2019 Recipients

This is the Foundation’s 12 th year of providing scholarships to talented high school, college and graduate students.

Once again, the Foundation received hundreds of applications from across the country. Along with their portfolio of work, recipients were chosen based on several criteria, including financial need, an essay, letters of reference and their school transcript.

The Foundation’s guest judges this year were, once again, Steve Bodinet, formerly of KTVK-KPHO, Channel 3, Phoenix and Elise Wilson, of Aspen PRO Media, Arizona.

High School:

Five high school students each received a Canon EOS Rebel T7 DSLR Camera with lenses, memory card and back pack.

Nicolas Banda Photo Sample
Nicolas Banda Photo Sample

Nicolas Banda
United High School
Laredo, Texas

Nicolas expresses his pleasure at the camera’s ability to capture visual emotions in this way: “Photography is simply a different expression of a captured moment, like a movie or novel, that tells a story.” The images that he submitted are reflective of interests outside his school promoting health-related issues, religious holidays and the joyous celebration of an achievement. Nicolas’s recommendations come from teachers of both math and English and the common thread in each letter is his ability to consider the subtleties within the works being analyzed and to ask questions that go beyond the surface level of the topic at hand. Armando Molina, his AP Calculus teacher, writes about his success in maintaining a grade of 100 in AP calculus (in addition to several other AP courses) while being heavily involved in sports and several extracurricular activities. He noted that this speaks “greatly about his work ethic and commitment in everything he does.” Elizabeth Arciniega, his AP English teacher, describes him as one of the most exceptional students she has encountered in her years of teaching. “Nicolas has my vote for Best All Around Student this year,” adding that “his endless curiosity and his willingness to work hard make it clear that he is one to watch in the years to come. “

Santana Jimenez Photo Sample
Santana Jimenez Photo Sample
Santana Jimenez photo

Santana Jimenez
Norman High School
Norman, Oklahoma

Santana was introduced to photography when she joined the yearbook staff in her sophomore year using a camera on loan from the school. Kerry Friesen, an English teacher and yearbook advisor at Norman High School, has known Santana for all her high school years and has watched her grow intellectually and professionally as a photographer and artist. As the photo editor of the yearbook, Santana was responsible for planning the book’s cover. “She and I worked on coming up with a pop-art style cover and she took all the photos and has put her own artistic pin on them” writes Ms. Friesen. Tracy Gibson, her art teacher has known Santana since middle school and is impressed by her determination. “She works tirelessly in trying to improve her work.” As an example, she points to Santana’s efforts to meet with a University of Oklahoma photography professor to get additional tutorials while preparing a portfolio for her Advanced Placement class. The images submitted for the competition were taken at a variety of locations. The most striking was shot in black and white showing a lighted figure of a musician against a pitch- black background with the smoke from his cigarette floating nearby. Ms. Friesen adds, “She developed her own confidence in a way that is impressive for a person her age and she has a work ethic that I know will carry her far.” In Santana’s words: “I want to be the photographer who captures the moment that changes the world”. Why not?

Nia Johnson Photo Sample
Nia Johnson Photo Sample

Nia Johnson
Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
Midland, Pennsylvania

“I love being able to take pictures and capture interesting bits of life’s moments,” Nia Johnson writes in her application. A concern for the less fortunate is evident in the images she chose to submit. Some taken on a church missionary trip to the Dominican Republic show poor people searching the garbage dump for resalable items. Another, taken on a local mission trip, shows a woman kneeling in prayer near two homeless people surrounded by squalor. Nia’s letters of recommendation were very complimentary, with one teacher, Abby Wise, writing that she is “an extremely hard-working, dedicated student” and that her “future is bright, and I am anxiously waiting to see what is in store for her.” A school advisor, Emily Forrest, points out that Nia “spreads joy throughout her school with her photographic talents.” Nia’s plan is to pursue a degree in digital art or motion graphics. In her words, “I’m drawn to how images can be used to convey certain messages . . . and if done well, it can be quite powerful.” If her photos are any indication of the messages she hopes to convey, she has achieved her goal.

