They show excellence and leadership. Meet the 2022 Young Women of Distinction nominees
The 2022 Young Women of Distinction scholarship recipients:
Gwen Bushen – Aquinas Institute of Rochester
Aaniyah Simmons – World of Inquiry School
Lola DeAscentiis – The Harley School
En-Ya Shen – Geneva High School
It's time once again for outstanding young women in the Rochester region to be recognized for their achievements and contributions.
The Women’s Council, a Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce affiliate, has announced the 20 finalists for its annual Young Women of Distinction Award.
"Modeled after the ATHENA Award, the program is designed to discover high school seniors who have displayed outstanding leadership, academic excellence, and involvement in the nine-county Greater Rochester and Finger Lakes region," according to a news release from the Women's Council.
Four top recipients — one each from the Rochester City School District, Monroe County east, Monroe County west and the eight regional counties surrounding Monroe — receive a $2,500 scholarship.
The in-person celebration of the nominees and award recipients happens May 3 at The Strathallan. For more information on the Young Women of Distinction Award, visit rocwomenscouncil.org.
Learn more about the 2022 Young Women of Distinction Award finalists. (Editor's note: Biographies have been edited for clarity.)
Amy Feng — Pittsford Sutherland High School
Amy Feng is a senior at Pittsford Sutherland High School. She is a National Merit Scholarship Winner and a U.S. Presidential Scholars Candidate. In school, she is the founder of AI Club, math team captain, Science Olympiad co-president, and a captain of the varsity tennis team.
Amy’s passion for STEM and scientific research has taken her to national math and science competitions and international science fairs. Her research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus was presented at the 2021 Regeneron ISEF after winning the Grand Award at the TRFSEF science fair. She was named a 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar. To empower more students to pursue their interests in technology, Amy founded IntMax, a free educational AI program for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.
Also an accomplished musician who plays piano and cello, as well as conducts, Amy has been a featured soloist with the Hochstein Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Genesee Symphony Orchestra. She won the 2021 RPL Young Artist Auditions and will perform with the RPO this summer. Deeply involved with community engagement, Amy has organized outreach concerts and fundraisers for the student-run program Music for Love since 2015. She plans to study math and music at Harvard University.
Catherine Healy — Penfield High School
Catherine Healy is a senior at Penfield High School. She is a National Merit Finalist, AP Scholar with Honor, and Bausch + Lomb Honorary Science Award Recipient. Catherine is involved in many school clubs and leads as a Class Officer, Sources of Strength Peer Leader, Vice President of Key Club, and Co-President of Book Club.
As a dedicated athlete, Catherine was a captain of the Penfield Varsity Swim Team, where she earned the Most Valuable Player Award and qualified for the New York State Championships in four events. Catherine also is a distance runner on the varsity track team and has competed in Sectional Championships since her freshman year. Catherine is a passionate musician and plays both the violin and the piano.
She is the concertmaster of the Penfield High School Symphony Orchestra and has been selected to perform in the Area-All State Orchestra multiple times. Catherine also is a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. During the pandemic, Catherine volunteered by teaching violin virtually to elementary students. Catherine has also volunteered her musical talents at her church. Catherine plans on studying Computer Science at the University of Notre Dame.
Joyce Shi — Pittsford Mendon High School
Joyce Shi is a senior at Pittsford Mendon High School. For her academic achievements, she has been named a US Presidential Scholars Program Candidate, National Merit Scholarship Finalist, and National AP Scholar with Distinction. Joyce devotes much of her time to supporting her school and local community, serving as Class President, an All-School Executive Council member, and a Principal’s Advisory Council Member. She works to encourage interest in global issues through her role as Secretary-General of the Rochester Model United Nations organization.
Joyce volunteers at the Rochester Museum & Science Center, where she helps young children and other visitors explore science, technology, and history. She is also an avid writer, having been recognized with five National Medals in Poetry from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, as well as two First Prize awards from the RPL Sokol Literary Awards. In her free time, she can be found on the fencing strip, where she has qualified for both the USA Fencing Junior Olympics and Summer Nationals, or playing piano, for which she has been awarded annual Eastman Community Music School merit scholarships since 2014.
