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2020 YuJa Scholarship Winner – Dara Nicole Díaz Ríos

Congratulations to Dara Nicole Díaz Ríos as the winner of the 2020 YuJa Scholarship Contest


TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: 2020 Scholarship Contest Winner Dara Nicole Díaz Ríos

I am Dara, I was born and raised in Nicaragua and am moving to Boston to attend Emerson College and follow my dream of becoming an integral visual artist. I would like to be a visual activist and a documentarist. My background is in graphic arts as well as drawing, painting, and sculpting. I love teaching and sharing my knowledge as a way of giving back to my community.





The experience of being an exchange student in San Francisco was for me a transformational academic experience. One of my fondest memories of my semester abroad was an incredible experience that took me home; on a cold spring afternoon as I was leaving the university gym, I saw my dance teacher from Nicaragua coming toward me. Coincidentally she was teaching at USF and invited me to her dance class with the school’s company. This wonderful opportunity opened my eyes to the realization that the world is more interconnected than ever and that we can connect with our roots anywhere.



By 2025, I will be developing new ways to distribute more inclusive and accessible artistic content for rural Latin American communities. I see myself getting to know and collaborating with rural populations to document and preserve their traditions and give them the gift of art that has been so transformational for me. Additionally, I know I will be continuing with my education a process that will never end.



My main interest is to be able to develop my own voice, to understand my unique way of seeing the world, and to be able to communicate it to create a positive impact. I am confident that my university experience will help me build a network of artists who have the same interest in developing a global union for artistic inclusivity and democratization.



My curiosity is infinite, I am always open to new experiences and eager to learn from others. The breadth of my hobbies is extensive: sports, gardening, all kinds of plastic, visual and performing arts, and any opportunity to give back and share with my community. I especially enjoy listening, writing, and sharing stories as this is a way to mix my vocation with my passions.




We would like to thank all the participants for entering in our 2020 Annual YuJa Essay Contest! 

We were blown away by the record number of participants and interest in our Essay Contest and we look forward to your participation next year in our 2021 Annual YuJa Essay Contest.


Related Article: Scholarship Submissions 2020

Winter 2019 Scholarship Winner – Anissah Surita

Tell us about yourself:

I am Anissah Surita and I graduated from St. Francis High School in 2018. I just finished my first year of college at Folsom Lake College and I plan to transfer to Sacramento State after my second year. I will transfer with an Associate’s degree in business. In my free time I enjoy playing soccer with my parents and younger brother.


What has been your best experience in school?

My best experiences in school so far would have to be from high school when I played for the soccer team for all four years. I gained so much experience and grew as an athlete and a person. I became closer to so many of my classmates and it was a true bonding experience.


What influenced your choice in major?

I really like within the business major how many options of careers there are after graduation. I am thinking of either choosing the marketing or accounting concentration. I will learn more as I continue to take classes about which concentration I want to focus on at Sacramento State.


How do you envision yourself in 5 years?

I envision myself with a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Sacramento State. After I earn this I plan to work towards my Master ́s degree. With this time frame, I hope in five years that I will be working towards earning this. I hope within this time I can also gain some experience through internships that are offered to students in this field of study.


What do you hope to learn from your school experience?

I hope to grow as a student and person through my courses and peers. I have already enjoyed a year’s worth of classes and the experience they have given me. I look forward to my next year at Folsom and earning my Associates’s degree. I also look forward to transferring to Sacramento State where it will be a completely different experience I assume.


What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

Since I was a young girl I have been involved with sports. As I got older I decided to focus on soccer and play on a competitive team. I enjoy playing soccer still with my twelve-year-old brother, my family, and friends. I also enjoy practicing softball. I played softball for about seven years when I was younger and I played for St. Francis in my junior year.



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Fall 2018 Scholarship Winner – Darian Williams

Tell us about yourself:

I’m from Utah, USA, and earned a degree in Anthropology from Southern Utah University. I’m currently a graduate student of Global Environmental Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. I’m focusing my MA thesis on sustainability marketing, and currently have content marketing internships with American startup Alda Lifestyle and international organization Plastic-Free Tuesday. I also work part-time as an English teacher.


