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Student Spotlight: Meet Ava Tsapatsaris, Coca-Cola Scholar & Change Agent

Ava Tsapatsaris, age 17 and a senior at Eastchester High School, sat in a poised position with her hands placed on her lap. Her eyes, big and bright, intelligent and kind, dazzled with confident anticipation. After an arduous process lasting several months and beginning with approximately 68,000 applicants throughout the country, Ava has won the Coca-Cola Scholarship, an achievement-based scholarship awarded by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and the largest corporate-sponsored scholarship program in the United States. That’s right; out of a pool of 68,000 graduating high school seniors narrowed down to 2,000 semifinalists, and a final regional interview round conducted by scholarship alumni, Ava won the top honor. She is one of 150 winning scholars, eight winners from New York, and the only winner from Westchester County.

Each year, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards its winners with a $20,000 scholarship to an accredited U.S. college or university of their choosing. Individuals are selected based on their academic excellence, capacity to lead and serve, and commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities. They are also given exclusive access to Coke Scholars Connect, a tool that allows them to network with fellow scholars, alumni and change agents. With the addition of the 2022 class, the Foundation will have provided more than 6,600 Coke Scholars nationwide with over $78 million in scholarships.

We sat down for a quick chat with Ava about this stellar accomplishment, the role that Eastchester Union Free School District has played in her success, and the plans she has for the future.

Q: Tell us about your school activities. How has being a student at Eastchester helped you achieve this honor?

Eastchester schools have provided me with real opportunities to learn and grow.

I am enrolled in the Advanced Science Research class, a three-year honors course, as well as other advanced placement courses.

In ASR, I have been researching barriers to equitable breast cancer screening faced by medically underserved women. I authored "Project ScanVan: Mobile mammography services to decrease socioeconomic barriers and racial disparities among medically underserved women in NYC" which is published in Clinical Imaging. My second article with co-author Dr. Babagbemi, the Vice Chair of Equity and Inclusion at Weill-Cornell Medical Center, "Barriers to Breast Cancer Screening Are Worsened Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review." is also published in Clinical Imaging.

As a result of my research, I was placed among the top 300 scholars in the 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors. The Regeneron Science Talent Search provides students a national stage to present original research. It celebrates the hard work and discoveries of young scientists who are bringing a fresh perspective to significant global challenges.

During the Covid pandemic, I worked with Middle School Principal Madelin LoBue, as well as other members of the faculty, to establish a virtual learning program, advising incoming middle-schoolers on how to use collaborative tools like Google classroom, Google docs, Google Drive, and Zoom. This aided in their transition to remote-learning and into middle school, in general. I was glad to have been able to provide that foundational support.

Q: How are you involved in your community?

Outside of school, I started my own 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Uniting Against Breast Cancer. The mission of Uniting Against Breast Cancer is to provide a highly accessible communal calendar to inform the medically underserved women of New York City, Long Island and Westchester County about free or low-cost breast cancer screening services in their community.

I am also a three-time Emmy nominated reporter for My 9's Teen Kids News. I report on current events for the Emmy award-winning, weekly half-hour program aired nationwide on more than 150 TV stations and educational TV channels, totaling 10,000 schools and 9 million students. Teen Kids is the only news program created just for young people with young journalists and young voices, covering the news from a young perspective. On Teen Kids,

I present story ideas to the executive producer and have inspired the creation of a series on The Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation, an organization whose mission I care about. The Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation is a community service, literacy and career guidance initiative that encourages children to use their voices for causes that mean something to them. Nick Katsoris, the President of the Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation, is a huge inspiration to me.

Since sixth grade, I’ve been involved with fundraising for a literacy and treatment room at St. Jude. Children’s Research Hospital so the patients can learn and receive treatment simultaneously.

I have also been advocating for Chef Maria Loi’s Loukoumi Make A Difference Foundation Teaching Kitchen which provides families who move from New York City shelters and hands-on educational tools for managing chronic illnesses, maintaining nutritious diets in difficult living conditions and developing social and practical life skills. I represent the project through creating videos on the Teaching Kitchen's mission and methods to donate to the Teaching Kitchen's success. I have been inspired by celebrity Chef Maria Loi who is a remarkable philanthropist.

As part of their Student of the Year leadership development program, I’ve helped raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as well. A couple of my friends and I raised $96,000 in seven weeks and broke the record in Fairfield and Westchester Counties in 2020.

Additionally, I’ve worked as a pharmacy technician distributing patient medications and as a COVID-19 tester and lab technician at Value Drugs in Eastchester administering PCR, rapid COVID-19 tests and antibody tests to patients. I handled patient specimens, processed results, and reported test results to patients and to New York State. As a COVID-19 tester, I was able to form connections with families and younger students in the community and help them through the many uncertainties of the pandemic.

Q: In your experience, what do you think the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation values most in candidates?

I think most of all, being a changemaker and the promise to go out, spread a positive message and make a real difference.

In my final interview with a group of scholar alumni, one of the main points I expressed was how big I am on building connections and long-term relationships. At the time, I shared how being in their shoes one day would be a huge honor.

I am really starting to see the benefits of being a scholar, the family of changemakers that exists and how we’re all just helping each other make the world a better place. It feels great to be part of it.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the Coca Cola Scholarship application process?

The waiting time between each phase. There were about two months between each round so the anticipation built up a bit.

Q: Do you have any siblings?

Yes, I have a younger brother at Eastchester Middle School.

Q: How have you been able to help him?

I help him with his homework and with achieving his goals. He’s an active soccer player. I think it’s important to set a good example for him, give him advice and just assure him that I will always be there to do that.

Q: What colleges or universities are you thinking of attending?

I am currently undecided but here are some of the colleges I have been accepted to: New York University, the University of Miami (Foote Fellow Honors Program), College of the Holy Cross, Union College (Scholar Honors Program), and Fordham University (Rose Hill Honors Program).

Q: What else do you have planned?

My future is in medicine. My goal is to become a physician-scientist and medical correspondent and continue with my passion for making a difference and leading positive change.