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‘Boundless discovery’ ahead for Emory’s newest class of Woodruff Scholars
Emory campus

The 25 academically talented leaders arriving at Emory University’s Atlanta and Oxford campuses this fall as Emory Woodruff Scholars come from as far as Ethiopia and as near as DeKalb County.

Their accomplishments are similarly expansive. They’ve launched independent businesses, developed state-level policy papers and built nonprofit programs to address challenges wrought by the pandemic. They are athletes, musicians and even diehard Oscar prognosticators.

What they share is the intellectual curiosity that is the defining characteristic in recipients of Emory’s signature scholar program, the Robert W. Woodruff Scholarship.

The all-encompassing program covers the full cost of tuition, room, board and mandatory fees for four years of undergraduate education, making it worth more than $300,000 based on estimated tuition rates. It also includes access to unique programming and opportunities for independent research and networking.  

“Emory’s newest Woodruff Scholars are ambitious and bold, creatively fusing disciplines, showing leadership in their communities and exhibiting a drive to serve and uplift others in the spirit of Robert W. Woodruff,” says Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. 

“They will add to the entire university, and I cannot wait to see them collaborate with our faculty and their peers to shape the next generation of academic achievement and service at Emory,” he adds.

Woodruff, the former president of The Coca-Cola Company, made national news with a $105 million gift to Emory University in 1979. Part of the donation created the scholar program, as an effort to draw Ivy League-bound students to Emory as the university began its march to national recognition.

The program has since recognized 845 students for their extraordinary academic accomplishment and servant leadership. That includes additional awards added through the years, such as scholarships recognizing talents in debate and music and the Martin Luther King Jr. – Robert W. Woodruff Scholarship for exceptional students from Atlanta.

The Atlanta campus welcomes 20 Emory College Woodruff Scholars to the Class of 2026, with two additional scholars deferring for one year. Five scholars will attend their first two years on Emory’s original campus in Oxford, Georgia.

Accomplished scholars

The historic Oxford campus, about 38 miles east of Atlanta, is known for developing tight-knit relationships and creating opportunity for immediate student leadership. 

Woodruff Scholar Alan Shnir says growing up in New York City and running the statewide Jewish Student Union gave him enough big-city energy. 

When he saw a student fundraiser for a retiring professor during an Oxford visit, he knew he wanted to start his college experience on the smaller, distinctive campus before eventually pursuing a joint MD/public health degree.

“Everyone I saw at Oxford had a smile on their face,” says Shnir. He already feels welcomed into tackling a project similar to the public health research group he started during the pandemic, which helped provide information for legislation regulating supplements in New York and California.

“I know that I will be able to participate and be involved in as much as I want,” he adds.

Oxford’s other Woodruff Scholars also have health care and public policy experience, in addition to specific interests and skills in areas such as music and environmental study, says Kenneth E. Carter, interim dean of Oxford College.

“We are excited to welcome such accomplished scholars,” Carter says. “Their broad set of interests show a deep intellectual curiosity and potential for leadership at Oxford and beyond.”

Leaders and catalysts for change

The Atlanta cohort includes three Woodruff Debate Scholars, one Woodruff Music Scholar and two MLK Scholars. It also includes two George W. Jenkins Scholars – Alicia McGlory of DeKalb County, Georgia, and Malcom Toolsie of Sanford, Florida – named for founder of the Publix grocery store chain and awarded to students from states in the company’s footprint. 

“This is one of the most exciting and diverse cohorts of Emory scholars we’ve ever welcomed to our campus. They all bring with them exceptional experience as leaders and catalysts for change in their home communities, with intellectual interests that span the liberal arts and sciences spectrum,” says Carla Freeman, interim dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences. 

“Their passion, curiosity and desire to make a difference in the world will make them essential contributors to the life of our university inside and outside the classroom,” Freeman adds.    

With such broad interests and experiences, many of the incoming scholars say they chose Emory for its liberal arts focus and interdisciplinary research opportunities.

McGlory, whose entire extended family lives within a few miles of the Atlanta campus, is weighing a future as either a plastic surgeon or a journalist. She definitely wants to pursue formal study of French while also working on her conversational Korean via student organizations.

“Being given this opportunity, I plan on exploring as much as I can,” says McGlory, whose fall course load includes classes in biology, race relations and cultural anthropology. “I know what my passions are, but I can’t wait to see what else might pique my interest.”

