Senator Wyden Presents The Congressional Award, Highlights Student Creativity in STEM

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden provides remarks to Congressional Awardees and guests.

Portland, OR — The inaugural Oregon Statewide Congressional Award Ceremony took place on Friday, April 12, 2019 at KinderCare Learning Centers Corporate Offices in Portland, Oregon.

United States Senator Ron Wyden recognized student leaders with Congressional Award Medals and offered a Q&A for constituents to address today’s most pressing issues and local opportunities.

“I am incredibly inspired by these amazing young Oregonians and the outstanding public service they have provided in our state,” Wyden said. “Each richly deserves their Congressional Awards and I thank The Congressional Award program for recognizing them and so many other young people around the country working hard to make their communities better.”

Senator Wyden presents Caleb Jacobson with the Bronze Medal.

KinderCare Education’s Chief Executive Officer, Tom Wyatt, and Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer and Congressional Award Board Member, Kelsey Troy, were on hand to support the youth honorees and reinforce their organization’s mission to provide quality early education.

Prior to the award ceremony, Senator Wyden traversed the city to participate in events that displayed the latest progress in student-led STEM activities. He served as a special guest at the Intel Northwest Science Expo hosted by Portland State University as well as a science experiment with children and their teachers at KinderCare in downtown Portland.

Bronze Medalist Quinn McElroy-Fuchs with Senator Wyden, The Congressional Award’s Erica Heyse, and KinderCare’s Tom Wyatt and Kelsey Troy.

Quinn McElroy-Fuchs earned not only The Congressional Award Silver Medal but was also presented with a STEM Star for creating Operation Tooth Fairy, a Girl Scout Gold Award project that brings dental care information and dental supplies to low-income families in the Greater Portland area.

“The Congressional Award has really taught me about the importance of goal setting. Even if a goal seems out of reach if you put the time and effort in to work at it piece by piece, you will be surprised by the impact you can make,” said Quinn.

By collaborating with partners like KinderCare, The Congressional Award STEM Stars Initiative aims to stoke passion for science and math and help make STEM more approachable. Priorities include educating students to be leaders and innovators in emerging and rapidly changing STEM fields as well as educating a scientifically literate populace.

Bronze Medalist Aayush Bhatt shares his Congressional Award story.

Oregon Congressional Award Recipients:
Martin Berger of Portland (Silver Medal)
Aayush Bhatt of Beaverton (Bronze Medal)
Akash Bindalof Beaverton (Bronze Medal)
Caleb Jacobson of Portland (Bronze Medal)
Rachel Luther of Hood River (Gold Medal)
Quinn McElroy-Fuchs of Portland (Silver Medal)
Patrick Townsend of Portland (Gold Medal)
Timothy Townsend of Portland (Silver Medal)

The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ only charity and the highest honor bestowed upon a youth civilian through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Established by Congress as a public-private partnership in 1979 under Public Law 96-114, the program recognizes initiative, service, and achievement in youth ages 13 ½ – 23.

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The Congressional Award Welcomes New Talent to National Board of Directors

Washington, DC (April 12, 2019) —The Congressional Award Foundation announces the election of five board members – Raymond Hall, Adrian Harpool, Molly Ryan, Kelsey Troy, and Ben Zandi – effective immediately.

“Each of our newest board members embody the spirit of The Congressional Award and bring valued expertise and energy to an already gifted team,” said Paxton K. Baker, Chairman of The Congressional Award National Board of Directors. “We are fortunate to have them by our side as we continue to strengthen communities and build the next generation of leaders through Congress’ award program for youth.”

Raymond Hall is Chief Human Resources Officer at Miller Management Corporation. He is responsible for the development of the people and culture for The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.

Ray spent the first 11 years of his professional career with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (Ft. Bragg, NC) before moving into the civilian sector.

His career accelerated over the next several years to the executive leadership level in large, multi-national companies. With more than 20 years of global experience in Human Resources and talent strategy, Mr. Hall brings a strong international outlook to his leadership roles.