What has been your best experience in school?

During my second semester, I was able to go on a research trip to a small town called Karuizawa. While I didn’t directly learn anything about marketing, I gained hands-on experience with forest management. I also learned many traditional Japanese conservation methods that are unfortunately beginning to die out. On top of that, I was able to bond with my classmates and professors over good Japanese sake!


What influenced your choice in major?

During my undergraduate, I learned of primate endangerment in a biological anthropology course and decided to focus my senior thesis on the various dimensions of this problem. My findings from this thesis made me understand that conserving natural resources can’t be done from a one-dimensional perspective. As I approached grad school, I knew that I wanted to make sustainable living more doable for a greater number of people. Because of this, I decided to focus my MA thesis on how to increase sustainable consumption with marketing methods.

How do you envision yourself in 5 years?

I’d like to continue globe-hopping while working remotely as a sustainability marketer. Since I originally come from the countryside, which is quite homogeneous, I’m happy to experience different cultures. I also see this as an important educational and career skill in an increasingly globalized world. I’d like to be working on a diverse range of environmental problems and hope to see improvements in climate change, waste management, and biodiversity loss.


What do you hope to learn from your school experience?

I would like to gain a deeper understanding of human behavior because I see this as paramount to creating a sustainable future. This is something that was part of my undergraduate education, so it’s an extension of what I already know. Something that I missed during my undergrad, though, was any type of marketing or business knowledge. Although human behavior is important for sustainability, so are economic processes. I intend on melding these two elements in my final thesis as well as my career. What extracurricular activities do you enjoy? Most of the time that I don’t spend on my thesis is put towards two internships. One focuses on the general growth of a sustainable startup, in which I do everything from blogging to email marketing to Twitter growth. The other is more specific and focused because it’s for an organization that aims to decrease plastic waste with doable, everyday changes. I am currently working on revamping the organization’s Pinterest account in order to grow awareness about its mission.




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Fall 2017 Scholarship Winner – Samantha Jones

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a college student studying English language and literature, which means I drink way too much coffee, I’m in a committed relationship with Microsoft Word and if you get me talking about literature, I can go on for hours. I’m also a sister, biologically I have a younger sister, on my campus I have a little over a hundred sorority sisters; I love both and both drive me crazy sometimes (it must be a sister thing). I am passionate about education outside of the classroom and I am an aspiring curator.

What has been your best experience in school?

I admit, when I began studying English at a Polytechnic school, I wasn’t expecting an amazing program, since the humanities are often a lower level concern on many similar campuses. I could not have been more wrong though. The small major has afforded me the opportunity to be on a fist name basis with many of my professors, who in addition to being amazing mentors, have been some of the most brilliant people I have had the pleasure of knowing. My classes have been incredible and the further I get into the major, the stronger my sense of sureness in my own expertise becomes. I have no doubt I will come out of this major a stronger writer, a more analytical reader and a confident participant in the literary conversations already going on.

What influenced your choice in major?

I am a third year English major, with a minor in interdisciplinary studies and plans to pursue museum studies if grad school. I am a voracious reader, a passionate writer, and I have been in love with the notion of storytelling for as long as I can remember. Initially I began my English career at Cal Poly with plans to pursue creative writing. Since then I have become entranced with my literature classes and picked up a minor, which has turned my attention toward the way museum education utilizes storytelling.

How do you envision yourself in 5 years?

In five years, ideally I will be finished with my graduate studies and working at a museum that includes some kind of historical/cultural studies component. I would like to be working in Exhibit design and curation. I believe museum culture has the potential to contribute powerful change and to promote greater cultural tolerance in society and I want to be part of that movement. I believe storytelling increases empathy and so I want to explore the narratively of museum exhibits.

What do you hope to learn from your school experience?

I am fortunate in that I have always loved school and learning. My education has not only been extremely important to me, it has been something I actively enjoy and seek out. From college, I am hoping for more than just a degree earned by specific units, more than just the collaborative skills necessary for interacting with others in everyday life. I want to graduate having gained understanding about who I am as a person, what I value and believe. College has been, for me, the opportunity to establish myself as an individual and what I hope for is that when I am through with school, I will have a greater love and appreciation for myself and the work I am capable of, as well as a great curiosity and a continuing desire to learn.