Joyce currently intends to pursue a joint major in Government and Computer Science at Harvard University this fall.
Lola DeAscentiis — The Harley School
Lola DeAscentiis is a senior at The Harley School and has a passion for politics, history,
social justice and the environment. Lola currently serves as the Co-President of the Upstate New York Girl Up Coalition, a division of the UN Women’s international Girl Up Campaign.
Additionally, she serves as the Communications and Social Media Director for the New York Youth Climate Leaders and is on the leadership team for the Rochester Youth Climate Leaders. As a result of her climate activism, County Executive Adam Bello recently selected Lola to be his Youth Appointee to the Monroe County Climate Action Plan Advisory Committee.
Lola has also spent her high school career working at the National Susan B. Anthony
Museum and House, where she gives tours of the historic home. Most notably, she served on the
Anthony Museum’s 2020 Suffragist City Parade Committee and was featured as a character in the RPO’s 2020 production True and Devoted, which highlighted the history of change-making women in Rochester.
Lola also has notable academic achievements, receiving 5s on every AP exam and
maintaining a 4.39 GPA. She will be majoring in government at Harvard University in the fall and intends to run for office in the future.
Mary Cotter — Allendale Columbia School
Curious and creative, Madeleine “Mary” Cotter, a senior at Allendale Columbia, has found joy in sharing her passion for constructing societally-impactful Computer Science projects with ProjectCSGIRLS. After finding personal success in the program, Mary knew it was critical to inspire more girls through mentorship.
An environmental advocate, she’s used AI to study freshwater health and is motivated to research alternative energy sources, ending the consumption of fossil fuels. As the Rochester Chapter leader of Re-run Shoes, Mary supports both local and global communities (plus reduces landfills) through the redistribution of gently-used shoes. For her efforts, she has received the Town of Penfield Commendation for Community Service and is a Hands of Christ recipient.
Mary is the Distinguished Young Woman of New York, Student Government President, has led multiple STEM clubs, is an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Scholar, and a 3-sport athlete, winning multiple Section V Championship titles and holding her school record in the 2000m Steeplechase.
Mary intends to study Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, and Economics either at the University of Virginia or Yale University, with a lifetime goal to lead Rochester’s Office of Energy and Sustainability, affecting governmental ecological decision-making and implementing environmental sustainability programs.
Stefanie Sellitto — Webster Schroeder High School
Stefanie "Stef" Sellitto is a senior at Webster Schroeder High School. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout her high school career and is valedictorian of her class.
Stefanie is the treasurer of the National Honor Society, secretary of the Math League, and serves as vice president of the Key Club. Additionally, she is the captain of both the varsity soccer and lacrosse teams. In both 2018 and 2019, she helped lead her soccer team to back-to-back sectional championships and has been named to the Monroe County 2nd team for both sports.
When she is not at school or on the field Stefanie enjoys volunteering with the Webster Women's Lacrosse Club and Lakefront youth soccer program as a coach. Following high school, Stefanie will be attending Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey to study biomedical engineering while continuing to play division 3 lacrosse.
Aaniyah Simmons — World of Inquiry School
Aaniyah Simmons is a senior at World of Inquiry High School, where she ranks in the top 5 of her class. Throughout her high school career, she has earned Honor Roll with Distinction every marking period. This scholarly achievement recognizes her as an Urban League Black Scholar and member of the National Honor Society.
Aaniyah serves in many positions. They range from being Captain of the Varsity Tennis Team to a Professional Development leader focused on cultural responsiveness, to her school’s peer RocRestorative team, and Board of Education Student Representative.
Aaniyah is a consistent volunteer with the Special Olympics, Horizons at Harley, Liberty Temple Ministries, and the state political campaigns. Outside of school, Aaniyah serves as the Co-President of the educational nonprofit, WriteRochester, while advocating for racial justice.
Expanding her knowledge, she participates in the Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative and studied diplomacy in Portugal on a merit scholarship. Along with being an AP Scholar, she is the two-time recipient of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Award and the recipient of the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas Award.
