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May 2016

Santa Clara University Names Newest Class of Johnson Scholars

Class of 2020 Johnson Scholars announced

Santa Clara University selects the 2020 Class of Johnson Scholars

SANTA CLARA, Calif., May 12, 2016 — Eleven incoming Santa Clara University first-year students have been chosen as Johnson Scholars for the Class of 2020.

“This group of Johnson Scholars exemplifies the values that Rupert and Maryellie Johnson wanted to honor with this prestigious scholarship: compassion, leadership, integrity, and academic excellence,” said SCU President Michael E. Engh, S.J. “We are proud to have such a strong and diverse group of students join our community at Santa Clara University, and we look forward to the spirit of service and excellence they will bring with them.”

The students were chosen after going through a series of selection activities that included book reading discussion groups, writing an essay based on the discussion, and three afternoon leadership exercises organized by the Center for Student Leadership. The 11 new Johnson Scholars were chosen from among 46 finalists who came to campus for a Scholarship Weekend paired with the University Admission Preview Day. A feature story was recently written on the selection process in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, detailing the way in which the students are evaluated and carefully selected.

“It is a great day to be a Bronco and a Johnson Scholar! The Johnson Scholars leadership team as well as all of the faculty and staff involved in the selection process enthusiastically welcome all of our new Scholars and congratulate the finalists and semi-finalists,” said Dr. Amy Shachter, who is co-director of the program along with Dr. Leilani Miller.

The Johnson Scholars program is funded by a generous gift from donors Rupert and Maryellie Johnson as a way to help students and enhance the University’s mission. Mr. Johnson is vice chairman and director of the financial firm Franklin Resources and serves the University as a trustee emeritus. He was previously a member of the Board of Trustees.

The program was established to award full, renewable academic scholarships to SCU’s most academically accomplished, leadership-minded applicants. The scholars must meet demanding personal and academic criteria to be chosen: they must be individuals of high ethical standards; have maintained a 3.8 GPA or higher; have achieved top-tier SAT and ACT scores; have proven stellar academic, leadership, and service performance; and have demonstrated leadership potential.

During their four years, the Johnson Scholars receive premier access to the University’s top leadership and honors programs, including the prestigious Johnson Leadership Fellows program, a summer stipend for a self-designed leadership experience. Comprehensive and intellectually challenging, the Johnson Scholars Program provides the community of scholars with opportunities to learn beyond campus and develop their skills as leaders to build a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

The newest Johnson Scholars hail from New York, Colorado, California, Illinois, Nevada, and Oregon.


Jacob Bennett
Hometown: Lewiston, NY
High School: Canisius High School
Major: Engineering

Jacob Peltier Bennett played basketball, ultimate frisbee, swam, ran cross country, served as student senator and was a member of the Mock Trial team at Canisius High School. Throughout the past four years Jacob has been committed to serving not only Canisius but the Buffalo community as a whole. He has volunteered at Heart, Love, and Soul soup kitchen, the Response to Love Center, and St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy where he has strived to break down the barriers of a divided city and forge relationships with those whom he serves. Jacob’s dedication to social justice stems largely from an immersion trip to Nicaragua that he went on his junior year, a trip that drastically impacted how he sees the world around him. Jacob is drawn to the community aspect of Santa Clara, and is looking forward to being a leader in all that he does on and off campus.


Alexa DeSanctis
Hometown: Aurora, CO
High School: Regis Jesuit High School Girls Division
Major: Biology

Alexa is passionate about learning, leading, and serving others. Throughout high school she was given the incredible opportunity to serve as a board member of the National Honors Society, Vice President of SHS, a student ambassador, and a leader on many retreats. She also spent a great deal of time as a captain of the cheer squad, was named a UCA All-American Cheerleader and served as a member of the Colorado Elite Quad. Alexa worked in her church as a co-president of her youth group and member of the praise team. She also served her community, volunteering at homeless shelters and local middle schools as well as founding a non-profit organization to provide books for local underprivileged children.  Alexa loves getting to know new people, spending time outside, and listening to music. She cannot wait to enjoy all of the opportunities Santa Clara will give her in her upcoming school year.


