The Ann Bancroft Foundation Trailblazer Fellowship allows previous ABF grantees (Trailblazers) who are currently in 9th to 12th grade to apply for a new grant (up to $2500) to fund a dream and as a head start on their road to independence, college, and career.

Started in 2022, The Ann Bancroft Foundation Trailblazer Fellowship experience prepares participants to dream bolder as they prepare for the next stage after high school, deepening significant gains in their ability to succeed. The experience allows Trailblazers to thrive through connection, confidence, creativity, individuality, risk-taking, and courage. Fellows each receive up to $2500 to pursue a dream and are also able to:

  • Participate in a year-long cohort experience full of self-discovery, goal setting, and skill-building activities, including networking opportunities and mentorship experience
  • Learn about individual strengths and how to apply them
  • Deepen relationships with mentors, cohort fellows, and the Ann Bancroft Foundation community and other services to fuel dreaming and turn those dreams into realities.
  • Develop insights and skills to pursue additional opportunities and resources
  • Commit to a year-long cohort process with no more than four cohort meetings

After receiving over 40 applications, ABF has now selected 10 incredible high school students as part of the second Trailblazer Fellowship class. Here is a look at each worthy fellow:

Adia Fienagha

Brooklyn Park, 12th grade

Adia’s bold dream is to grow her passion for creating film into a future career. Adia will be using the Trailblazer Fellowship grant to purchase a new computer and film editing software as she prepares to begin college in the fall.

Adia used her first ABF grant to travel to China in seventh grade with her school. During the trip, travel became a learning experience for Adia instead of just a way to relax while she learned more about the history of China.

Adia shared, “I have always loved film since I was a little girl and I dream of making films that would have an impact on people like the films that I watched have to this day had a strong impact on me. I believe film is a great tool to build and understand community. I also feel that I have interesting stories to tell, and this grant can help me to introduce those stories to greater communities and others like me to pursue what they love as well.”

Ashley Akoussan

Minneapolis, 11th grade

Ashley’s bold dream is to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. Ashley will use her Trailblazer Fellowship grant to take an Introduction to Surgery course at Johns Hopkins University this summer to learn about anatomy, pre-and-post operative patient care, and specialties within the field.

With her first grant, Ashley took the course Hands-On Medicine – One Week as a Medical Student, with the Brown University Pre-College Program. “The experience gave me exposure to medical school but also deepened my passion for helping those facing medical challenges. Specifically, I want to close the cultural bias and racism gaps in the medical field. I want to become an ally and expert who can help African Americans who are struggling to receive the right treatment and diagnoses.”

Ashley is a varsity starter and team captain for the basketball team, a member of the Black Student Alliance, Scholar Advisory Council, Rock the Street Wall Street, and Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA). In her spare time, Ashley volunteers with Tech Connect to provide tech support in the Minneapolis community and aims to close the digital divide.

Amy Vu

Bloomington, 10th grade

Amy’s bold dream is to become an advanced flutist. The Trailblazer Fellowship will help Amy continue flute lessons. “When I step into the world of music, it helps me to relieve stress, enjoy band, and play my favorite song on my favorite instrument. Everything is possible as long as you try and practice.”

“Since I was young, I have always wanted to share a meal with my uncle. I was scared to get close to him because he gave me the impression of a strict and serious person. Until my uncle died of cancer, I never had a chance to get close to him or share a conversation with him. If I could talk to him, I would ask him to teach me the trick to becoming fluent in a foreign language from self-taught. If I’m able to become like him, I will use my fluency in different languages like Spanish or Japanese to help my friends at school who are not fluent in English or anyone who is new to the English language.”

Elyana Hewitt

Duluth, 11th grade

Elyana’s bold dream is to continue her music education in college. With the Trailblazer Fellowship grant, Elyana will take piano lessons and training to prepare for college.

Elyana revived the Hermantown High School newspaper, Hawks Today, and built it from the ground up over the last two years. She currently is an editor for the newspaper. Elyana is also on the Hermantown Knowledge Bowl team, Speech team, Theater program, and Youth in Government.

When asked to share advice, Elyana said “I would tell my younger self not to worry about the opinions of others. Not long ago, I constantly felt judged for my actions. I stayed awake thinking my personality was too assertive or too braggy and I was secretly an insufferable, annoying person. Now, I realize that that I cannot let the beliefs of others dictate the way I want to live. I am loud and proud to be part of supposedly “nerdy” activities, and I am not afraid to stand up and voice my views. It is far more essential to be true to yourself.”

Hawthorne Oachs

Minneapolis, 9th grade

Hawthorne’s bold dream is to share her music with the world and defy the notion that “kids should be seen and not heard.” Hawthorne uses her music to bring forth mental health awareness and other issues that kids face today. Hawthorne will use the Trailblazer Fellowship to mix and master six original songs for a mini-album release.