As a Questbridge Scholar, she has received a full-ride and will be attending Bowdoin College to study Government and Legal Studies.
Natalie Buzzell — School of the Arts
Natalie Buzzell is a senior Visual Arts major at School of the Arts. She has maintained a perfect GPA all throughout high school, and she is a National AP Scholar with Distinction.
As a junior, Natalie received the Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award from the University of Rochester. Recipients of this award are recognized for their dedication to social issues, as well as their interest and performance in humanities classes. She has participated in a variety of extracurricular activities, some of which include Model UN, the Black Lives Matter Committee, and the National Honor Society. This fall, Natalie was captain of the Varsity Volleyball team, and was awarded All-Tournament Team at the RCAC City Tournament.
This spring, she is a captain of the Varsity Softball team. Natalie has served her community by volunteering at Family Promise of Greater Rochester and is working at two restaurants in the area. During the summer, she works as a counselor at a day camp where she leads young girls in athletic activities as well as Bible studies, and cares for their social and emotional well-being.
In the fall, Natalie will attend Vassar College as a history major with hopes of becoming a teacher or professor.
Shannon Conner — School of the Arts
Shannon Conner is a senior Visual Arts Major at School of the Arts who has maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout high school. She is a member of the National Honors Society and received an AP Scholar with Honor award for her 2021 AP scores. Shannon is employed as a Chocolatiers Assistant at an ethically sourced chocolate shop. Additionally,
Shannon runs a handmade jewelry store on Etsy. She has been playing softball and running since elementary school, however, these two passions have extended through Shannon’s high school years. She has taken part in Varsity
Softball since she was a seventh-grader as her school's starting pitcher, was recognized as the RSCDs Player of the Year for the 2021 season, and this spring was named a team captain. She has taken part on the Varsity Cross Country team since she was a seventh-grader as the team's number two runner.
With her interest in political participation, Shannon has worked as a local Election Inspector and as a campaigner to register new voters in her community. With her passion for the arts, Shannon plans to attend college for Arts and Entertainment Management to pursue a career in the music industry.
Emma Manley — Brockport High School
Emma Manley is a senior at Brockport High School ranking in the top 10% of her class. She has achieved excelsior honor roll throughout her high school career while taking multiple AP classes.
Emma is a member of National Honor Society, Key Club, and FLEC where she volunteers and practices leadership during the week. Emma takes dance classes multiple days a week as she has done since a young age.
Emma is also an employee at Taco Bell and spends 20-25 hours per week working and training new employees. Emma is involved in multiple internships with elementary teachers in her district where she gains experience and knowledge for her future.
In the fall, Emma plans on attending Nazareth College to pursue a career in Speech and Langauge Pathology.
Gwen Bushen — Aquinas Institute of Rochester
Gwen Bushen is a senior at the Aquinas Institute of Rochester. She has maintained high honor roll throughout all of high school, participating in Student Government and NHS. She has won multiple class awards and is in the top 5% of her class.
She participated in theatre as a sound crew chief for ten shows and acted in her last show. Her commitment to the theatre, along with her academic standing, earned her a place in St. Genesius Society.
She joined boxing in her sophomore year and became a captain in her senior year. She fought in the Aquinas Mission Bouts this year, winning Fight of the Night. She became a chief yearbook editor in her junior year, accepting the position for her senior year as well.
She has volunteered at her parish as well as for the RMSC Museum and Science Center Curiosity Camps for over 100 hours this past summer. She now works at the RMSC Museum and Science Center as a Discovery Guide. She was awarded the Kathleen L. Lynd Female Leadership Award, recognizing her academic achievement, leadership, and character. She is a well-rounded student who has pursued many leadership roles throughout her high school career.
Isabelle Price — Hilton High School
Isabelle Price is a senior and varsity athlete at Hilton High School and will be graduating with an honors designation. Over the course of her high school career, Isabelle has won three Student of the Month awards recognizing her work ethic and tenacity.
