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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #14-116
December 8, 2015
Contact: Communications
E-mail: communications@cde.ca.gov
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces California Delegates to the 2015 U.S. Senate Youth Program

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today named two outstanding high school students to represent California in the 53rd annual U.S. Senate Youth Program (USSYP), sponsored by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

Benjamin Omar Beltran of Nevada City (Nevada County), a senior at Nevada Union High School in the Nevada Joint Union High School District, and Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown of Jackson (Amador County), a junior at Argonaut High School in the Amador County Unified School District, were selected for their outstanding scholastic achievement, leadership qualities, and strong commitment to their schools and communities.

Torlakson also named two alternates in the event one or both of the delegates are unable to attend. First alternate is Claire J. Liu of Palo Alto (Santa Clara County), a senior at Palo Alto High School in the Palo Alto Unified School District, and second alternate is Dustin Chiang of Fremont (Alameda County), a senior at Mission San Jose High School in the Fremont Unified School District.

"It's a pleasure to select these remarkable students for this highly competitive program," said Torlakson. "These students, who have already achieved so much, are sure to make the most of this opportunity and to continue to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities."

The four students, who were among 140 California students who applied for the program this year, are scheduled to be recognized by the State Board of Education during its January 14‒15, 2015, meeting in Sacramento.

Students must be nominated by their high school principal to participate in the program. A selection committee from the California Department of Education (CDE) reviewed eligible nominees, and Torlakson selected the awardees based on the quality of the application, high academic achievement, interpersonal and communication skills, knowledge of American government and U.S. history, involvement in school and community activities, demonstrated qualities of leadership, extracurricular activities, and service to the community.

Two student leaders from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity each will receive a $5,000 scholarship and attend a one-week all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. in March to experience the workings of the national government.

For more information on the U.S. Senate Youth Program, please visit the CDE's Web site at United States Senate Youth Program.

The following are synopses compiled from their extensive biographies:

Delegate Benjamin Omar Beltran

Benjamin Omar Beltran of Nevada City (Nevada County) is a senior with a weighted grade point average of 4.5 at Nevada Union High School in the Nevada Joint Union High School District. He is secretary of the Associated Student Body and a member of many clubs and organizations, including Influential Mentors Producing Academic Change for Tomorrow (IMPACT), which he founded after mentoring and tutoring a struggling elementary school student. He has been captain of both the junior varsity soccer and volleyball teams. He hopes to attend a university such as Stanford or Princeton to study either engineering or political science. "I know that these institutions can shape me into a better, more experienced leader who can change my community and possibly the nation," he wrote in his USSYP application.

Delegate Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown

Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown of Jackson (Amador County) is a junior with a weighted grade point average of 4.2 at Argonaut High School in the Amador County Unified School District. He is treasurer of the Associated Student Body and a past president for two years of Student Body Leadership. He founded Native Education Raising Dedicated Students (NERDS), which helps Native American students who lack enough credits to graduate on time. He is also active in the campaign to end the use of racist mascots. He would like to attend Stanford, where his brother attends and where he has spent three summers in the Gifted Youth Program, and major in political science with a minor in Native American Studies. "I once aspired to be the first Native American to serve on the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States)…but I've decided I would like to serve as a California elected official, then possibly serve in Congress," he wrote in his USSYP application.

First Alternate Claire J. Liu

Claire J. Liu of Palo Alto (Santa Clara County) is a senior with an unweighted grade point average of 3.86 at Palo Alto High School in the Palo Alto Unified School District. She is president of the Associated Student Body and past class president in her freshman and junior years. She is also editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Campanile. She has spent more than 400 hours mentoring children whose parents are being assisted by the InnVision Shelter Network, a program for the homeless in the Bay Area. She was also a member of Best Buddies, where she established a close-knit friendship with a special needs student. She would eventually like to earn a Master of Business Administration and work toward an executive position. "Wall Street and the overarching business world have a reputation for their lack of ethics and responsibility to the community and I hope to serve as a voice that pushes corporations to develop a stronger conscience toward the issues in our nation and world," she wrote in her USSYP application.

Second Alternate Dustin Chiang

Dustin Chiang of Fremont (Alameda County) is a senior with an unweighted grade point average of 4.5 at Mission San Jose High School in the Fremont Unified School District. He is president of the Associated Student Body. He also was vice-president of the Associated Student Body in his junior year, and was sophomore class president. He is a two-term president of the California Association of DECA, a not-for-profit organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management. He is also president of Mission San Jose Challenge Success and has been active in that organization all four years. He is a delegate to the Model United Nations. He hopes to study government and public policy at Harvard, and then earn a degree in law, eventually serving in Congress. "I will continue learning from the people around me to identify the issues and concerns which are at the forefront of each individual's daily life. I aspire to take the very real struggles of those in my local community and give everyone a voice in government," he wrote in his USSYP application.

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Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

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