Alexander James Elfar
Hometown: Alameda, CA
High School: Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School
Major: Computer Science & Engineering

Alexander James (A.J.) Elfar is a positive person with a strong work ethic. He earned the honor of Eagle Scout and has a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.  A.J. is a Presidential Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society, and Salutatorian for the class of 2016 at Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School.  He has been elected each year for the last four years as his class representative and officer of his high school's STEAM club. A.J. has a strong affinity for the sciences and has spent the past four summers working at the USDA where he has investigated biodegradable wrapping films from agricultural surplus products. Last year, A.J. spearheaded and organized an ice cream sale drive, raising over $1,000 for Free the Children in Kenya, and looks forward to leading similar social entrepreneurship inspired service projects in the future.  AJ is excited by the opportunities to forge new friendships through collaboration, learn and grow at SCU and to make positive contributions to his community.


Christian “Riley” Haase
Hometown: Henderson, NV
High School: Coronado High School
Major: Business

Riley is a National Merit Commended Scholar and an AP Scholar with Honors. He is an Eagle Scout and has also earned his Eagle Bronze Palm. He is an avid volleyball player and has played on his high school team for three years, a local club team for four years, and participated in many beach volleyball tournaments. He is currently planning a charity volleyball tournament to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He has served as a Youth Ambassador for JDRF since he was 7 years old, explaining the disease to local community leaders, seeking donations to help find a cure, and thanking donors for their support. Throughout his senior year in high school, he served as the Youth Philanthropy Chairman for the One Drop Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to providing clean water and education on the use of clean water to those living in impoverished areas. In this role, he was responsible for raising awareness among youth about the significance of investing in clean water. He looks forward to receiving a well-rounded education encompassing philosophy, business, math, and literature while at Santa Clara.


Rachael Han
Hometown: Burr Ridge, IL
High School: Hinsdale Central High School
Major: Engineering

Rachael Han has played an active role in many activities at Hinsdale Central High School, serving as a senator on Student Council and being on the executive boards for both National Art Honors Society and Peer Leadership. She is also a varsity member of the Poms Dance team, Speech team, and Badminton team, the latter two of which she was a state qualifier. Among these extracurriculars, Rachael also recognizes the importance of academia. Rachael is a National Merit Finalist and spent the summer of 2014 interning at the University of Illinois at Chicago under Dr. Kenneth Brezinsky, a mechanical and chemical engineer, where she conducted her own research project on jet fuel. The summer of 2015, Rachael traveled to Costa Rica on a service trip, where she learned the importance of environmental preservation through completing 39 hours of service in two weeks in the rural village of Yorkin. This trip inspired her to look beyond the scope of her local surroundings and gain global perspective. Rachael prioritizes Santa Clara's interdisciplinary curriculum and values the depth of knowledge that results from partaking in different experiences. In the future, Rachael hopes to leave her mark on the world through environmental innovation.


Lauren Larson
Hometown: Truckee, CA
High School: Bishop Manogue Catholic High School
Major: Biology

Lauren Larson graduated from Bishop Manogue Catholic High School and was co-salutatorian of her graduating class. Even though she had an hour long commute to school everyday, she still found ways to be involved as president of the Sodality club, treasurer of National Honors Society, and Editor-in-Chief for the yearbook. She was also on the debate team and on the varsity soccer team that won the regional championships for the first time during her senior year. Lauren has a passion for service, and over the course of high school was able to travel to Spain with her soccer team to train in Barcelona and bring school supplies to a local orphanage. The following year, she traveled to Guatemala with an immersion program and volunteered for two weeks teaching English and painting tables and chairs for the classrooms. This summer, she is interning at a hospital in Reno to learn more about career opportunities in the medical field. She is grateful to Santa Clara for not only allowing her to better herself through education, but to find a path where she can continually be in service to others."