She has been a member of Hilton’s Varsity Diving team for five years; in 2019 she received the Diver of the Year award for exemplary sportsmanship. Isabelle also volunteered in years past as an assistant coach for the Hilton Modified Swim and Dive team. Isabelle has maintained a 3.7 GPA which has qualified her for the Honor Roll or better every quarter since freshman year.
She has also been a member of the National Honor Society since 2020. Isabelle loves expressing herself through creativity. In 2019, one of Isabelle’s watercolor pieces won a finalist award at her school’s annual art show. Outside of school, Isabelle works as a lifeguard and swim instructor for her local YMCA.
She also waitresses at Polska Chata, a Polish restaurant, on the weekends. After graduating, Isabelle will be attending SUNY Fredonia where she will major in Biochemistry. She was also inducted this Spring as a member of SUNY Fredonia's prestigious Honors Program.
Jessica Williams — Hilton High School
Jessica "Jess" Williams is a senior at Hilton High School enrolled in the IB Diploma program. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA and she has routinely gotten Academic Merit honor roll. Jessica plans to study Political Science with a concentration in Public Law and a minor in Social Justice at University at Buffalo. She started Hilton’s debate club and continues to lead this as their President. Jessica also plays on the varsity softball team.
This past summer, Jessica put together her own donation drive for Bivona, a local family advocacy organization. She planned, advertised, and organized this fundraiser by herself and filled an entire bus with donations. She also volunteers multiple times a year in order to help the environment by picking up trash and beautifying Rochester.
Jessica also is a member of the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley as
a member of their grant-making committee, she helped to give grants to local organizations to benefit women and children in Rochester. In her future, Jess plans to eventually get her law degree and a masters in social work to become a family court lawyer or social worker. She hopes in the future to give back to Rochester, the city that raised her.
Lydia Dawkins — Gates Chili High school
Lydia Dawkins is a senior at Gates Chili High school. Lydia is ranked 95 /365 students. She is a hard-working student who has performed an outstanding work ethic throughout her high school career. Lydia was named an urban league Black scholar and was recognized by her high school principal for her outstanding work ethic during the first semester. While at Rush Henrietta senior high school She received royal comet awards for consistent and active involvement in class. Lydia has gotten involved in the community by doing food drives and helping elders in the church.
Because of her passion for helping kids. She also helped tutor kids after school. She participated in the ecology and aquarium club at school and helped with the 5th-grade science tour for kids.
Lydia is a very humble, determined person who has always strived to do her best in everything. Lydia considers herself a leader because of her ability to work ethically and guide a team by inspiring everyone around her. In her spare time, she likes to read, meditate, and give a lending hand to others.
Upon graduating high school, she plans on getting her bachelor’s degree in the field of
aeronautics to become an airline pilot.
Angela Tewksbury — Livonia High School
Angela Tewksbury is a senior at Livonia Senior High School. She is the valedictorian of her class as well as the Class President. She is an AP Scholar of Distinction and has received several Bulldog Pride Awards. Angela also participates in a variety of clubs such as the National Honor Society (as the President), Math Team (as a State Qualifier), Link Crew and more.
She is a member of the Interact Club with the goal to give back to her community. Every year, the club raises as much money as possible, and the week before Christmas, they go to Walmart and buy a bunch of toys. These toys are then donated to the local church so that kids can have toys for Christmas. It is an event that she looks forward to and works hard for every year. When she is not in class or at a club meeting, she can be found swimming at the pool or jumping at the track. She was the 100-meter Breaststroke Sectional Champion in 2021 and received awards such as the Senior Swimmer of the Year, Outstanding Swimmer of the Meet, and LCAA all-star during her past swim season.
Angela plans to attend college for engineering.
Anna Quarterman — Naples Central School
Anna is a senior at Naples High School in Naples, New York. She is a driven, diligent individual who is involved in a variety of activities. Anna is a member of the National Honor Society, a class officer, and a peer leader. She has participated in a number of extracurricular activities throughout her high school career.
Anna is a well-rounded student and athlete who has won three sectional titles in alpine skiing, captain of the softball team, ski team and soccer team. She has participated in a variety of clubs in both skiing and soccer. In addition, she has been in band, marching band, jazz band, and has attended all-county jazz band a couple of times.