Luka Heidari, a Woodruff Scholar from Glenview, Illinois, has similar plans to branch out. As the 13th-ranked debater in Illinois, he first learned of Emory through the Barkley Forum, which houses the university’s nationally acclaimed debate team.

Heidari, who is Iranian and Bolivian, was further drawn in when he saw the number of international students and those identifying as Hispanic. He wants to join different identity clubs in addition to joining an intramural volleyball team to make up for missing the Iranian league at home.

Having learned English by watching movies, he also plans to get involved in Emory’s film clubs and perhaps share the Oscar-picking techniques he developed with his dad, correctly selecting all but one category last year.

That is in addition to pursuing volunteer work and internships with different voter organizations, state lawmakers and at The Carter Center that will help bolster a planned major in international studies and an eventual foreign service career.

“To have an opportunity to work on foreign policy issues at the undergraduate level is something I’d never seen anywhere but it’s available at Emory,” says Heidari. “Being at Emory makes so many options possible.”

That’s why Saanvi Nayar’s mother encouraged her to consider Emory. Her mom had seen photos of Emory as a teen and wanted to attend, but she needed to attend college close to their Morganville, New Jersey, home to help care for family.

Having attended a STEM high school, Nayar has found herself intrigued by the college’s human health major as a way to examine inequities in health care globally as both a scientific and human concern. 

She was also interested in Emory’s commitment to servant leadership, having started a nonprofit in 2020 that addressed food insecurity by raising funds to help local restaurants hurt by shutdowns.

When the student orientation leader gave her an impromptu hug upon learning of her Woodruff selection, excitedly sharing ways to get involved, Nayar knew her mom was right about Emory.

“She always said Emory is great as an institution. The courses, the values, the professors, the opportunities, they are all so enticing,” she says. “But my mom said I will learn the most by being surrounded by so many exceptional students. That’s what I am most looking forward to, being in a place where everyone encourages such boundless discovery.”

Meet this year’s scholars:

Atlanta campus

Members of the Emory Scholars Class of 2026 have extensive academic achievements and cite diverse interests and a commitment to serving others. All are Woodruff Scholars unless otherwise noted.

Claire Burkhardt

Claire Burkhardt, of Reno, Nevada, graduated a semester early from Davidson Academy to pursue a software engineering co-op at Red Hat, working on public-interest cybersecurity and blockchain technologies. Burkhardt is a Bank of America Student Leader, TechGirls U.S. Youth Ambassador and National Cyber Scholar who has published several papers on fiscal policy and COVID-19’s economic impacts on developing countries. She plans to study computer science and public policy for a career advocating for human-centric technology policy.

Talya Castell

Talya Castell, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, served as student body vice president, president of HOSA-Future Health Professionals and vice president of Project Period in high school. She advocated for health equity on two statewide health advocacy boards and with the Corner Health Center and Planned Parenthood, where she founded the Youth Advocacy Team. Castell is deferring entry into Emory for one year and plans to begin a pre-med major in human health or anthropology and human biology in fall 2023.

Clara Conry

Clara Conry, of Minneapolis, is a Woodruff Debate Scholar and a nationally ranked debater who won the Tamar Kaplan Award, given to one Minnesota senior annually for debate accomplishments and community leadership. In addition to serving as co-captain of her high school debate team, she acted in four student theater productions and multiple student-choreographed dance performances. With an interest in politics, she plans to major in either political science or international relations.

Alex Dolle

Alex Dolle, of Portland, Oregon, has been an active volunteer with the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, which allowed him to provide assistance to underserved populations in the city. He also has served on the city’s severe weather emergency team and earned the title of Deputy Chief of Vaccine Operations in early 2021. He plans to pursue a pre-med major with a long-term goal of working in medical policy to advance his interest in health care equity.

Sonya Doubledee

Sonya Doubledee, of Topeka, Kansas, is a Woodruff Debate Scholar and a national and two-time state champion in policy debate. She qualified to nationals six times for National Speech and Debate Association events while also serving as a Model U.N. officer and discussion committee representative at her high school. Having interned for a state senatorial candidate and after working with the Topeka Youth Commission, she plans to major in political science before attending law school.