Megan Pietanza Photo Sample

Megan Pietanza
Boca Raton Community High School
Boca Raton, Florida

Prior to her selection as a winner in the JACF competition, Megan did not own a DSLR camera. She attributes the rise of the photo-sharing social media platforms and a personal interest in art as the catalysts for sparking her interest in photography. In her words, “There’s emotion to be captured around every street corner, at every parade and at every protest.” She has attended countless sporting events, assemblies, and holiday gatherings with her camera ready to document the smiles and tears that might be forgotten or never seen if not for her lens. Tina Garofalo, Megan’s AP English teacher and counselor is enthusiastic about her extraordinary writing ability. “Her love of photography, coupled with her mature writing skills, makes her a natural photojournalist.” Rob Sweeten, her AP studio art teacher, echoes these glowing sentiments and points to Megan’s willingness as the photography and layout editor of the yearbook staff to help students get the shots they need for their individual pages. One of Megan’s winning photos captures the joy reflected in the face of a member of her high school swim team. She calls it one of the most prominent frames from her high school days. Undoubtedly there will be many more memorable moments as she pursues a career as a photojournalist.

Zachary Silva Photo Sample

Zachary Silva
Nogales High School
La Puente, California

Zachary became interested in photography after receiving a film camera from his uncle. When he was introduced to the images of Ansel Adams, he observed, “I saw how a photograph can change people’s lives” and he has learned how to communicate effectively through photography. Bravery and daring are repeated themes in his images of a star football player leading his team, a solitary shot of a military cemetery, a determined and peaceful protestor, and police officers preparing for demonstrations at a UCLA political book signing. The photos are deliberately shown in black and white to invoke, in Zachary’s words., “a feeling of courage.” In the letters of recommendation, his teachers point to a willingness to spend his time helping other students using words such as humility and selfless. In the words of Erika Zelnick, his newspaper advisor “. . . he shows others around him that being ambitious goes a long way.” He writes of a passion for engineering, and goes on to explain that he always finds a way to connect it to photography or videography. Whatever the future holds for Zachary, there is little doubt, photography will place an important role in his life.


Three college students each received a $2,500 scholarship, payable to their school, and two received honorable mention awards, of $1,500 each, also payable to their school.

Video Awards

Shae Densley Video Sample

Shae Densley
Utah State
Logan, Utah

Shae Densley opened his Foundation application essay with the following statement: “I started making videos as young as nine with an old mini tape camcorder and since then I haven’t stopped.” He particularly loves how photojournalism “allows me to warn, inform, or entertain the public at a level far above what print can do.” This is exemplified in both of his submitted videos. With the first one, about a local Air Force ROTC event called “Escape and Evasion,” Shae walked over five miles to shoot footage for the story, perfectly capturing the intensity of a simulation designed to make cadets feel what it’s like behind enemy lines. The other video is about the many old granaries and barns in northern Utah that are in danger of collapsing or being torn down without proper funding. Both of his reference letters refer to how hard working Shae is, with Brian Champagne, a professor saying he is “one of our most reliable and accountable students”, and that he attends college while being “married and works a part-time job.” Another professor, Chris Garff, says he is “an excellent student. I have had him in three classes and he excels in his academic pursuits. He is constantly going above and beyond of what is expected of him.”

Eric Holmen Video Sample

Eric Holmen
South Central College
North Mankato, Minnesota

A scholarship from the Foundation was much needed by Eric Holmen. As he stated in his application, he receives no money from his family for tuition and often has very expensive monthly medication costs. He is determined, though, to finish his degree and “work with photography for the rest of my life.” In fact, according to Gale Bigbee, a faculty member, he wants to complete several degrees. “Not only is Eric majoring in South Central College’s Multimedia Technology, he is also pursuing two additional degrees – Graphic Communications and Associate of Arts.” Eric’s stated passion, with photojournalism, is “telling the stories of my community.” He has done that with his two submitted videos, with the first being about a friend who was dangerously overweight and worked very hard to get healthy, and the second about a talented artist. Along with his many college classes, Eric also does event photography for the local Salvation Army and other non-profits and has a work- study position, dealing with photography and video equipment, photo/video studios, and editing bays. Wes Taylor, a faculty member and his boss, says: “I only have one work-study position and I try to hire a student who is committed to the program and has great technical and people skills. Eric is the best work-study I have had in several years.”