What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

Philanthropy and sisterhood have always been extremely important to me. I high school I was involved in a youth sorority sponsored by the Freemasons and served as an officer on the State level. Now that I am in college, I have become very involved in my sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, and I am currently serving on our Executive Council as Property Coordinator. I am also a new initiate in the Order of Omega, the Greek Honor society on my campus. In addition to my job as a tutor at the writing center on Campus, I volunteer as a docent at the local aquarium.  

Samantha’s Essay

Through the Wardrobe

by Samantha Jones

As an English major, I have been exposed to an incredible assortment of literature. I have read pieces that have shaken me to the core, transformed the way I think, taught me empathy, and I am so grateful for these things. But for everything I have learned from my classes, I have learned just as much, if not more, from the fairytales that made up my childhood. My favorite storybook when I was young was “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis and it remains to this day one of my favorite stories.

                The book was an escape into a world that was much more exciting and meaningful to me than that of my life. The book showed me that someone as seemingly insignificant as a child could be a hero, and have adventures and I could go on those adventures when I read the books. Every step a character took, I was walking right beside them.

                The lessons I learned from my trips Narnia are innumerable and every time I read it, I gain new insights. I learned from Lucy to believe in magic, that you should be kind to strangers, and loyal to your friends. Edmund taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes, and be afraid. Then, he taught me to learn from my mistakes and grow. Peter showed me that leadership is not just telling people what to do or where to go, it is listening and understanding, so that you can be a guide to those around you. Susan reminded that while it is okay to be a little skeptical, I should never let that get in the way of what is important.

                I learned many things but more than that, I realized that the intricate fabric of Narnia was woven with many of the same threads that make up real life. There is good and evil, there is temptation and there is redemption. When I first stepped through the wardrobe, I began to form a new understanding about how life works. As I get older, I am becoming more aware that while I cannot prevent the evil and the temptation in my life, I can make choices about how I respond to it. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is important to me because it has become part of the foundation on which I have built myself up. The heroes of this story have served to shape me as person and I hope that when I act and speak and think, I do so in a manner that would be worthy of a queen or king of Narnia.

June 2017 Scholarship Winner – Chrisitan Parham

Location, Price, and Major: Three College Factors Important to Me

by Christian Parham

Searching for a college is never easy. There are so many factions to consider, and after contemplating I have decided that location, price, and their programs available for my major are the most important to me. Location is extremely important to me because I would love to live in Southern California, but not super far away from home so I can visit. Because I still want to be kind of close near to home, it causes me to look at schools specifically in my state, California. Once I find a school that I’m interested in, the next factor for me to hone in on is price. Although I have applied for  scholarships and will be completing the FAFSA with my parents,this does not guarantee I’ll receive an affordable college education. For my parents sake and my own, I will have to strongly evaluate the quality of the education I’ll be receiving and if it is truly worth the price. With many students graduating college with $30,000 in student loan debt, it is an important factor to look into early while there’s still time. Finally, I will also be considering what programs are available for the major I hope to pursue. I hope to major in political science and minor in either journalism or psychology. While all of these majors are available at many colleges, this doesn’t mean that your education in certain colleges will be the best. Because I plan to work in these fields when I graduate, it’s important that I get an education that prepares me for what I’ll encounter in these job fields daily. If I am not equipped with knowledge and real world skills I can apply to my job after I leave college, then what is the point of going? If I focus on location, price, and programs for my major while deciding on the colleges I’m interested in, then I hopefully will be able to find a school that I truly love.

Name: Christian Parham
School: Franklin High School
Tell us about yourself.