Elaine Feller

Elaine Feller, of Tempe, Arizona, lived in Seoul and Caracas before attending high school in Moscow, where she won a school-wide honor in biology and gold in the National Russian Essay Contest, with additional recognition from Moscow’s State Pushkin Institute. She is also a four-time gold medalist in cross-country running with the Central and Eastern European Schools Association and an active volunteer at a local refugee center. She plans to study pre-med and languages at Emory, with an aim to serve patients in the U.S. and abroad.

James Grant

James Grant, of Lexington, Kentucky, serves on the board of the Lexington League of Women Voters and has been active with the group’s voter registration and re-enfranchisement campaigns. He served as a school ambassador, marching band drum major, president of the Beta Club and captain of both the academic team and swim team in high school, where he was enrolled in a K-12 Spanish immersion program. He has has received national awards in Spanish competitions and bilingual honors on the National Spanish Exam. At Emory, Grant plans to double major in biology and Spanish before attending medical school.

Luka Heidari

Luka Heidari, of Glenview, Illinois, served as president of his high school’s debate club, ranking 13th in the state and becoming the only Congressional debater in school history to qualify for the Tournament of Champions twice. He also leads his school’s Hispanic Club, sits on his state representative’s advisory council and won the Public Service and Social Justice Silver Grant award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. He is undecided on a major but hopes to work in international law or with the U.S. Foreign Service.

Lucas Lobo

Lucas Lobo, of Phoenix, Maryland, is a Woodruff Debate Scholar who has won the Maryland State Championship twice and was among the top 12 senior debaters in the country named a J.W. Patterson Fellow. In 2021, Lobo was a member of his high school’s mock trial team, played #1 singles on the varsity tennis team and started his high school chapter of CASA, a national non-profit foster care organization that assigns personalized advocates to children. At Emory, Lobo plans to pursue a dual degree in economics and mathematics.

Brigid May

Brigid May, of Holly Springs, North Carolina, is a Woodruff Music Scholar who is the principal harpist of the Triangle Youth Philharmonic and a member of the North Carolina Harp Ensemble. She has also performed with the NC All-State Honors Orchestra and attended Interlochen Arts Camp. She served as president of both the writing club and the French honor society at her high school, with the North Carolina Poetry Society recently publishing her work. She plans to study harp performance, English and the classics. 

Alicia McGlory

Alicia McGlory, of Decatur, Georgia, is a George W. Jenkins Scholar and QuestBridge Scholar who served as student representative at several statewide conferences on race and culture. At her high school, she was president of HOSA-Future Health Professionals, community service leader of the Future Business Leaders of America and secretary of Rho Kappa Honor Society. She is undecided on a major but is considering pre-medicine.

Kathryn Minor

Kathryn (Katy) Minor, of Atlanta, is a Martin Luther King, Jr. Woodruff Scholar who runs her own beauty supply company while also tutoring in math and science. A cellist, she also played goalie for her high school lacrosse team and was active in Model U.N., EPIC, 21st Century Leaders and the Student Government Association. After experiencing family and personal struggles with colon disease, she plans to major in biology before studying to become a pediatric gastroenterologist.

Saanvi Nayar

Saanvi Nayar, of Marlboro, New Jersey, founded both Rise for Pies, a COVID-relief initiative dedicated to addressing food insecurity and, a digital campaign that uplifts the varied political art of Generation Z. She explored transnational feminist research driven by connections to her South Asian heritage and also served as co-president of her high school debate club, secretary of the service club and politics editor for the student newspaper. She plans to major in sociology.

Shruti Nemala

Shruti Nemala, of Johns Creek, Georgia, has moderated debates for mayoral and city council candidates, volunteered with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition and served as an intern for a Fulton County Superior Court judge. She also served as editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper and president of the school orchestra, where she played violin. She plans to major in political science before attending law school.

Jaanaki Radhakrishnan

Jaanaki Radhakrishnan, of Bloomfield Township, Michigan, founded and led her school district’s Student Equity Council, which facilitated racial justice discussions and training for the school community and created equity-based teaching guides. Passionate about educational equity, she collaborated with a school in rural India to catalyze critical-thinking based, child-centered pedagogy. She plans to major in anthropology at Emory. 

Eskender Alemayehu Seyoum

Eskender (Xender) Alemayehu Seyoum, of Laga Xaafoo, Ethiopia, earned accolades for his academic and service achievements in high school, including volunteer work with pediatric cancer patients. He plans to pursue his interests in history and languages at Emory and also major in biology before attending medical school to become a neurosurgeon.

