Young Women’s Preparatory Network Announces Inaugural Winners of $112,000 in Merit Scholarships

(Dallas, Texas, May 5, 2016) – Young Women’s Preparatory Network has announced the seven recipients of its inaugural scholarship awards, totaling $112,000.


These deserving graduating seniors from YWPN’s network schools throughout Texas were selected because they embody the mission and core values upon which the organization was founded: leadership, college readiness and health/wellness. Additionally, they are recognized for their capacity to lead and serve, and their commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities. Each student will receive a $16,000 scholarship.


Lynn McBee, Young Women’s Preparatory Network CEO, commented, “Upon review of their applications, it was clear that these are extremely deserving young women with outstanding accomplishments and contributions to their community. They truly represent well-rounded Young Women’s Preparatory Network leaders, and we are thrilled to grant them this scholarship, which will help them afford a college degree.”


Katerina (Katya) Wittliff: Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders (ARS) (Austin)

According to ARS College Bound Advisor Eric Heineman, “Katya Wittliff is exactly the kind of student our school was founded to serve: motivated, hard-working, eager to learn, and compassionate. She has received the Austin ISD Trustees Award for academic excellence, AP Scholar with Honor award, and has been named the best actress in Austin ISD for the past two years.” Katya’s life changed in the third grade when she watched a documentary about a woman engineer who had designed a prosthetic arm that could move in response to electrical signals sent from the muscles in the residual limb. “As I learned more about bionics through the years, I knew that innovating bionic prostheses was for me–it was the perfect combination of biology, engineering, and design…that I could transform the lives of people like the war veterans who are missing their legs at the senior care center where I volunteer,” remarked Katya. “There is a spark that I feel within me, a passion and drive to make a difference in the field that has fascinated me daily since I was ten years old: biomedical engineering.” This scholarship will help spark her goals as she attends The University of Austin, majoring in biomedical engineering.


Alicia Allen: Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School (Dallas)

Raised by her grandfather since birth, Allen plans to major in nursing because she’s seen the nurses who have shown her grandfather compassion as he battles leukemia. She said, “It wasn’t until (my grandfather) needed serious chemotherapy that he finally told us the truth. For the next four years, my sister and I had to mature at an exceedingly fast rate. A lot of the weight fell on me because my sister has a learning disability that often renders her insecure about completing tasks.” Allen refused to let her personal life of running a household and taking care of her family affect her education. She is senior class president, a Dallas ISD Teen Board member and founded and served as president of the school’s first African American Student Association. “To me, what would normally hinder others has given me all the skills and tools to become a powerful and impactful leader.” According to Esmerelda Vanegas-Martinez, M.Ed, of Irma Rangel, “Alicia is always willing to help anyone and does it with a smile. Her attitude is one of her best qualities. She never lets anything distract her from achieving her goal.” In the fall, she will attend the University of Oklahoma.


Kennedy Woodard: Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Fort Worth

A driven young woman, Woodard skipped her junior year of high school so that she could graduate a year early in the first graduating class of 2016 along with her sister. According to Kendra Strange, YWLA College Bound Advisor, “Kennedy is determined, smart, hard-working and passionate, all of which have contributed to her success.” Woodard has received the President’s Award for choir, the Ann Brannon Award (mathematics and engineering) and Athletic Scholar award. In addition, she has served as cheer captain, Whiz Quiz captain and a student council representative. She plans to attend Southern Methodist University majoring in engineering.


Karina Reyes Rodriguez: Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy (Houston)

Ranked #3, Rodriguez is a motivated and dedicated student who loves to volunteer. She has proven to be a leader as part of the magnet school’s Petroleum Academy, sponsored by Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and Petroleum Equipment & Services Association (PESA)). She has learned about energy as an extern for W&T Offshore. She is the founder and president of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers Jr., student council secretary and belongs to the National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society. She said, “I am a hardworking and determined young woman that loves to learn and would someday like to be the role model of young women and students from the Hispanic race. I would share my experiences and encourage them to become future leaders and to reach their goals without giving up.” Rodriguez will attend Texas A&M University majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in material science.


Olivia Oldham: Margaret Talkington School for Young Women Leaders (Lubbock)

Graduating with a distinguished high school diploma and high honors, Oldham is “persistent and diligent,” according to Kirsten Gunia, Talkington SYLW Pre-AP and AP Chemistry and Forensic Science teacher. Gunia added, “She is also the brightest student I have ever encountered in my teaching career.” Oldham is driven to do her best. She and two classmates spent many hours and were finalists in a $50,000 grant-writing competition for the Bayer Museum of Agriculture to establish a new exhibit portraying women’s roles in agricultural history. Their efforts resulted in the museum receiving a $25,000 grant, and she is determined to help them raise the additional amount through subsequent grants that her team has written. Oldham said, “When I was younger, I lived in a small town in Central America and while there, developed a passion for helping impoverished families.” She hopes to start a nonprofit that will design and construct innovative and low-maintenance homes for struggling communities in third-world countries…that will make a change that will last a lifetime and continue to impact future generations.” This fall, she plans to attend Texas Tech University to study interior design, architecture and business management.


Maria Favella: Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio

Having faced many personal trials, Favella has dedicated herself successfully to her schoolwork. She has been named to the Honor Roll throughout high school, and according to Rebecca Salazar, YWLA College Bound Advisor, “Maria has shown grit in the face of adversity and has since continued to challenge herself with further AP coursework.” Outside of school, she volunteers, often doing more than the required service hours. Favella said, “I vowed to grasp a better understanding in psychology and neuroscience at various points in my life. I would like to travel to lesser developed regions of the world and help refugees and others who have experienced crises’ worse than my own. I learned from my past that nothing will stop me in helping my community, not the lack of support from my parents nor the lack of financial resources because of my brother’s medical bills. I am determined to do something for the good of humanity and to never allow my past to define my future.” She will attend the University of Rochester and will be the first in her family to graduate from college.


Marissa Ramirez: Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio

A former teacher of Ramirez said, “Although I hold her intellect in high regard, it’s her natural ability to lead that I am confident will ensure her success. At only 17 years of age, she has learned a lesson…that a truly great leader values those they are leading.” Ramirez has translated that leadership to tutor peers, serve as class vice president and serve as National Art Honor Society president. What began as part of a service requirement turned into an impactful lesson. Beginning her sophomore year, she started volunteering at the McNay Art Museum working with children and families. She said, “Throughout my time volunteering at the McNay, I was able to personally learn about art in history and technique. I was opened to an opportunity of seeing art working within the community as well. Volunteering has led me to be a more reflective person in understanding the disadvantages I had as a child and being able to provide ways to combat those disadvantages to children in my community.” She will attend Oberlin College to major in environmental studies.


About Young Women’s Preparatory Network:

Founded in 2002, the Young Women’s Preparatory Network is a nonprofit agency that partners with public school districts in Texas to operate the largest network of all-girls, public, college preparatory schools in the nation. The organization provides funding and other resources to seven Texas schools with about 4,200 students in 6th through 12 grade. Each YWPN school features a STEM-focused curriculum and is largely attended by economically disadvantaged students. In 2014-2015, the network’s 247 graduates received offers of more than $29 million in academic and merit scholarships and have matriculated to 87 different colleges and universities. More information can be found at