High School Awards


High School Awards Program

The Greek letters ΦΒΚ stand for “The Love of Learning is the Guide of Life.” This is a fitting maxim for our nation’s oldest academic honor society. The DC Area Phi Beta Kappa Association believes in passing our passion for knowledge and its enrichment on to younger members of our communities. Since 1974, DCPBK has sponsored a High School Awards Program to encourage excellence, creativity, and industry among the diverse student population attending the public and charter schools in our area.

Every year our members select deserving high school seniors in the District and nearby Virginia and Maryland to recognize their scholastic achievements and community service.  This Program has become the centerpiece of the Association’s commitment to our community, and in recent years DCPBK has offered up to four awards to college-bound seniors of $1,000 each. Contributions to the High School Award Program from our members and supporters are gratefully received.

DCPBK High School Awards
Professor Heidi Elmendorff sharing wisdom with the 2024 awardees

Honorees are recognized at a reception each spring and are presented with a book pertinent to their future course of study as well as a Phi Beta Kappa Certificate of Recognition. After not holding award ceremonies in 2020, 2021, or 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we held an in-person ceremony in 2023.

In 2024, Heidi Elmendorf from Georgetown University served as our featured speaker. Professor Elmendorf is a Biology professor and president of the Georgetown University Phi Beta Kappa Chapter. She shared some valuable advice as a scientist, Phi Bete, academic advisor, and mother, on the importance of being open to the unexpected, pursuing interests that feed one’s soul, selecting a personal board of advisors, and remembering that “you are all enough.”

In 2023, Jill Kasle from George Washington University served as our featured speaker. Professor Kasle is a professor of constitutional law at GWU and a member of Phi Beta Kappa; all the attendees enjoyed her poignant and practical remarks about what professors wish their students knew. The event was hosted by former DCPBK President Christel MacDonald, who also provided insightful remarks to the awardees.

In 2019, Mark Vlasic served as our featured speaker. Professor Vlasic is a Professor at Georgetown Law, and has experience working in the White House, the Pentagon, the World Bank, the United Nations, and a large international law firm. In addition to insights on international law, Mark gave our award winners and other attendees helpful advice on learning from and persevering through failure.

In 2018, our featured speaker was Ambassador Miriam (“Mimi”) Hughes, who spoke on the importance of following one’s compass. The full text of her speech can be found here.

Application Instructions

The award application for the 2023-2024 cycle is now closed. Applications for the 2024-2025 cycle will open in January 2025.

The students receiving our award must show a commitment to the values and mission of Phi Beta Kappa, including academic achievement, community involvement, and a dedication to the liberal arts and sciences. Upon selection, D.C. PBK will ask each recipient for a letter of acceptance from their chosen college or university. Questions about the award can be sent to [email protected].

Note: Applicants must have a 3.5 unweighted GPA to apply.

Past Winners

2024 Winners

Saihithi Akula (top left) attends both Rock Ridge High School and the Academies of Loudoun in Virginia. In the future, she hopes to become a physician, and has furthered her interest in medicine by volunteering as an Athletic Trainer Student Aide, shadowing various healthcare specialties, publishing a research paper in UMass Amherst´s Rising Researchers Journal, and spending more than 1,000 hours as a volunteer EMT/Firefighter, providing life saving services for over 70 patients. In addition, she is actively engaged in extracurricular activities such as serving as President of her school´s chapter of Key Club, competing in Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) – where she has placed twice at the state level, and is a member of both the Red Cross Club and Science National Honor Society. She will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where she will be studying biology in the Guaranteed Admission Program for Medicine (B.S./M.D.).

Kayla Bethea (top right) is a senior at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School and an incoming freshman at Yale University studying Economics and Political Science. Kayla is involved in her school community as President of Model UN and founder of Youth Government, where she won multiple local and national awards for speech and debate. Outside of school, she is a part of Wired Human, a nongovernmental organization that aims to ensure child safety online by lobbying congress members. She was interviewed on Fox News and featured in multiple articles from The Washington Examiner and Wood TV. She is also the founder and President of Black Natal Care, a nonprofit that raised $10,000 to help black women during pregnancy. Finally, Kayla was an intern at the Office of Chairman Phil Mendelson and the Office of the Attorney General, where she wrote policy recommendations on behalf of the attorney general and wrote reports on budget hearings.

