2023 ABF Fellows

Announcing Inaugural Class of Ann Bancroft Trailblazer Fellows

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.

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 30 applications, ABF has now selected 8 incredible high school students as part of the Trailblazer Fellowship inaugural class. Here is a look at each worthy fellow:

Ameyir Freeman

Minneapolis, 11th grade 

Ameyir’s bold dream is to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and study journalism. Ameyir will be using the Trailblazer Fellowship to tour HBCU campuses out of state. Ameyir is inspired by her sister, who studied journalism at an HBCU and is now in law school.

“If I were to have dinner with anyone, it would be my great great grandmother. I would have dinner with her for multiple reasons, she started what I've known and call family. Not only did she raise some family members I look up to. They got to experience her presence and maybe that's what gave them the boost to be so successful in life. Most of all I would just want to experience her presence since I never got the chance to.”

Anushka Kollengode

Rochester, 12th grade

Anushka’s bold dream is to use the power of technology to find cures for diseases and to develop novel solutions to protect the environment. 

Using ABF grant in 2021, Anushka published the app called Green3 that helps people dispose of litter responsibly. You can read more about the app here. 

With the Trailblazer Fellowship, she will further her skills, purchase hardware and software and work towards her passion of harnessing the power of technology.
Anushka enjoys volunteering through Sathya Sai Organization, Girls Scouts, singing with Honors Choir SE Minnesota and performing Indian Classical dance, Bharatanatyam. In 2023, Anushka received the Mayor’s Medal of Honor for her community service. 

Anushka says, “As the world is shrinking with rapid changes in technology, I think girls and women need to take an active role in developing creative solutions through technology; from protecting the environment to developing cures for illness like cancer.”

Oluwabukunmi (Bukunmi) Ola

Rosemount, 11th grade

Bukunmi’s dream is to make a positive difference in the lives of those around her and be a leader amongst her peers. She will use the Fellowship grant toward career clarity courses and a travel stipend toward the costs of visiting colleges. 

Bukunmi says, “As a 16-year-old, I'm near the end of my high school career, and soon, I'll be out in the real world. I'm expected to know what I want to do with my life and what career to pursue, but I don't. I am still determining what I want to do, and the future is uncertain. Yet, despite all these uncertainties, I know that I want to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to become a leader amongst my peers and make a positive difference in the lives of those around me. With the help of this Fellowship, I'll be able to start on the journey to becoming a leader, discovering who I want to be and my purpose.”

When asked on what advice she would give to her younger self, Bukunmi says, “I would tell young me not to argue as much and that it's a waste of time. We don't plan on ever becoming a lawyer.”

Isabelle Ekstrom

Lanesboro, 12th grade

Isabelle is the sixth generation to grow up on her family’s farm in southeastern Minnesota. Isabelle loves sharing her music with others, crocheting, reading Greek, or walking through the pastures of her farm. Isabelle will be using the Trailblazer Fellowship grant toward tuition at Hillsdale College to study music performance, theory, and pedagogy. Isabelle’s bold dream is after completing her studies, to move back to southern Minnesota and open a violin instruction school. 

Isabelle used her initial ABF grant to attend the Stringwood Chamber Music Festival for a two-week intensive camp studying music. Isabelle said about her previous grant experience, “I developed an important awareness of how each instrument performs a unique and essential role in the group: the cello provides the internal pulse; the viola adds depth as the middle voice; the first violin soars above the other instruments, singing the melody; and, arguably, the most important member of the quartet, the second violin, is rarely noticed, yet ultimately runs the show by adding intensity to the other parts and pushing them to sing their lines more brilliantly than before. As I developed a deeper understanding of the quartet art form, I felt drawn to the role of second violin. Even though it is fun to sparkle in the spotlight as the first violin, I was actually happier as the second violin; in the shadow of the melody, I loved urging my fellow musicians to play their best. In my background role, I shined.”

Kate Brandli

St. Michael, 11th grade

Kate will be using the Trailblazer Fellowship toward a science research trip to Costa Rica to study bioinformatics. Kate’s goal is to go to medical school and work in a research lab so that she can have a deep impact in science or medicine. She is looking forward to working in a team environment. 

Kate started the Slow Fashion Club at her school to bring awareness to the overconsumption of fast fashion in her community. She is also involved in theater and Philosophy Club. Kate has volunteered over 250 hours in her local community. 

Kate says, “If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell myself, "Take dad's advice about confidence." My dad has always told me "All you have to do is be confident!", and when I was younger, I always brushed him off. As I've gotten older, I've realized that confidence is one of the most important attributes a person can have. The confidence to try new things, and look silly sometimes, will always open up new learning opportunities.”

Keena Dietz

St. Paul, 11th grade

Keena’s bold dream is to deepen her knowledge of theater production and design. Keena will be using the Fellowship to attend Interlochen Performing Arts School during her senior year of high school. Keena’s previous Ann Bancroft Foundation grant allowed her to attend a summer theater-intensive program at Interlochen Center for Performing Arts. During her time there, she won the Maddy Summer Artist Award, which is the highest award given by Interlochen after their summer at the camp. 

Keena says, “In fact, theatre is my favorite art medium and dream because it allows me to tackle these very issues [promoting empathy and understanding]. When watching a play or a musical, people step into another world for a few hours. This immersive experience allows people to gain a better understanding of others and the world we all live in once they emerge from the production because they have seen life from another angle. The empathy that theatre fosters is irreplaceable.”

When asked what advice she would give to her young self, Keena says, “...there is no need to feel like you have to find your life-long passion right away. Both exploration and discovery are important and should be given the time and energy they need. This is especially important since all of your passions can support each other. Your love of music will help your sound design, while your love of reading will aid you in analyzing the plays you are designing.”

Margaret Spray

St. Paul, 10th grade

Margaret’s dream is for her family band to play at music festivals. She will use the Fellowship grant to produce high quality music videos. Margaret plays the acoustic and electric guitar in her family band. Margaret loves being able to connect and bond with her siblings through music. 

Margaret is committed to making the world a better place by caring for others, through social justice action and specific activities to improve the environment. Margaret is the captain of the Como Cross Country team and a member of the Como Nordic Ski and Track teams. Margaret enjoys creating art of all kinds in her spare time. 

Margaret says, “Growing up in a large family with siblings who have special needs has helped shape my worldview. It has made me a more compassionate and empathetic person. I am able to easily adapt and consider multiple perspectives. I've learned through the example of my parents, to meet people where they’re at: that we all go at different paces in life and we’re right where we need to be, right now!”

Check out her family’s band here: Cover of Guided by Wire written by Neko Case, sung by Bernadette Brownrigg Spray

Sierra Sedlacek

Roseville, 12th grade

Sierra will be using the Fellowship grant to purchase her own viola so she can continue studying and playing in a college orchestra. Sierra’s bold dream is to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy while in college, and pair her studies with minoring in music. This path will help Sierra combine her passion of athletics and music in a future career. 

Sierra has been in orchestra for eight years. She is currently the viola section leader and the President of her high school symphony orchestra. In addition to the viola, Sierra also plays the ukulele and guitar. Sierra plays in the Saint Paul Viola Ensemble as well. 

Sierra received a grant in the Fall 2021 to train as a powerlifter. Sierra says, “My previous grant from the Ann Bancroft Foundation allowed me to push myself outside my comfort zone in multiple ways. I dedicated many hours to pursuing one of my life goals; going to the National High School Powerlifting Competition and ended up getting 5th place! This would not have been possible without the support I received from this program. I am so blessed to have received the grant last year because it helped me achieve my goals and I would continue to do that with the Trailblazer Fellowship.”