Adrian Harpool serves as principal for Adrian Harpool Associates, a Baltimore-based strategic planning, marketing/branding, public relations, and communications consultancy.

He has led efforts to launch successful consumer brands, paved the way for large-scale real estate development projects, and helped to execute effective campaigns for causes and candidates that have literally transformed communities nationwide.

Adrian currently serves as president of the Madison Park Improvement Association and as chairman of the Midtown Community Benefits District in Baltimore.

Molly Ryan is the Head of Government Affairs and Advocacy at Otsuka America Pharmaceutical Inc.

She is responsible for the Federal, State, and Advocacy Government Relations department and leads the organization’s strategies to increase emphasis around disease awareness, treatment options, and access to therapies.

Molly is an advocate of grooming the next generation of female leaders. She sits on the board of Women in International Trade (WIIT) Trust as well as the California State Society.

Kelsey Troy is Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at KinderCare Education, the nation’s leading private provider of high-quality early childhood education and school-age programs.

Under her leadership of 35,000 employees nationwide, KCE earned their second Gallup Great Workplace Award, one of only 37 companies in the world and the first and only early childhood education company to receive this distinction.

Prior to joining KCE, Kelsey served as Vice President of Human Resources at ANN Inc. in New York City.

Ben Zandi is President and Chief Executive Officer of Fraport USA, the North American division of Fraport Group, a global airport operations company.

Mr. Zandi takes an active role in reimaging airport travel with pioneering technologies, retail concepts, and new levels of customer experience.

Previously, Zandi was Executive Vice President of Operations for private equity firm Bunker Hill Capital, Principal and President of his own management firm, and Director of Operations for HMSHost.

Mr. Zandi has also served as a city councilman and vice mayor of Bristol, Tennessee and has been the president of multiple nonprofit organizations. He is certified by the Management and Strategy Institute as a Six Sigma Black Belt Professional.

Get to know the entire Board of Directors at

The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ only charity and the highest honor bestowed upon a youth civilian through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Established by Congress as a public-private partnership in 1979 under Public Law 96-114, the program recognizes initiative, service, and achievement in youth ages 13 ½ – 23.

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Congress Honors Youth Leaders at Congressional Award Nevada Luncheon

Nevada’s Congressional Award recipients with U.S. Representatives Horsford, Lee, and Titus

Las Vegas, NV — On Saturday, March 9, 2019, the U.S. Congressional Award of Nevada Council hosted a recognition event for recipients of The Congressional Award, Congress’ highest honor for youth.

U.S. Representatives Dina Titus (NV-01), Susie Lee (NV-03), and Steven Horsford (NV-04) were on hand at local restaurant MINT Indian Bistro to provide encouraging remarks and present the coveted awards.

Congresswoman Dina Titus meets with Silver Medalist Sonakshi Dixit and her family

“It’s always exciting to see fresh, new leaders in our community. The requirements of this program are quite demanding, and I am inspired by the determination and enthusiasm demonstrated by this year’s awardees,” said Congressman Steven Horsford. “These students are not just recipients of an award but serve as role models for other young adults seeking to achieve their goals. I encourage others in Nevada to rise to the challenge and to participate in this transformative program.”

To earn the award, each young person set and achieved personally challenging goals in four program areas – Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration.

Congresswoman Susie Lee presents the Bronze Medal to Peyton Barsel

“With young leaders like these, our future is bright. I was so inspired by these young Nevadans for the hours of service they’ve dedicated to our community,” said Congresswoman Susie Lee. “The hard work, dedication, and passion they have demonstrated through their actions in our community are an inspiration to the rest of us.”

The event showcased The Congressional Award’s focus on local collaboration and community engagement, welcoming Nevada business leaders and organizational partners like the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada.

“It was truly a delight and honor to take part in the recognition of our exceptional young people across Nevada who took part in Nevada’s Congressional Award program,” said David Osman, President of the U.S. Congressional Award of Nevada Council. To hear and embrace their stories, to meet each of their families, accentuates and exemplifies the value that was a part of their personal development and the phenomenal public service provided within their respective communities.”