Kendi Caldwell (bottom left) is a graduating senior from Atholton High School. She has spent most of her high school career in leadership and service, especially to the Black community. She serves as president of the Nation’s Capital Jack & Jill chapter, co-chair of the National Youth Employment Coalition’s Youth Advisory Council, vice president of her school’s Black Student Union, and captain of her varsity Basketball and Track & Field team. She will be attending Spelman College where she hopes to major in Psychology and Economics as a way of outletting her passion for social justice and mental health!

Adan Eftekhari (bottom right) is a 2024 Coca-Cola Scholar, Yale Bassett Award recipient, and United Nations General Assembly delegate committed to addressing global health disparities. At the Touch of Life Foundation, Adan has worked alongside Department of Homeland Security officials and Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi to raise $75K in necessities for the Bal Ashram orphanage and human trafficking rehabilitation center in Rajasthan, India. In parallel, his advocacy at Kick4Life F.C. has enabled him to leverage his love for soccer to provide higher education opportunities and funding for HIV/AIDS testing for +1,400 youth in Lesotho. For years, Adan has also conducted extensive exosome-based gene therapy research for mRNA delivery and co-founded a company developing a machine learning-based application offering users personalized medical recommendations. He will be attending Harvard University.

Clockwise from top left: Saihithi, Kayla, Kendi, Adan

2023 Winners

Alex Liesegang is a senior at the School Without Walls and is also enrolled through dual enrollment at George Washington University. He is graduating with a high school diploma as well as an Associate of Arts. He enjoys playing viola in his high school award-winning orchestra and running cross country on the National Mall. He is an Eagle Scout and has volunteered over 300 hours of his time throughout high school. He enjoys making music and doing covers with his rock band SchmOOzi on the weekends. He will be attending the University of California, Davis.

Marley Pinsky attends Clarksburg High School in Maryland. Marley is the founder of the Montgomery County Virtual Tutoring Project, co-founder of the MCPS Health Curriculum Youth Advisory Board, and founder and President of Coyotes Minds Matter. Through YMCA Youth and Government, Marley has attended national legislative conferences, advocated for civics education on Capitol Hill, and served as the 77th Youth Governor of Maryland. Marley performs violin with Potomac Valley Youth Orchestras, leads the Clarksburg Symphonic Orchestra as Concertmaster, and sings with the Clarksburg Chamber Choir. She will be attending the University of Pittsburgh’s Frederick Honors College, where she plans to double major in Urban Studies and Politics and Philosophy.

Lynn Tao is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She is passionate about creating medical advancements and promoting educational equity. As an RSI Scholar, a Regeneron Scholar, and an awarded inventor, Lynn has developed a breast cancer risk detection framework to improve early detection and optimized a protein prediction model for drug discovery using machine learning. She founded a non-profit organization, TeensHelpKids, and leads her school’s STEMbassadors organization to help underserved communities by providing educational opportunities and resources. Lynn has been honored with the Congressional Award Gold Medal and the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. As an avid STEM lover, she is also a USA Computing Olympiad Gold Division Competitor, a 2x USA Biology Olympiad National Finalist, and a leader of several extracurricular clubs. In her free time, she enjoys playing the violin and crocheting amigurumi. In the fall, Lynn will attend Harvard University, with plans to pursue a career in biomedical research employing artificial intelligence.

Faith Zhang attends Winston Churchill High School in Maryland. She debated extensively on the national circuit throughout high school, qualifying twice to the Tournament of Champions, while running a small YouTube channel along the way. She is also an avid musician, having served as concertmaster of her school orchestras, youth orchestra, and pit orchestra. Faith also plays violin in a string quartet, which has garnered success in various national competitions. In addition to her own work being published in literary magazines, Faith serves as an editor on three different student-run publications. She will be attending Rice University in the fall.

Clockwise from top left: Alex, Marley, Faith, Lynn

2022 Winners

Carina Guo attends Richard Montgomery High School in Maryland. Carina is the co-founder and captain of her school’s Debate Team and is currently ranked 1st in the country by the National Speech & Debate Association. She has participated in the C-SPAN StudentCam Documentary Contest, with honorable mentions in 2019 and 2020, 3rd prize in 2021, and 2nd prize in 2018. Carina has worked as a research intern for professors at MIT and BU studying COVID vaccine development and with the non-profit Paper Bridges as President of their Maryland chapter. Carina will be attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she will study economics and computer science.