Sabine Pigg
Hometown: Portland, OR
High School: Woodrow Wilson High School
Major: Chemistry

Sabine Pigg is an active member of her Wilson High School community and can’t wait to get involved at Santa Clara. As an Associated Student Body leader in student government, she has co-headed four fundraising committees, raising a total of over $5,000 for the Community Transitional School for underprivileged children in Portland. This has led her to realize her passion for community outreach and service. In 2014, Sabine spent two months of her summer in Costa Rica, living with two different families, attending school, and learning to adapt to new linguistic and cultural environments. She also plays varsity tennis and soccer, competes for Wilson’s Mock Trial team, founded the school Badminton Club, and is a Chemistry and Math tutor for middle and high school students. At SCU, Sabine hopes to be able to combine her love of international studies and community service with the sciences and find a way to make a difference in the world.


Ashley Ricks
Hometown: Morgan Hill, CA
High School: Milpitas High School
Major: Business

Ashley is a relentless learner, compassionate communicator, perpetual adventurer, and Disney princess aficionado. In high school, she served as Vice President of Interact Club and President of Acts of Random Kindness Club. Ranking in the top 5% of her graduating class of 730 students, she was also a scholar athlete in volleyball, cross country, and track. She wrote for her school newspaper and was recognized amongst her peers as Homecoming Queen. Throughout her high school career, she developed a heart for global altruism, and went on month-long service trips to the Philippines and Uganda, along with volunteering for a nonprofit that donates bicycles to children in Bangladesh. She is tremendously grateful to be a part of the Johnson Scholars program, hopes to learn more about herself and the world God has put her in along the way, and is excited to pursue new adventures at SCU.


Nicholas Spragg
Hometown: Naperville, IL
High School: Waubonsie Valley High School
Major: Business

Nicholas Spragg founded two organizations at his high school, both of which aim to empower students spiritually and emotionally. Through these initiatives, students have discovered their capacity to explore new perspectives in a diverse community of individuals. He was the recipient of the City of Aurora Service Above Self Award in recognition of his innovative passion. Nick participated in varsity volleyball and placed third at the USAV Boys’ Junior National Championships. Nick has also travelled to a Haiti to provide medical relief in multiple rural communities. This cultural immersion prompted his interest in the opportunities SCU provides to engage the global community with the holistic approach of the Jesuit tradition.


Alejandra Fraume Valencia
Hometown: San Jose, CA
High School: Henry T. Gunderson High School
Major: English

Alejandra Fraume Valencia came to the United States from Colombia when she was seven years old and has dedicated her high school years towards helping empower others, something that her mom has cultivated in her through example. As Co-Events Coordinator for her school's Interact Club and Co-President of her school's California Scholarship Federation, Alejandra has organized over 900 community service hours for students while still finding time to volunteer herself. She continues to incorporate her love for helping her community by tutoring Algebra I students, being a founder of an after-school math homework club and teaching kids tennis. Alejandra has been recognized as an AP Scholar with Honors, a National Hispanic Scholar, and in late 2015, was honored by the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce as their Student of the Year. She is infinitely grateful to be a part of the Johnson Scholars community and knows that SCU is the perfect environment to continue pursuing her passions for service, social justice, and growing better day-by-day.


Sherene Victor
Hometown: Dublin, CA
High School: Valley Christian High School
Major: Computer Science & Engineering

Sherene is a dedicated and compassionate student who has served in multiple leadership roles at Valley Christian High School in Dublin. She has been a captain of the varsity Tennis team and a Global and Student Ambassador for the International Club. Sherene also enjoys music and the Performing Arts; she has been on the school's acapella group (the MeloDames) and is a section leader for Concert Choir. She has led multiple community outreach programs in engineering while interning at the TechHive in UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science. Sherene has a big heart for others and understands that true leadership comes in the form of servitude. She is excited to a be a part of the Johnson Scholar community and looks forwards to her years at SCU.

More on the Johnson Scholars program is available online

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 9,000 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

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