Meet the NYS 2020 CTE Presidential Scholar Nominees. 

Five NYS CTE Students nominated for the 2020 Presidential Scholars Program. This is the fifth year that the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program includes recognition for excellence among students in career and technical education.

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and, since that time, the program has honored more than over 7,000 outstanding high school seniors. The mission of the program is to recognize and honor outstanding high school seniors, and thereby encourage high attainment among all students.
Per the original Executive Order establishing the program, students are selected on the basis of outstanding scholarship. For most of the program's existence, nominees have been invited to apply for Presidential Scholars recognition based upon SAT or ACT scores. As the program has grown, Scholars candidates have been invited to apply in other ways as well. Beginning in 1979, outstanding students who demonstrated ability and accomplishment in the visual and performing arts or creative writing were added to the program.  In 2015, the program was again extended to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical education. Each year, up to 161 students are named as Presidential Scholars, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students.

Application for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program is by invitation only. Since 2013, Chief State School 

Officers (CSSO) have been asked to nominate candidates from their states. Students may not apply individually to the program or be nominated (outside of the above process). The CSSO in NY is the Commissioner of Education and she was able to nominate up to five CTE candidates. Letters of invitation to all students who met the qualifying requirements were mailed in January 2020.

Next step? Nominees completed an application by February 28, 2020 and will be evaluated on: involvement and service (in school and community), leadership and character, writing samples, academic achievements, and discretionary points for extraordinary achievement, heavy workload, family responsibilities, or obstacles overcome.
Semifinalists are announced mid-April and in May the Commission on Presidential Scholars selects and announces the names of the 2020 Final U.S. Presidential Scholars. In June, the Presidential Scholars will receive the Presidential Scholars Medallion at the National Recognition Program in Washington, DC.
To learn more about the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program and the Commission on Presidential Scholars, please visit their Web site at:
We look forward to the recognition of the NY CTE Scholars in another remarkable class of U.S. Presidential Scholars.

The five 2020 CTE Presidential Scholars from NY are:
Mindy Jin, Cohoes High School, Cohoes, NY
Game Design and Implementation Program, Capital Region BOCES at Center for Applied Technology, Mohonasen Central School, Schenectady, NY 

Mindy Jin from Cohoes High School, Cohoes, NY is enrolled in the second year of the Game Design and Implementation program. The program is an offering of the Capital Region BOCES located at the Center for Advanced Technology, Mohonasen Central School in Schenectady, NY where she spends half of her day.

Mindy is passionate about game design. She finds it very fun and interesting. Her creative qualities are what make her successful in this field. She has a unique vision and enjoys bringing it to life through game design. Mindy is the true essence of perseverance; she believes in working hard and trying again and again until she overcomes whatever obstacle may be thrown her way.   
She has participated in environmental science club during her time in high school and enjoys taking care of her younger siblings. She is a role model for them.

Gaming is one of her interests! She is fascinated by how games are designed and implemented. She also speaks about her travels to China to visit family and learn more about her heritage that she is so proud of. Mindy is eager to pursue a 4-year degree in game design. She has not officially committed to a school at this time but has applied to schools including Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Her school counselor, Lea Miller says she foresees “her being the name behind a really popular video game someday!” Ms. Miller will miss Mindy after she graduates! “Her kind and quiet nature make her a joy to be around. I am excited to see what the future holds for her and I have no doubt that she will be anything but successful. I wish her the best of luck!”

Assembly member John T. McDonald III praised Mindy in his recognition of her nomination. “I am thrilled to see the nomination of Cohoes High School’s Mindy Jin was put forth by Interim Commissioner Tahoe as part of an elite group of men and women for the Presidential Scholars program. The prestigious program recognizes the talent and commitment of these future leaders. Mindy’s perseverance and drive in her academics does not go unnoticed and this honor, in my opinion, is one of many to follow.”


Mellissa Locke, Afton, NY
Broome-Tioga BOCES Center for Career and Technical Excellence, Computer -Aided Design Program and Ever-Tech Academy, Binghamton, NY

Mellissa Locke of Afton, NY is enrolled in the Broome-Tioga BOCES Center for Career and Technical Excellence, Computer- Aided Design Program as well the Ever-Tech Academy also housed at BOCES.  Mellissa has one of the highest averages in her CAD class as well as in the Ever-Tech program.  “As a student in my Career and Technical Education, Computer Aided Design (CAD) and 3D Animation program, Mellissa demonstrates a willingness to work hard in developing her skills.  She provides quality work and is dedicated to success.” John Caminiti, CAD Teacher. 