  1. I am 17 year old senior in high school who lives in California. I enjoy politics and reading. I have one younger sister who is 15. In my spare time, I work with little children and teach them the basics of peewee soccer. I also teach children’s bible classes at my church, and am very active in my community through a leadership program my city sponsors. I love watching history documentaries as well.
  2. My best experience so far in high school has been being involved in programs like Link Crew and Leadership. Link Crew provides incoming freshmen with 2 upperclassmen mentors, and the mentors help guide them through their first year of high school. Being a mentor to underclassmen has been such a fun experience and I’m grateful I got to have a profound impact on their lives. Leadership is a great way for me to get to know other people in my grade, and make sure I stay involved in all our schools various events.
  3. The major that I plan to pursue is political science. Due to this election season, I became very interested in the many intricacies of politics. Also, I love history, and politics fits hand in hand with it. You can learn from others policy mistakes, find out what doesn’t work, and avoid scandals and mistakes within your own campaign.
  4. In five years, I plan to be graduated from college with a major in political science and a minor in journalism. Hopefully, I will find a job as either a politician or working in political journalism. If I want to continue my schooling beyond undergrad, then I will go to law school to become a lawyer.
  5. I hope to learn skills that will benefit me in my future career, whatever it may be. An example of some skills I’d like to learn is how to effectively communicate what I want to others, and be more assertive with in my beliefs. I’d also like to develop my critical thinking skills to stay competitive in this rapidly advancing world.
  6. Some extracurricular activities I enjoy are writing. I currently write for a teen magazine called us. I also like being involved in the several leadership groups and helping freshmen acclimate to high school. I tutor almost daily after school in any subject, which has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Teaching Children’s bible classes has also been great.


April 2017 Scholarship Winner – Karlee Greer

Which academic subject did you learn the most from in high school? How has it shaped your education?

by Karlee

The class that I learned the most from in high school was without a doubt ASL. I learned a new language and a different grammar system, that I can use to effectively communicate with deaf people. It truly shaped my life because it fueled my desire to serve a LDS full time mission (an 18 month, unpaid service mission) because I realized that I really like communicating with people who aren’t like me. I like sharing knowledge with other people. It also helped me decide what my major is: Speech Pathology. I found a passion in ASL and I’m grateful I know what I want to do for the rest of my life.

However, my ASL class has also taught me important life skills. There was a girl in that class that had been on my color guard team several years before that I never got along with very well. In this class, we became great friends and I really learned how to reconnect with people I’d made previously negative judgements towards.

I’ve also learned communication skills. Obviously I learned to communicate with ASL, but just as importantly, I learned to communicate my feelings with other people. My teacher is a very caring man who always asked how I was doing. One day, I was having the worst day ever and I told him about it. This was difficult for me because I have always internalized my feelings but in this class I was able to take the first step in telling people how I really feel. That will be an invaluable skill in years to come.

A class that has the most educational value is not necessarily the ones that have the most educational content. A gifted educator not only teaches his or her subject material, but is also able to teach life lessons. They’re able to instill a passion for that subject in the hearts of their students, and once we discover that passion, our life is going to be shaped according to it forever.


Name: Karlee Greer
Current School: Skyridge High School
Tell us about yourself.

I’m a ballroom dancer, an AP student, and ASL lover! I’m going to be a freshman at Utah State University in the fall, pursuing a degree in communicative disorders and deaf education. LDS and proud to be so, I am currently preparing to serve a full time, 18 month mission. I am also a certified dental assistant.

What has been your best experience in school?

 I have made so many friends during school. Every choice you make impacts who your friends are, and who your friends are impact who you are. I am extremely grateful for my friends and the person they’ve shaped me into.

What influenced your choice in major?

Originally, I wanted to major in Neuroscience, but through choices I made and classes I took, I ended up in ASL 2. It was there that I discovered I have a love both for the language and for deaf culture. I looked in to it more, and decided to pursue a degree in speech pathology.

How do you envision yourself in 5 years?

In five years, I’ll be a near college graduate. I’m excited to be fluent in ASL and a more experienced dental assistant.

What do you hope to learn from your school experience?

I want to learn how to interact with others better. I’ve always been kind of socially awkward, so I’m excited for the experience to grow and mature.

What extracurricular activities do you enjoy?

I love dancing and ASL. I actually have an ASL YouTube channel where I post covers of songs I’ve translated into ASL. I’m also on my school’s ballroom dance team. This is my second year doing ballroom, after a long history of ballet, and I absolutely love it!







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