Dhruv Pai attends Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland. Dhruv is the co-founder and President of Teens Helping Seniors, an international non-profit with over 1000 volunteers that has made 3500+ grocery and medication deliveries to seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. He is a Board Member for the Montgomery Blair Counseling Advisory Committee, working to improve his school’s counseling services. At Montgomery Blair, he also captains the Math Modeling Club, Internet of Things Club, and serves as President of the Math and Science Honors Societies. He will be attending Stanford University.

Shaina Adams attends Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC. Shaina has studied at the Kudan Institute of Language and Culture in Japan and leads an online Japanese learning community. She is the co-founder and head of mentoring for her school’s Minorities in Advanced Placement (MAP) committee, addressing the lack of diversity in advanced classes, as well as a harpist in both orchestra and jazz band. Shaina has worked as an intern with The World Bank Group and is her school’s representative in the Citywide Student Voice Council. Shaina will be attending Harvard University, where she will study economics and East Asian Studies.

Vishnupriya Alavala attends Freedom High School/Academies of Loudoun in Virginia. Vishnupriya is President of her school’s Medical Association Club, which engages students with anatomy and physiology. She has interned with the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at George Mason University and worked as a medical volunteer with the Red Cross and the Virginia Volunteer Health System (VVHS) Medical Reserve Corps. She has tutored in various fields for the past 7 years and is the editor of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Opportunity Project blog. She will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), where she will study biology in the Guaranteed Admission Program for Medicine (B.S./M.D.).

Clockwise from top left: Carina, Dhruv, Vishnupriya, Shaina

2021 Winners

Cate Schultz attended Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland. Cate founded and led the Greentree Outdoor Education and Recreation program to encourage positive interactions with nature for children experiencing homelessness. She has worked as an intern with Impact(Ed) International, a workshop teacher with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School Workshop, and a Farm Director with Urban Beet. Cate is also a traditional Irish dancer and dance teacher. Cate attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Honors Carolina and Excel@Carolina Pre-Masters in Education programs, where she studies environmental studies and elementary education.

Ekene Chukwueke attended E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Washington, DC. Ekene has worked as a Research Assistant at Children’s National Hospital, McClendon Center, and The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He has also served as a Registered Nurse (RN) Assistant at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and as a Volunteer at Carroll Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. At E.L. Haynes, Ekene was President of the Boys to Men Mentoring Program, Art Club, and Environmental Club, and President & Founder of the Research Institute Club. Ekene attends Harvard College, where he is considering concentrating in government, sociology, and/or history.

Gwen Setia attended James Madison High School in Virginia. Gwen co-founded the JMHS ESOL Advocacy Organization, which she started to address the disparity in standardized test pass rates among ESOL students at JMHS. She has lobbied with Team ENOUGH Virginia Lobbying Collective, interned with Elaine Luria for Congress, and was a Digital Fellow with Team Warner & the Virginia Coordinated Campaign. Gwen was the Editor-in-Chief of the JMHS Montpelier Yearbook Staff and President of the Young Democrats. Gwen attends Northwestern University, where she plans to double-major in economics and political science.

Roma Dhingra attended Poolesville High School in Maryland. Roma founded the Poolesville Combating Childhood Cancer Club (C4), which has raised money for childhood cancer research and toys for young cancer patients and recently hosted an online seminar about cancer treatment and childhood cancer awareness. She has completed Research Internships at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and CVPath Institute, and has volunteered at Walter Reed’s Pediatric Oncology Clinic. Roma is also a First-Degree black belt in Tang Doo So Karate. Roma attends Georgetown University, where she plans to study the biology of global health.

Clockwise from top left: Cate, Roma, Gwen. Not pictured: Ekene

2020 Winners

Anikait Dhond attended Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, VA. An avid environmentalist, Anikait uses his YouTube channel, Danikat Fishing, to explore local waterways and highlight fishing methods that minimize ecological damage. Anikait led an effort to Adopt-a-Highway in his local community and was the recipient of the VA Governor’s Stewardship Award for Land and Water Conservation. He was Captain of the Club Soccer Braddock Road Youth Club and Lake Braddock Varsity Tennis Team, as well as a volunteer soccer coach for DC Scores and a talented french horn player. He attends Georgia Tech, where he studies biological systems engineering.