Congressman Steven Horsford presents the Gold Medal to Ritvik Janamsetty

A recipient of the Gold Medal, Ritvik Janamsetty volunteered with North South Foundation, a local non-profit that engages the local Indian community and secures scholarships for students traveling to India.

Ritvik gave a participant testimony on Saturday saying, “The Congressional Award has been one of the most pivotal things in my life to help me learn about myself and learn about my identity.”

Nevada Congressional Award Recipients:
Leyla Akgedik of Henderson (Silver Certificate)
Zeynep Akgedik of Henderson (Silver Medal)
Peyton Barsel of Las Vegas (Bronze Medal)
Jordon Cranford of Las Vegas (Bronze Medal)
Sonakshi Dixit of Las Vegas (Silver Medal)
Ritvik Janamsetty of Henderson (Gold Medal)
Kevin Leong of Henderson (Bronze Certificate)
Jason Lin of Las Vegas (Silver Medal)
Millenia Luna of Beatty (Bronze Medal)
Amaya Mendeguia of Carson City (Silver Certificate)
Radhika Shah of Henderson (Bronze Medal)

Near the close of the award presentation, Congressman Horsford issued a challenge to his young constituents. “You have an opportunity to forge ahead. Whether it’s in Congress, in business, in academia, whatever you do, this is all we ask: Come back, give back, and allow someone else to have an opportunity to follow behind you.”

The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ only charity and the highest honor bestowed upon a youth civilian through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Established by Congress as a public-private partnership in 1979 under Public Law 96-114, the program recognizes initiative, service, and achievement in youth ages 13 ½ – 23.

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Remembering ‘Dean’ of Congress John Dingell

February 8, 2019 (Washington, DC) – It is with heavy hearts that we learn of the passing of an American patriot, former U.S. Representative John Dingell.

Former Congressman John Dingell with wife and current Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12) and Gold Medalist John Orton. June 2015

John was the longest-serving member of Congress when he retired in 2015, having represented the people of Michigan for 59 years in office.

Rep. Dingell will forever be remembered as a political giant. We were all enamored with his gregarious personality, quick wit, intellect, and integrity.

As a nation, we remain indebted to John for a number of historic legislative feats and are grateful for his impact and leadership.

Congressman Dingell presents The Congressional Award to youth recipients at his district office. August 2013

It was our privilege to present Congressman John Dingell with The Congressional Award’s Wallop Howard Leadership Award in 2015. The award is presented to individuals in the public sector who “have displayed outstanding commitment to improving the lives of our nation’s young people and providing critical support in The Congressional Award Foundation’s efforts to make the program a national opportunity.”

Our condolences are with John’s wide reaching circle of supporters and particularly our friend and board member, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, during this time of grieving.

My STEM Story: Krishna Parikh

Krishna Parikh analyzed DNA sequences for her Congressional Award Personal Development goal.

While striving to achieve The Congressional Award Gold Medal, I tapped into my interest in genetic engineering, research, and science in general.

As part of the Authentic Science Research class at my high school, I was able to participate in hands-on laboratory work. We correlated with the Waksman Student Scholars Program at Rutgers, following their procedures and techniques.

The current project is to focus on the DNA sequences of the duckweed plant Landoltia punctata and to further analyze the genes they are associated with. Duckweed is of interest because of its use in bioremediation and its potential in being a biofuel. Through this project, it is hoped that the genes compare to those found in other species.

Each of the students, including me, participate by isolating and sequencing genes from a cDNA library. These sequences have not been determined yet, so if a student successfully analyzes one, it will be published in GenBank. By comparing these sequences to similar ones of other eukaryotes, we are able to understand the evolutionary relationship between the two. This was accomplished through multiple lab days and through multiple hours sequencing on the DNA Sequencing Analysis Program (DSAP).

To increase these newly acquired skills, I attended a meeting at GenSpace in Brooklyn, New York. The meeting pertained to Optogenetics, which is a genetic tool that makes cells responsive to light.

Through the various experimentation, the end goal is to perfect an optogenetic system in which different colors of light shine onto a petri dish and cause the bacteria to respond. This response can lead to bacteria photographs with high resolution and the control of gene expression and useful enzymes, such as Taq Polymerase, in 2D.

