2023 Cohort


Arjun Krishnakumar

Arjun Krishnakumar is a rising junior at McNair Academic High School in Jersey City. Born to immigrant parents from India, he is dedicated to helping his community through his leadership skills in soccer. Arjun is the captain of the Jersey City Strikers, a team with players of diverse backgrounds that reflects the city it represents, and also plays for the New Jersey State Team and McNair Academic's varsity team. Off the field, he leads a program called "Soccer for Tomorrow," where McNair's high school soccer players assist middle school soccer coaches in Jersey City with practices and games. Arjun also works as a counselor at the Jersey City Soccer Association Summer Camp, teaching young children teamwork and helping them develop their soccer skills. He is actively involved in his community, volunteering with the SEEDS JC Meal Mission to distribute meals to those in need. Additionally, he represents his school in the Jersey City CityWide Student Council, where he collaborates with other school representatives to address social, financial, and educational issues impacting the district. Arjun hopes to use his skills, knowledge, and experience to help those who are not as fortunate as him.

Ayah Barkouch

Ayah Barkouch, an accomplished and highly motivated rising senior at McNair Academic High School, has consistently demonstrated an exceptional level of community engagement within the vibrant Jersey City community. Her initiatives have encompassed a wide range of activities, including providing invaluable assistance to the elderly residing in local nursing homes and actively participating in various volunteering opportunities such as park cleanups. During her freshman year of high school, Ayah showcased her leadership qualities by co-founding a nonprofit organization alongside her peers. The organization's primary objective was to address and raise awareness about critical social and international issues during the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Ayah's ardent commitment to environmental causes led her to actively engage with various environmental groups and participate in impactful strikes, thereby amplifying her advocacy efforts. Additionally, Ayah occasionally dedicates her time to volunteer at her local mosque, alongside her older brother and board member Younass Barkouch.

Azra Bano

Azra Bano is an Engineering Academy rising senior at Piscataway High School. The daughter of two South Indian immigrants that have practiced disciplined values about the importance of family throughout her years, the trio immigrated to America at Azra's young age of 3 years old. Her ambitious passion in her rigorous academic coursework of over 12 AP's and her award-winning research in neuroscience and AI ethics, has carried into her dedicated involvement in her community. From being the student body president for 3 years and leading various extracurriculars at her High School from the Muslim Student Association, Junior State of America, and Future Business Leaders of America, Azra has promoted civic engagement in her peers and encouraged service back to the community. Azra is also an active volunteer at her local mosque and a CAIR-NJ intern focusing on aiding Muslim students at her high school, and has co-founded a nationally-awarded, non-profit organization under the name Hayat, which has raised thousands of dollars for Muslims in need around the globe. Azra's ambition and passion have been a driving force for the substantial public service she's contributed in her local and international communities, and she hopes to continue the service to serve a larger outreach of individuals.

Charece White

Charece White is a rising junior at Liberty High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. She has been a student athlete for her entire high school career. She is also a part of her school's national honors society and had the opportunity to be a part of the National Equity Lab's national honors society for placing within the top 5% of Arizona State University's sociology course. She works as a tutor for elementary school children at a non-profit organization call New City Kids. She passionate about the world around her, how it impacts everyone's day-to-day lives, and how she can help to make a positive impact on those around her.

Marie Hong

Born in Manhattan, NY, and raised in Jersey City, NJ, Marie Hong is a rising senior at McNair Academic High School. Through her passion for journalism as a proud Korean American, Marie actively advocates for injustices within the Asian American community as an editor and publisher for Dear Asian Youth: an international non-profit organization. She enjoys staying involved with the community as the vice president of her school's Key Club and as a volunteer for the community-based non-profit organization, Welcome Home Jersey City. Through these experiences, Marie has gained a love for connecting with new people within her diverse community. Additionally, she is a member of her local library's teen advisory board and practices her leadership skills as a varsity volleyball player. In the future, Marie plans to pursue a career in journalism and express her voice as a young writer and activist.