Emmy Song attended Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, MD. Emmy uses creative writing to speak out about social issues and has had her writing published in 24 print/online magazines, such as Writing for Peace, Pulitzer Center, and National Poets Quarterly. She was the Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper and an online literary magazine. In addition to her passion for writing, Emmy founded interGIRLS, a national organization that supports women in math, and brainpowHER, a weekly programming class for middle school girls. Emmy is also a violist in the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra. She attends Princeton University, where she studies mathematics and economics.

Riya Maheshwari attended Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn, VA. Riya has spent over 300 hours as an Emergency Room and Labor/Delivery Volunteer at StoneSprings Hospital Center and participated in George Washington University’s Medical Laboratory Sciences Program. As a Bank of America Student Leader, she helped develop a program at the YMCA to expose youth to medical careers. Riya participated in her school’s first foreign exchange to Durban, South Africa and she served as a Global Ambassador at her school, welcoming foreign exchange students to the DMV. Riya attends Georgetown University, where she studies human science on the pre-med track.

Sosina Gebremichael attended Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, DC. She founded a Financial Literacy Club and a Coding Club at her school and helped develop a Community Organizing for Racial Equity program at the Latin American Youth Center to engage youth in racial justice advocacy. Sosina was appointed to lobby alongside the president of College Board to increase funding and access to the AP curriculum for low income and rural areas. Additionally, Sosina has completed coursework at Columbia University and Northwestern University in Psychology and Microeconomics. She attends American University, where she studies Mathematics-Economics and Computer Science.

Clockwise from top left: Riya, Emmy, Sosina, Anikait

2019 Winners

Praneeth Penmetsa is from Ashburn, VA and attended Rock Ridge High School. Praneeth was the President of Future Business Leaders of America, the Key Club, and Rho Kappa National Social Studies Honor Society, as well as a Co-Founder of Peers and Students Taking Action, a nonprofit organization supporting children and families in Loudoun County. Praneeth worked as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT for the Ashburn Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department. He attends the University of Virginia and studies Global Development and Commerce with an Entrepreneurship Track.

Nina Tang is from Germantown, MD and attended Poolesville High School. She was the founder and captain of the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Team #13100 and founder of a STEM outreach program for young children at the Maggie Nightingale Library. Nina has worked as a Research Intern at the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards & Technology. She is an award-winning pianist and self-taught Korean speaker. Nina attends Cornell University, where she studies Computer Science and minors in a foreign language.

Maya Woods-Arthur (not pictured) is from Washington, DC and attended Washington Latin Public Charter School. She spent a month studying political science at the St. Albans School of Public Service and was the first ever high school intern at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Maya earned the Girl Scout Gold Award and worked as a Girl Scout Congressional Aide to Congresswoman Norton of DC. She attends Harvard University, where she studies politics and the Middle East.

*Maya was the recipient of the Ambassador Andrew L. Steigman Merit Award, an award honoring the memory of our distinguished late colleague and past Preside

News from Past Winners

  • Jared Duker Lichtman

    Jared Duker Lichtman

    “I would like to thank you again for selecting me in 2014 for the DC PBK [High School] Merit Award. I recently graduated from Dartmouth College, summa cum laude, majoring in mathematics, with a minor in physics, and was 1 of 22 members of the Class of 2018 to be inducted early into Phi Beta…

    Read More


The High School Awards program is made possible by generous financial contributions from our members and supporters. In the past, the program has benefitted greatly from the commitment of members like Mary Corinne Rosebrook, who served on the High School Awards committee until 1989, and was still tutoring young D.C. pupils upon her 100th birthday in 1993.  Another important supporter was Ruth Knee, who dedicated significant time and energy to ensure the success of the program until her death in 2008.  More recently, a longstanding member of DCPBK has included a substantial legacy endowment to the High School Awards Program in her will in order to secure its future income.

To continue this important tradition and contribute to the High School Awards Program you may make a current donation online by using the Donate button below.

Questions can be directed to [email protected].

Contributions of $50 or more will be recognized in our awards ceremony program. Legacy donations and endowments are also welcome.  Please contact the Treasurer about crafting an expression of your future gift.

Thank You!

Privacy Notice

Information collected from applicants to the High School Awards Program will only be shared with the permission of the applicant. Applicants who are selected for the award will be contacted for photos and testimonials for our website and newsletter. Applicants will not receive other emails or solicitations of any sort. Any questions can be directed to [email protected].