By spending time with professionals and learning in the lab, I perfected my pipetting skills and better understood proper lab technique. I also learned how to transfer bacteria, making it anti-resistant to antibiotics such as ampicillin and kanamycin.

The most unfamiliar concept I worked with, regarding the optogenetic systems, was the on-off ratios. This ratio determines the resolution of a bacterial photograph produced by comparing the parts of the petri dish where light was directed to the parts where it was not. It is measured in Miller Units and requires the usage of a spectrometer that tells us the wavelengths of the produced light.

As the youngest in this class, it is difficult to fully understand what is going on at all times. This allows me to challenge myself and forces me to think beyond my comfort zone. I still attend these classes monthly, and I cannot wait to see the developments made.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

The Congressional Award Names New Members to National Board of Directors

Washington, DC (January 29, 2019) —The Congressional Award Foundation announces the election of four board members – Wei-Li Chong, Larry Duncan, Missy Foxman, and Ray Kerins – effective immediately.

“We are thrilled to welcome Larry, Missy, Ray, and Wei-Li to our leadership team and especially value the industry experience each member brings,” said Paxton K. Baker, Chairman of The Congressional Award National Board of Directors. “They join The Congressional Award at an exciting time as we continue to propel our mission forward and build corporate partnerships that help to enrich the lives of our nation’s youth.”

Wei-Li Chong serves as President of KinderCare Education at Work, a leading provider of customized childcare and work-life solutions for companies across the United States.

Prior to KinderCare, Wei-Li held multiple leadership positions with companies in the retail industry. He is considered an expert in multi-unit management and building high performing engaged teams. He is known as a champion for children, young adults, and the changes organizations need to make to better embrace the demands of today’s workforce. He is sought after as a speaker and subject matter expert in leadership principles, engagement, and work-life integration.

Larry Duncan is Vice President for Government Affairs at Lockheed Martin, where he serves as a senior liaison to federal and state government officials.

Before Lockheed Martin, Mr. Duncan was a corporate lawyer and lobbyist. He provided legislative and regulatory counsel to media and entertainment companies, telecom and satellite carriers, professional sports leagues, trade associations, and a variety of technology clients.

Mr. Duncan is actively involved in the Washington, D.C. area community, including service on the Board of Directors for the USO-Metropolitan Washington; Running Start, a non-profit organization that inspires women to run for political office; and ThanksUSA, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships for the spouses and children of military personnel.

Melissa (Missy) Cortese Foxman is Director of Federal Government Relations at the Entertainment Software Association. She is the former Executive Director of the Women’s High-Tech Coalition (WHTC), a non-profit serving women working on tech policy in the public and private sectors.

Her public sector background includes serving U.S. Sen. Connie Mack (R-FL) as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Senate Republican Conference and professional staff member of the Joint Economic Committee. She also served as a political appointee at the U.S. Small Business Administration under President George H.W. Bush.

Ray Kerins is Senior Vice President and Head of Communications, Government Relations & Policy for Bayer U.S.

Previously, Ray was Vice President of external affairs & worldwide communications for Pfizer and Executive Director of public affairs for Merck & Co.

Ray is the recipient of many company and industry awards, including being named “2017 Outstanding In-House Professional Award” by PRWeek Magazine.

Kerins is a board member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of the Chamber’s Global Innovation Policy Center.

The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ only charity and the highest honor bestowed upon a youth civilian through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Established by Congress as a public-private partnership in 1979 under Public Law 96-114, the program recognizes initiative, service, and achievement in youth ages 13 ½ – 23.

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Statement on the Passing of Senator Harris Wofford

January 23, 2019 (Washington, DC) – The Congressional Award Foundation joins the nation in mourning the loss of former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania.

On February 19, 2008, Senator Wofford served as the Keynote Speaker for The Congressional Award Pennsylvania Statewide Ceremony hosted at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA.