When asked about advice for her younger self, Hawthorne would write a letter and say: “Dearest Hawthorne, age 11 may seem challenging right now, but never give up. There will be no path for you to find. You will pave it with every faithful step you take. One day soon, you will look back and see how far you’ve grown and that you did some remarkable things despite the challenges of being young and struggling a lot during the pandemic. There will be roadblocks and heartbreak, and in those moments, you may feel like the world is ending, but the wisdom and knowledge you gain from each of those experiences will be invaluable. You will be glad you didn’t give up on yourself because you’re worth believing in.”

Learn more about Hawthorne and check out her music here

Madeline Lemmer

Winona, 11th grade

Maddie’s bold dream is to become a United States Supreme Court Justice. Maddie will use the Trailblazer Fellowship to attend a youth leadership conference in Washington DC over the summer and begin touring colleges with plans to study Political Science.

Maddie founded the Winter Color Guard Program at Cotter High School, is captain of the Color Guard Team, is on the Mock Trial team, and is a National Honor Society member.

Maddie shared, “I remember in second grade doing an activity where we had to draw what we wanted to be when we were older. I drew an American flag with a podium and microphone in front of it. I had no idea what to call this job so above the flag I wrote ‘Change’. All I knew was that someday I wanted to change the world.”

Mia Stipkovits

Minneapolis, 12th grade

Mia’s bold dream is to go on an international tour with her youth orchestra. Mia will be using the Trailblazer Fellowship to travel in southern France and Barcelona this summer.

Mia enjoys visual arts, creating handmade earrings and cards, and dancing in her spare time.

Mia says, “I would tell my younger self that it’s alright to fail and it’s alright not to be where you want to be with something. I have always been very serious and very hard on myself, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Having high expectations for what I do has pushed me to reach higher levels, but sometimes I forget that I’m only human. I still do sometimes. As I’ve gotten older, I started to realize more that you just can’t do it all. I would tell myself to just be more gentle on myself, it’s okay if what your best is in the moment is not what you wish it was.”


Michon Harju

Duluth, 12th grade

Michon’s bold dream is to attend college outside of Minnesota to experience new things and live in a different place with its own unique culture. Michon will use the Trailblazer Fellowship for college tuition at an out-of-state school.

Michon races on a mountain bike team and serves as a member of their youth board. For the last six years, she has worked to create an environment based on support and encouragement that inspires girls to join the team and feel welcomed. Michon also participates in various orchestral ensembles as a violinist.

Michon says “I am proud that being adventurous and curious are core parts of who I am. From climbing trees to flying planes to using different art mediums, I am up for any adventure thrown my way. Seeking adventure has taught me to learn from the unknown instead of being frightened by it. Being curious is the effect of being adventurous. I want to know everything about the world around me, especially about people and why they think and act the way they do. Being curious about my surroundings and the world expands my perspective and deepens my understanding of everything.”

Per’Jah Hilliard

Minneapolis, 12th grade

Per’Jah’s bold dream is to become a neurosurgeon. Per’Jah will use the Trailblazer Fellowship to purchase technology that will help her pursue a degree in biology, the first step toward medical school.

Per’Jah plays softball for her high school, is a member of the National Honors Society as a subcommittee chair, participates in theater, is President of Lasallians in Equity and Peace (LEAP), and is President of the Art Club. Per’Jah likes to watch anime and her favorite anime is Black Clover.

The advice Per’Jah would give her younger self is to “Relentlessly pursue your dreams. If it’s something you are passionate about, wholeheartedly embrace it. Refuse to settle for less simply because others are doing so. Your dreams are worth the effort, regardless of the time it takes to achieve them.”

Serena Eischens

Stacy, 11th grade

Serena’s bold dream is to earn her pilot’s license and become a commercial pilot. Serena will use the Trailblazer Fellowship to continue aviation classes and prepare for the pilot exam.

In her free time, Serena volunteers at a local arts center in her hometown. “I believe that creative expression is a fundamental part of education and our community. Whether music, theater, visual arts, or media, we as people live and breathe art. It helps us become more effective communicators, gives an outlet to some of life’s most difficult problems, and encourages empathy and connection between people.”

With her first grant, Serena attended a four-day flight camp to learn about airplanes, navigation, communication, mechanics, and airspace. Serena learned to co-pilot an aircraft, how to fly, and navigate airspace. Serena shared, “The grant increased my capacity for discomfort and honed my resiliency. Not only did the grant give me the freedom to pursue my passion, but it helped me realize that I am stronger than I know.”