Mellissa has been a student at the Broome-Tioga BOCES since she was in 9th grade, when she started in the Ever-Tech Academy program.  Upon enrollment at the BOCES she became a member of SkillsUSA.  She started as a competitor in 9th grade, in 10th grade she took on a leadership role in the local chapter as well as in the Ever-Tech Academy.  As an officer and a leader, Melissa also helps to organize and run community service events. 

As a junior, Mellissa wanted to take on a bigger leadership role within SkillsUSA.  She ran for the Area 2 Vice President position and became a New York State SkillsUSA Officer.  This role began last June when she attended the National SkillsUSA leadership Conference in Louisville Kentucky.  She and the officer team were trained in the SkillsUSA Leverage program that prepares the state officers for their upcoming leadership roles.  After the national conference, she attended summer leadership training and worked with her fellow state officers.

Mellissa has attended the SkillsUSA Washington Leadership Training Institute in Washington D.C. where she earned her National Statesmanship award.  During the conference she and two fellow officers met with Congressman Anthony Brindisi’s aide to promote the Perkins V legislation and Career and Technical Education.
Mellissa  is the very first New York State SkillsUSA officer from Broome-Tioga BOCES. This year Mellissa has worked with the Broome-Tioga chapter officers to run all meetings, keeping members abreast of chapter activities and for the first time in school history developed a spirit week during Career and Technical Education Week. “I have watched Mellissa grow into an amazing young woman over the past four years. When I first met her, she was very shy and quiet.  The transformation has been mind-blowing.  She has learned to advocate for herself, Career and Technical Education and SkillsUSA.  She has become a leader with great confidence, grace and poise.” Angel Mead, SkillsUSA State Officer Advisor

“I have had the extreme pleasure of working Mellissa over the past year.  She is sweet, caring, and has made a tremendous Area 2 State Officer.  Mellissa is hard working, always has her work done early, and always displays her strong leadership skills.  I can’t think of a more deserving person to receive such a prestigious award.” Brandilyn Gage- Steves, New York SkillsUSA State Officer Team Manager 

Along with being very busy at school, Mellissa has a part-time job working with her mother and grandmother at the Nineveh General Store. One of Melissa’s hobbies is art. She is an amazing artist and enjoys painting and drawing. She is always working on designing homes. Her career goal is to become an interior designer in the south. Her plan is to attend college and work toward her goal.

In the Dec. 19, 2019, New York State Education Department Presidential Scholars news release, Senator Fred Akshar was quoted as saying “ I could not be prouder that Interim Commissioner Tahoe chose to nominate the 52nd Senate District’s own Mellissa Locke for the Presidential Scholars Program. Throughout her outstanding academic career, Mellissa has served as an excellent representative of our community and Broome-Tioga BOCES’s Career and Technical Education program. She’s played key roles in the Washington Leadership Training Institute and as former Vice President and current Treasurer of the NYS Area II chapter of SkillsUSA. Mellissa is an outstanding example not only for her peers at Afton High School, but for students across our great State. I thank the Interim Commissioner for recognizing what so many of us see in this young woman.”


Thomas Gomez Morrobel
Freeport High School, Freeport, NY
P-Tech Program - Engineering

