City of Houston Mayor's Office of Communications 

Mayor's Press Release

City of Houston Awards Five Scholarships to Area High School Seniors

May 11, 2023 -- Scholarships were awarded to five Houston area high school seniors who shared their thoughts on ways City of Houston employees could strengthen the city and improve quality of life for residents.

Scholarships were awarded during a ceremony Wednesday, May 10 at the Julia Ideson Building. The scholarships, ranging from $500 – $2,000 are funded by Cigna.

More than 200 students submitted 500 word essays, covering topics from flooding, gentrification and public health disparities in Black and Hispanic communities to the 31st annual Public Service Recognition Week Essay Contest.

The finalists’ essays were shared with Mayor Sylvester Turner and department leaders in Houston Parks and Recreation, Houston Health Department and City Council.

Presentations were made by Mayor’s Office of Education Director Olivera Jankovska, Human Resources Director Jane E. Cheeks and Melinda Balezentis, account executive for Cigna. Cigna has sponsored the PSRW Essay Scholarship contest for the last five years.

Scholarship Recipients Group Photo

City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Education Director Olivera Jankovska (front left) and Human Resources Department Director Jane Cheeks (front right) with Public Service Recognition Week High School Essay Contest winners Brandon Kusaj (Porter High School, Honorable Mention), Sophia Dai (Carnegie Vanguard High School, Honorable Mention), Hannah Goodwin, (Bellaire High School, First Place), and Cayla Gottesman (Carnegie Vanguard High School, Third Place).

“These students represent not only the best and brightest from our greater Houston Area schools, but they also offer a glimpse into what our city will be," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. Their forward thinking, visionary approach to tackling issues that affect our city, highlights how tuned in today’s generation is toward making a better tomorrow. I am excited to leave our city in their capable hands."

The contest was open to all public and private high schools in the Greater Houston area. Essays were judged by a panel of 5 city employees. Scholarships were awarded solely on the merits of the essay, class rank, GPA and letters of recommendation were not required.

“Once again, the best and brightest students came through and showed us who they are,” said Pete Mayes, senior communications specialist and essay contest coordinator. “This contest allows us all a glimpse into what this generation feels is needed in the fourth largest and most diverse city in the United States.”

1st Place: $2,000
"Hannah Goodwin is graduating from Bellaire High School. She plans to attend Saint Louis University-Madrid to study Political Science and International Business. Her essay, “Saving Space for Growth” tackled creating safe spaces called, “Study Safe,” for low-income communities.

2nd Place: $1,200
Antara Choudary is graduating from the Michael E. DeBakey High School for the Health Professions. She plans to study International Affairs at The George Washington University through the Paris Scholars Program. Her essay, “Using Houston Public Libraries for Students’ Futures,” discusses how public libraries can use their resources to help students achieve their futures.

3rd Place: $800
Cayla Gottesman is graduating from Carnegie Vanguard High School. She plans to major in government at the University of Texas at Austin. Her essay, ““Mitigating the Negative Effects of Gentrification within Houston's Fourth Ward,” examines how to preserve Fourth Ward’s Freedmen’s Town while also advocating for inclusive growth.

Honorable Mention: $500
Sophia is currently a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School. She is planning to major in either Civil Engineering or Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, Texas A&M or UT Austin. Her say, “Flood Mitigation in Low Income Neighborhoods,” examine ways to tackle issues of flooding in low-income neighborhoods.

Honorable Mention: $500
Brandon Kusaj is graduating from Porter High School in Porter, TX. After high school, he plans to attend The University of Texas at Austin to major in Biology under a Pre-Medicine program. His essay, “Fixing Long-Standing Disparities among the Black and Latinx Communities,” examines the health disparities in Houston’s Black and Hispanic communities and solutions on addressing them.

You can visit for updates and links to the winning essays and winner profiles.