In addition to being a devoted civil rights activist and adviser to President John F. Kennedy, Senator Wofford was known for reinvigorating America’s passion for service. He steered the National and Community Service Act of 1993, which created AmeriCorps, the Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America, all federally funded programs that have engaged hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the nation.

As a champion of service, Senator Wofford was generous enough to support Congress’ award for youth long after his tenure in the Senate.

We give our condolences to Mr. Wofford’s family and friends. He left an indelible impression on our nation and his legacy will serve as an example for generations to come.

My STEM Story: Juan Aleman

2019 Gold Medalist Juan Aleman uses STEM skills to educate others and grow personally

While working towards my Congressional Award Gold Medal, I dedicated 385 hours as the head programmer, lead robot driver, and co-captain of the 4-H robotics team G-FORCE. My team works out of Accident, MD, but we also participate in numerous Community Outreach events globally.

SuGO, a game with sumo wrestling robots, is one of the most popular STEM activities and the reason I became interested in STEM. Utilizing SuGO, virtual reality, rockets, WeDO, and many other STEM activities, I volunteered at the West Virginia Children’s Hospital, Maryland State Fair, Mineral State Stem Festival, and 4-H Volunteer Forum.

I have had the opportunity to be the referee and robot and field inspector at FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Qualifiers and State Championships in three different states. All of these activities are free STEM activities available to the public.


The most memorable STEM events were the military activities, the largest of which was the Air Force STEM initiative. Team G-FORCE was given a budget of $250,000 to buy, package, and ship STEM products to over 52 Air Force bases. We live streamed webinars taught by the team members on how to use the STEM kits. The team also hosted two one-week residential Navy STEM camps where forty 4-Hers from bases abroad (Japan, Bahrain, and Italy) and domestic (Georgia) were taught lessons on hardware and software by me and my fellow mentors.

I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the USA Science & Engineering Festival where I volunteered at three booths: FIRST, 4-H, and Maker Space. While there, I demonstrated the robotics competition, lead the Junk Drawer Robotics, and ran the software that cut vinyl stickers, adding additional creativity to the patrons’ work.

Following this year’s festival, I joined my 4-H robotics coach in a special project where we learned a new programming language together. We were tasked by the Oakland Lions Club to create a belt sander race for their jubilee that they could use for years.

Last year my FIRST Tech Challenge team had a very intuitive program for our robot. It was able to make decisions about which claw to open and close and how high to raise its arm, based on simple choices made by me and my co-pilot. This year we plan to make the robot even smarter. As head programmer, I have already moved on from using pre-programmed vision software, to creating a custom image processing pipeline.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.

2019 Gold Medal Submission Deadline

In order to be eligible for the 2019 Gold Medal Ceremony in June 2019 (exact date TBA), participants must submit their Gold Medal Record Book to the national office no later than February 1, 2019.

This is a postmark, email, and fax deadline. Submissions made after February 1st will be grouped with the 2020 Gold Medal class.

If you have submitted a Gold Medal Record Book and it is currently “pending,” please submit your revision responses no later than March 15, 2019.

My STEM Story: Othoniel Batista Sinclair

Othoniel of Silver Spring, Maryland applies his love for STEM towards his Congressional Award goals.

I began participating in STEM three years ago with an Air Force camp at Joint Base Andrews. There they taught us how to create music beats, build 3D images, and write programs.

Then I joined Maryland Metro Warriors, a STEM oriented program affiliated to the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Through this program I participated in scrimmages and several robotics competitions at the state and national level. Our High School team competed  at the NSBE National Convention in Pittsburgh last year placed 5th.


I am currently the Vice-President of the NSBE Junior Chapter “The Dynamic Mathematical Visionaries,” out of Howard University. Here I am involved with Vex Robotics team. Our chapter participated in the 2018 Fall Regional Conference (FRC) and was able to compete with the Howard University Math Competition Team!

My passion is building robots and I look forward to attending an engineering university where I can build robots that can help us improve our environment and save our planet. I have learned to work as a team with others and join ideas to come up with great projects. Teamwork and respect has been critical to the success of our team.

Learn more about The Congressional Award STEM Stars program.