Thomas Gomez Morrobel, Freeport High School, Freeport, NY, is enrolled in the P-TECH program offered to students through a partnership between Freeport High School and SUNY Farmingdale. This is a very intensive program where students ultimately finish the six-year program with a high school degree as well as an associate degree in engineering from SUNY Farmingdale. The students in this program take high level college courses in math and science throughout the four years at Freeport High School. The students also take part in summer programs which reinforces the academic achievements the students reached during the school year.  In June, Thomas will be graduating with the highest diploma New York State has to offer: The Advanced Regents Diploma with Honors and Mastery in Math and Science.
In addition to carrying out a heavy workload and volunteer hours throughout the community, Thomas is a devoted son and brother.  At the end of a long school day, he rushes home to care for his 11-year-old brother and assists him with homework and tutoring.  Thomas understands the important role he plays in his little brother’s life and hopes to be a role model to him as his older college brother has been to Thomas. He humbly credits his academic success and outstanding character to those who have mentored him.  Therefore, he finds it so important to give back to his community and volunteers countless hours at the Freeport Memorial Library, Oblate Sister, and Circulo De La Hispanidad.  Thomas Gomez-Morrobel is a shining example of a well-rounded person pursuing his dreams.  Thomas is also very involved in National Honor Society & Science Olympiad.
Thomas’s hobbies include watching informational videos/documentaries about economics, history and science. Spending quality time with the family, especially playing trivia games and participating in outdoor activities such as biking and walking. 
Thomas plans to major in Mechanical Engineering at SUNY Farmingdale with an interest in pursuing a career that focuses on designing components for aviation.
Thomas has received accolades from school counselors and teachers. Ms. Blanca Tapia, Thomas’s counselor says he “is very giving of himself in assisting others and is also receptive to the input of his classmates.  Thomas’s contributions to class discussions allow the conversation to grow and evolve to a different level while maintaining respect for others’ opinions. My personal interactions with him have also been great ones. He always enters my office politely and respectfully, and leaves expressing his gratitude for the help that he received. Always a stand-up young man, and class-act all around.
 “Thomas is very responsible, always on task and gets things done.”,  says Math teacher, Vartelatos. AP Physics teacher, Dr. Capalbo notes that, “Thomas is one of the few students on Long Island who took the 2-year AP Physics 1 and 2 courses in one school year, earning grades of 4 in both AP exams. This year he is taking the 2-year AP Physics C course in one year.” Thomas’s Advanced Computer Graphics teacher, Mr. Inzerilli comments that he “is always striving for knowledge. He goes beyond classroom assignments and projects in order to learn more and is always willing to help others. Great Young Man.” Thomas’s Spanish teacher, Ms. Adames shared that “Thomas is always very eager to learn new things.  He is a very responsible student, respectful and very helpful to everyone in class. It's truly an honor to have Thomas as a student.”  Thomas will be a very successful person in the future.   Finally, Participation in Government teacher, Mr. Sells comments that “Thomas is admired by, and respected by his peers. The students in the P-Tech program look up to him and root for him at all times.”
Upon his nomination, Assemblymember, Judy Griffin said, “I’m proud to have recommended Freeport High School’s Thomas Gomez Morrobel for the Career and Technical Education program and I am even more thrilled that Interim Commissioner Tahoe has selected him to be part of the 2020 Presidential Scholars program. He is a role model in and out of the classroom and is a shining example of a well-rounded young person pursuing his dreams.”


Kaitlyn Murphy, Valley Central High School, Montgomery, NY
Career Technical Security and Law Enforcement Program, Orange-Ulster BOCES Career and Technical Center in Goshen, NY

Kaitlyn Murphy is a senior at Valley Central High School, Montgomery, NY. She spends half of her day at the Orange-Ulster BOCES Career and Technical Center in Goshen, NY, where she is enrolled in the Career Technical Security and Law Enforcement program. The A average she maintains in this program earned her membership in the National Technical Honor Society in both 11th and 12th grade. It is anticipated that Kaitlyn will receive a NYS Regents Diploma with a Technical Endorsement in June.

Ken Wallace, Kaitlyn’s Security and Law Enforcement teacher, says, “Kaitlyn always wants to go above and beyond to help others. She sometimes comes back to help with the Level I students in the program who need support.” She has good people skills and empathy towards others that are important in the work she intends to do. It is her goal to help the community and others. She has assisted with the BOCES open houses, and the Y-2 Kids BOCES Career Showcase for 5th – 8th graders where she helps staff the BOCES booth and talks about experiences and opportunities of the 2-year certification program.

Kaitlyn has been recognized as a scholar athlete in grades 10 and 11. She is on both the Varsity Track and Field Team, and the Varsity Cross Country Team.  Enrolled in the JROTC Program, Kaitlyn serves as the Battalion Executive Officer. Through participation and hard work, she received the following JROTC Awards:  Warren Officers Award, Grade 9; Order of the Purple Heart and American Veterans Awards, Grade 10. 

Kaitlyn interned at the Orange County Sherriff’s Office in 10th grade. Membership in the Girl Scouts of America since 6th grade has been important to Kaitlyn, and she will soon earn its highest achievement, the Gold Award.  In addition, she is a committed community servant who is a Town of Montgomery Ambulance Corps volunteer. As a JROTC Cadet she volunteered 3 years for the U.S. Marines, Toys for Tots program.