Nashwa Faruk

Born and raised in Plainsboro, New Jersey, Nashwa Faruk is the amalgamation of growing up in such a diverse community while facing the struggles of being one of the few Muslims at her school. Nashwa grew up surrounded by politics— watching the debates, State of the Unions, and newsreels with her father throughout her youth. However, her love for activism only began in middle school, after she started facing Islamophobia in her own community. Nashwa used this passion in high school, where she became a co-lead of her school’s Climate and Culture Team and the Policy Chair of her district’s Person of Color Advocacy Committee, among other things. In her free time, she continues to lead— as a captain for her school’s varsity volleyball team and as a teacher and youth mentor at her local mosques. She hopes to continue to use the values her immigrant parents taught her to in a career as a civil servant and become a positive representation of Muslim and Indian women in America. Nashwa is an incoming freshman at Rutgers University, where she hopes to study Political Science and Economics.

Sofia Bari

Sofia Bari is an incoming freshman at The George Washington University, majoring in international affairs. She is the daughter of a Bangladeshi immigrant and knows the struggles of being a first-generation student. She has worked in political positions throughout her young career, the latest as Chief of Staff at Voters of Tomorrow New Jersey. She worked on the Hoffman Gubernatorial Campaign and Veronica Fernandez’s congressional campaign (CD7). She’s the founder and present of the Muslim Student Union at Montclair High School, and previously aligned with the Green Party, but is now progressive. She strongly values funding low-income communities and stopping their gentrification. She intends to use her bachelors degree to pursue a law degree, and is considering becoming a diplomat, or eventually running for public office.

Yousef Kassem

Yousef Kassem is an incoming freshman at Princeton University. His parents, who are immigrants from Egypt and Morocco, instilled in him the importance of education and service from a young age. During the pandemic, he saw how deeply educational inequality and food insecurity affected citizens of Jersey City. This awareness prompted him to take action both within and outside of his school. At McNair Academic High School, Yousef served as the National Honor Society's tutoring coordinator, in this role he worked to expand the program and offer the chance for one-on-one tutoring support for students in need. and organized food-drives and volunteering events for The Community Food Bank of New Jersey as a member of the Students Change Hunger Committee. Outside of school, he interned at New City Kids, where he worked as a reading and art teacher to lower-income and immigrant children in grades K-5, and took action a community organizer for the Rose Avenue Urban Farm, which was established to help mitigate food insecurity and educate citizens of Jersey City on sustainability. During college, Yousef hopes to continue working to create change in Jersey City and fight for more equity. He is passionate about using his education and skills to make a positive impact on his community.

Zachary Yabut

Born and raised in Jersey City, Zachary Yabut has had a handful of experience in leadership and community building. Zach is a rising Senior at County Prep High School, serving as President of the STEM Club for two years, and is currently the Key Club President. Zach is also involved in Student Council, Peer Leadership, Model Government, and Model UN. He is extremely passionate in connecting his community, and has founded and is currently the director of his school’s social media, to connect the school to people outside of its own community. Outside of school, Zach takes the time to volunteer with many different local organizations. He is currently a Junior Board Member at the Youth Foundation of Jersey City whose goal is to ensure access to high-quality educational, recreational, cultural, and community enrichment to all youth, and has assisted in raising thousands of dollars to support the youth throughout Jersey City.

Zakariya Barkouch

Zakariya Barkouch, a rising junior at McNair Academic High School, is an active member of the McNair track team. Engaging in regular practice, he has learned to balance his roles as a student and an athlete. The experience has taught him valuable lessons in responsibility and discipline, instilled by his coaches and teammates, making him a more well-rounded individual who is open to new experiences. Born to immigrant parents from Morocco, Zak has faced struggles and challenges. However, these difficulties have not deterred him from actively participating in his community. He has been involved in initiatives such as feeding those in need and park cleanups through organizations like Seeds JC. Additionally, Zak actively advocates for climate action by participating in climate strikes in New Jersey and New York. Politics is a constant presence in Zak's life, as his brother, Younass Barkouch, serves on the Board of Education. Zak maintains an active role in his school system through the City Wide Student Council. In this council, he engages in discussions about social problems and inequality, actively seeking solutions. Through his participation in the high school Ace program at Saint Peter's University, Zak has gained leadership skills and the confidence to express his opinions. Despite his busy schedule, Zak remains connected to his heritage. He occasionally volunteers at his local mosque, offering assistance to his fellow community members in need.

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