She has spent a great number of hours volunteering in Operation Santa, and she spends her summers working as a dockhand at Seagers Marine and cohort leader at Naples summer recreation. Anna plans to study business and marketing this fall at St. Lawrence University.
En-Ya Shen — Geneva High School
En-Ya Shen is a senior at Geneva High School and is the valedictorian of her class. She recently played Plankton in the school’s production of SpongeBob the Musical and loves to sing and dance.
She also enjoys making puns, baking, and running cross country and track. At her church Living Hope Baptist Church, En-Ya plays guitar and sings on the worship team, while also helping out in Children’s Church and Nursery. She is a member of the Senior Choir at St. Peter’s Arts Academy, and she recently went on a tri-state tour with them this past winter break.
En-Ya is employed at Cornell Agritech in the Entomology Department and is a student teacher for AP Calculus at school. She often volunteers within the community through her school’s Interact Club, and also actively tries to improve the sustainability of the school in Green Club.
She has received the Seal of Biliteracy in both French and Mandarin, and she was a National Merit Scholarship Commended Student earlier this year.
En-Ya plans to attend Boston College in the fall with a major in Secondary Education, first becoming a teacher, then eventually a superintendent.
Kasey Hall — Naples High School
Kasey Hall is a senior at Naples High School. She is a driven and lively student who spends her time immersing herself in her community. In school, Kasey serves as both President of the National Honor Society and senior class officer and can also be found on both the soccer and softball fields leading her peers as team captain.
She is a longstanding member of her school's jazz band, concert band, and award-winning marching band. She also spends her time as President of her local volunteer group, Operation Santa, where she works with her community to provide holiday gifts and other resources for children in need.
Kasey can be found working as a cashier at her local ski mountain, as a counselor at her town's summer recreation program or as a gas attendant and receptionist at the marina on Canandaigua lake.
With a strong passion for constitutional history, politics and government, Kasey plans to major in Political Science/Pre-Law at the University of South Carolina in hopes of pursuing a career as an attorney one day.
Noelia Ventura — Batavia High School
Noelia Ventura is a senior at Batavia High School. She is extremely hardworking and dedicated to school. As of right now, she sits in the top 10 percent of her class. She was awarded the Clarkson University Leadership Award for her continued devotion and leadership roles throughout high school.
She competed has competed in Cross Country and Track and Field for 6 years, and points to this to show her dedication and willingness to never back down from a challenge. When she is not doing schoolwork or racing around the track, you may find her volunteering her time to the music program at her school. She participates in her school's concert band, rock band, jazz band, saxophone ensemble, treble choir, chorale, and select choir. Over the years she has taken up many instruments and right now plays saxophone, guitar, piano, and bass guitar as well as being a vocalist.
She also devotes her time to groups she doesn't particularly participate in. She has helped set up and been there to support her school’s Winterguard and Colorguard at multiple of their home shows. A love for solving problems has led this young woman to want to pursue nuclear engineering.
Sydney Haas — Victor Senior High School
Sydney Haas is a senior at Victor Senior High School. She is a determined student who is passionate about helping others. She has been awarded the National AP Scholar with Honor and has earned Gold Leaf Distinction as a BigFuture Ambassador at College Board. In that role, and as the Senior Representative of her school’s chapter of Dollars for Scholars, she has aided her fellow students in their pursuit of attaining scholarships. She volunteers as a member of the National Honor Society, Key Club, and as a Veterinary Care Intern.
As a Link Leader, she has learned high-quality leadership skills that have helped her as the Treasurer and President of the Student Environmental Awareness Society. In that role, she spread awareness about environmental issues and advocated for sustainable farm-to-table living. Her passion to help the environment through research has led to her being published in the International Journal of High School Research and competing in international competitions.
Some of her awards include NOAA’s Taking the Pulse of the Planet Award and the US Stockholm Regional Junior Water Prize. With a passion for research, Sydney plans to study Marine Biology in college.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since publication.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Meet 2022 Young Women of Distinction nominees of Rochester