In her spare time, Kaitlyn also works. She is a busser in a local restaurant and has a summer job as a camp counselor for the Montgomery Summer Recreation program. The future for this outstanding student includes continuing her studies in psychology and serving her country in the United States Air Force.

The Superintendent, John Xanthis said, “The Valley Central School District  prides itself on empowering students like Kaitlyn to reach their full potential. I thank Senator Skoufis for nominating such an exemplary member of the Valley Central community and look forward to seeing all of Kaitlyn’s future success.”

Senator James Skoufis said, “Kaitlyn Murphy of Montgomery represents the absolute best of our community’s students. She has excelled both academically and athletically in the face of incredible adversity, all while demonstrating a strong commitment to serving her community and our country. I’m very proud to have helped nominate Kaitlyn as a (CTE) Presidential Scholars nominee and I look forward to watching her continue to make our state and world a better place.”


Shareef Sawalhi, Lackawanna High School, Lackawanna, NY
Electronics and Computer Technology Program, Erie 1 BOCES Harkness Center, Cheektowaga, NY

Shareef Sawalhi from Lackawanna High School is enrolled in the Electronics and Computer Technology program at the Erie 1 BOCES Harkness Center, Cheektowaga, NY for half of his school day. Shareef plans to attend college to study Electronic or Computer Engineering and plans to become a software developer. Shareef Sawalhi has been a student in the Electronics and Computer Technology program for nearly two years. The program is quite rigorous and is comparable in many ways to a two-year associate degree in electrical engineering. Shareef is academically ranked near the top in this class.
Shareef is self-motivated and can be relied upon to complete a job “on time”. The quality of his work is excellent, and it meets or exceeds industry standards. Two personal traits that distinguish Shareef from all the others are that he begins his workday immediately upon arrival at school (he does not sit around waiting for the bell to ring) and he often spends part of his day helping his classmates by explaining technical matters or assisting them in the course of their lab activities.
Thomas Isula, Electronics & Computer Technology Instructor, at the Harkness Center says, “During my 37-year tenure, very few students have demonstrated the potential for success, knowledge, skills and compassion that Shareef possesses. It is for these reasons that Shareef has earned my "superior" recommendation.”  He is very deserving of the CTE Presidential Scholars nomination.”

Shareef is an outstanding student who is currently ranked 18 in a class of 151 at Lackawanna High School.   He is anticipated to receive an Advanced Regents diploma.   Shareef is a leader and student ambassador at Lackawanna High School.  He is always looking to take the lead whether it is helping students with academics, tutoring younger students through the Y.W.C.A., or participating in school events. Shareef has exceptional character traits and has been nominated by different educators as having the best character in our student body. Shareef is a well-rounded young man. He is a member of the LHS Varsity Football team, National Honor Society, and Varsity Club.  Other activities that Shareef has been involved in include participating in the Chemical Engineering camp at the University of Buffalo, and SOLO Learn (an online class for learning computer programming) in addition, he volunteers at ACCESS of WNY, the Y.W.C.A., and various National Honor Society projects. Shareef also enjoys doing construction and renovation projects,  working and volunteering at the Buffalo Naval & Military Park.

Senator Tim Kennedy said, “I was thrilled to learn that Interim Commissioner Tahoe nominated Shareef Sawalhi, a student at Lackawanna High School, for the prestigious U. S. Presidential Scholars Excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) Program. I was proud to recommend Shareef for this recognition because he continues to serve as a leader, both in the classroom and in his community. Congratulations to Shareef and the entire Sawalhi family on this well-deserved honor, and best of luck as the selection process continues.”

The NYSED news-release about the Presidential Scholars nominations noted that Assemblymember Pat Burke said, “I am extremely proud of Shareef Sawalhi from Lackawanna High School for being nominated by Interim Commissioner Tahoe for the Presidential Scholars Program. Shareef sets an example as someone who has only lived in the United States for four years, but who has courageously committed himself to being involved in the community and finding ways to make a positive impact, whether it’s among his peers or the younger students he mentors. His dedication to excellence both in and outside the classroom makes him incredibly deserving of the honor of being a U.S. Presidential Scholar.”