Alexandria Smith

Alexandria (Alex) Smith, of Atlanta, is a Martin Luther King, Jr. Woodruff Scholar who worked as a research assistant at the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory while also serving as her high school class president, captain of the cross-country team and member of the dance theater team. She plans to continue undergraduate research and major in mathematics and computer science.

Hank Standaert

Hank Standaert, of Knoxville, Tennessee, raised more than $3,000 for a local elementary school library and served as a youth member of the Farragut Municipal Planning Commission as part of his effort to serve the local community. He also was a member of student council for four years and served as co-president of the mock trial and Model U.N. clubs in high school. He plans to major in political science before pursuing law school and a career in appellate law.

Ethan Tai

Ethan Tai, of Taipei, Taiwan, has been active in policy debate both as a competitor on the U.S. National Circuit and as an assistant coach for novices. With an interest in global politics and the history of East Asia, he has been involved in his high school’s bilingual student publication and as a volunteer for Taiwan LGBT Pride. He is deferring entry to Emory for one year but plans to major in political science and economics before pursuing law school starting in fall 2023.

Malcom Toolsie

Malcom Toolsie, of Sanford, Florida, is a George W. Jenkins Scholar who placed first in HOSA-Future Health Professionals regional competition and in Take Stock in Children’s academic excellence program. He also was a member of his high school class council, yearbook team and tutoring program. He is undecided on his major.

Mikaila Ulmer

Mikaila Ulmer, of Austin, Texas, was named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential Teens, a member of Ebony Power 100 and a recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal. She is the founder and CEO of Me & the Bees, a nationally distributed lemonade company that helps save pollinators, and she has launched a nonprofit that works to educate people about bees. At Emory, she wants to pursue her interests in international business, engineering and environmental sciences.

Marc Zavarro

Marc Zavarro, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, has been a leader with the nonprofit Children Helping Other Children for seven years, including as president. In high school, he led business/security and public health initiatives in Nigeria in addition to serving as speech and debate team president and as an officer with the Students Preventing Unintentional Drownings Club. At Emory, he plans to study international development and global culture. 


Oxford campus

Isabella Adeola

Isabella Adeola, of Little Rock, Arkansas, has played violin for more than a decade, performing with her school’s orchestra and musical pit orchestra and being named to the All-State Youth Symphony Orchestra in 2022. She has been honored by the National African American Recognition Program and the National Rural and Small Town Recognition Program. She plans to study neuroscience and philosophy before going to medical school, with an eye toward working in medical humanities or medical ethics.

Akhil Arularasu

Akhil Arularasu, of Bridgewater, New Jersey, has worked as a sustainability intern at Raritan-Valley Community College, where his experience in reducing food waste prompted him to build an image-recognition tool to classify organic waste. An Eagle Scout, he was president of his high school forensics speech and debate team and a national qualifier in original oratory in addition to running cross-country. He is interested in studying how to apply technology to solve environmental problems.

Elizabeth Brubaker

Elizabeth Brubaker, of Charlottesville, Virginia, served as director for Generation Ratify Virginia, the youth-led movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and as student representative for the Virginia Coalition for Sex-Education Reform, and lobbied for progressive legislation on the state and federal levels. She was captain of her high school forensics team and served as president of her school’s National English Honor Society and International Thespian Honor Society. She plans to study political science before attending law school.

Asmita Lehther

Asmita Lehther, of Austin, Texas, has been an active community organizer, hosting phone banks in Hindi, Spanish and English with They See Blue, canvassing with Asian Texans for Justice to promote AAPI civic engagement, and creating voter registration toolkits for high schools with the Texas Democrats. She also led vaccination efforts with the Travis County Commissioners Court and led a protest to improve COVID-19 precautions in her school district. At Oxford, she plans to pursue human health to advance her mission of equity in health care.

Alan Shnir

Alan Shnir, of New York City, founded the International Socioeconomics Laboratory, working to create dozens of research papers used in legislative initiatives such as stopping the sale of weight loss and muscle-building supplements to people under the age of 18. He also has run his own tutoring business and serves on the executive board of the Jewish Student Union. He plans to study policy and medicine before pursuing a joint MD/MPH program.

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