Mykhailo Bogdanov Video Sample

Mykhailo Bogdanov – Honorable Mention
DePaul, Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

In Mykhailo’s foundation essay, he proudly states that a “big part of my life is dedicated to giving back. My philosophy is that this world will be better if I give my time to others.” He also writes that “My focus is to direct movies that will inspire others.” His two submitted videos do just that. Very involved with his church, he created a video about their homeless shelter, PADS (Public Action to Deliver). It is a moving tribute to a great organization that not only provides a place to sleep, but also meals, a shower, and sometimes even clothing. His other video, about the Vatna Glaciers in Iceland, is a sobering account of how this landscape has dramatically changed in recent years, with the ice melting at an alarming rate. Mike Mitchell, a professor at DePaul University, says that Mykailo “is an ideal student, serious about his studies and inherently curious and hard-working.” A former boss is also complimentary, saying that “Misha” originally “came to this country alone, with one suitcase and very little money. He put himself through massage therapy school, worked hard to buy a car, met the love of his life and married her. He worked for me until he was finally able to pursue his true passion: TV and Film.”

College Still Awards

Rango, 33, squeezes back into the United States side of the border in La Playa in Tijuana, California. Rango, who a week ago was living in the United States was deported to Mexico after living most of his life in Sacramento. He and a group of others were deported after being locked up in the Santa Clara County Jail. Another resident of Tijuana who was deported said "I may cross the border just one more time. When I was first deported they took my tablet, phone, wallet, clothes, nikes, X-Box, everything I own. I just want to see the beach again on the other side. I just want to see my family living in the United States. Making an affordable income and living life without having to be as cautious," another deported citizen said.
Michael Blackshire Photo Sample

Michael Blackshire
Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green, Kentucky

Michael Blackshire is an intrepid photojournalist, according to his professors. “As faculty we would often worry about Michael’s fearless approach to the stories he covered” writes Jonathan Adams, a Visiting Professional in Residence at Western Kentucky University. He continues: “Spring Break he would literally drive into a hurricane, then Christmas Break he comes back from covering the controversy of the border wall.” Another professor, James H. Kenney, concurs, saying that Michael is “unafraid of tackling difficult stories, in fact he actively pursues them.” He also refers to Michael’s trip to the border, and another story he covered on gun violence in Louisville. Michael, who has already won numerous awards for his work, including being recognized by the Hearst Journalism Awards Program, loves how “Journalism has given me new insights on communities that are different from my own. “ “Everyone has a story, and has feelings, fears, and emotions, and journalism has helped me discover that.” His submitted photos, some in color, some in black and white, are of very different people and communities, but Michael is able to vividly capture the emotions of each – a man crossing at the border; children playing and trying to have fun amidst hard living conditions; or families in mourning after the loss of a loved one.

Riley Trujillo Photo Sample

Riley Trujillo – Honorable Mention
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

Riley Trujillo, who won a camera from the Foundation in high school, wrote the following to us: “I truly believe that this foundation has changed my life … Because I had the equipment to promote my hobby, it prompted a new passion …” She has put this passion to work and grown exponentially in the few years since receiving that gift. Both in college, at Arizona State, and through her internship with Sun Devil Athletics, she has worked hard to expand and perfect her craft. Her responsibilities for the Sun Devils, for example, are varied and wide-ranging. According to Mitchell Terrell, their Corporate Communications Manager, she does everything, “from photography to videography, developing highlight packages, social media content and more.” The photos she submitted to the Foundation also show a wide range of subjects and styles, going beyond sports photography, and include images of a participant at a climate rally, a young boy praying at a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, and a local gardener at a farmer’s market. As Kate Janczewski, also with the Sun Devils, writes in her reference letter for Riley, “No task is too big or too small and she demonstrates the same amount of pride and effort in every task she completes.”

Graduate Student:

One graduate student received a $2,500 scholarship, payable to his school.

Gene Gallerano Video Sample

Gene Gallerano
New York University
New York, New York

Gene Gallerano started out as an actor and filmmaker. Something inside him, though, told him to go back to school and become a journalist, even with a new daughter to support. He says he felt compelled to tell “stories I have found engaging and deemed important,” particularly those involving natural disasters. Both of his submitted videos, in fact, are about recent, devastating events. The first one concerns a relief group that serves BBQ to those affected in disaster zones, while the second focuses on an elderly couple whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. Although this is obviously hard work, physically and emotionally, Gene thrives on it, especially because of the people he has met. “I often reflect on the relationships and the stories that I have built and shown through my work (thus far) and how in different situations, if we were not in these extreme moments, we might not get along ….” Gene’s reference letters are glowing, with both noting his wonderful creativity. “You can give this man two paperclips and a bandaid, and he will MacGuyver his way into a beautiful project.” writes Sarah Randall Hunt, a co- producer on several of his films. Brian Patrick Murphy, a fellow actor, also says: “His wild creativity inspires those who work with him to push past the ordinary.”