizing practices for marginalized communities in the United States and create a more representative and resourceful future for his queer Hmong community.

Itbaan Nafi (Image credit: Courtesy Itbaan Nafi)

Itbaan Nafi, from Euless, Texas, is a junior studying computer science and product design. He said that the Voyager Scholarship will provide him access to a network of peers, world leaders, and entrepreneurs who will help him design an educational workshop to teach low-income children in Bangladesh about ways to utilize design thinking, computer science, and international relations to engineer solutions to their own challenges.

“It will allow me to not only serve as a mentor to these kids but also help them harness their creative confidence to become changemakers,” Nafi said.

He said the program will help him become a more empathetic and innovative product engineer and a leader that can help bridge inequities affecting low-income students pursuing opportunities in the technology industry.

Erik Rozi (Image credit: Courtesy Erik Rozi)

Erik Rozi is a junior from Santa Clarita, California, majoring in computer science. He said the scholarship will allow him to pursue public service opportunities previously unavailable to him and to pursue work that he cares about.

“There is a lot of societal pressure to pursue opportunities that follow a certain ‘right path’ often traveled, even if this isn’t a path that I am passionate about,” Rozi said. “Through this scholarship, I can create my own public service path that matches my own unique passions.”

Rozi said he is eager to experience new cultures through the program’s travel opportunities. His work will focus on domestic and global technology standards, particularly on fair, trustworthy, and equitable technology. “As a Voyager Scholar, my ability to go on a summer exploration journey will help me broaden my perspectives and identify ways to develop technology that truly helps people across the world,” he said.

Frances Suavillo (Image credit: Courtesy Frances Suavillo)

Frances Suavillo, from Carson, California, is a junior pursuing a major in English and a minor in international relations and philosophy. She said that as a first-generation immigrant originally from the Philippines who has held multiple jobs and supported relatives while being a full-time student, she’s grateful for the support of the Voyager Scholarship.

“I can finally focus on being a student and on my work in education equity, specifically in my hometown of Carson,” Suavillo said. “Besides the monetary value and travel stipend, the connections I’ll make as a Voyager Scholarship recipient will be valuable in my work in public education in the future.”

Makenna Turner (Image credit: Courtesy Makena Turner)

Makenna Turner is a junior from Boulder, Colorado. She is studying computer science and product design and intends to pursue a master’s degree in management science and engineering.

“It is truly the opportunity of a lifetime to be sponsored by the Obama-Chesky Scholarship to travel around the world learning about how women in tech workplaces navigate their environments and how we can make the experiences of women in those spaces more equitable here in the U.S.,” Turner said.

She sees the scholarship as a continuation of her prior research on equity and inclusion in technology. She said it will also provide her with a broader perspective for the research she is currently assisting with under Professor Pamela Hinds in the Department of Management Science and Engineering.

“I hope this scholarship experience will catalyze my future work as a woman in tech who yearns to make the industry more equitable for those who come after me,” Turner said.