2022 Scholarship Recipients

Dante Ayars

Academy of Information
Technology & Engineering

Given Dante’s tendency to stand out in a crowd in each of his extraordinarily varied passions, undertakings and achievements, in academics, the theater, creative arts, student government, volunteer community service and entrepreneurship, it’s a little surprising that the wellspring of his confidence and motivation was the time spent all alone in a small sailboat on the Long Island Sound. There, from a young age in the Blue Waters Bound sailing program and later at SoundWaters, Dante said he acquired the gift of self-reliance, as out there he quite literally became the captain of his own ship.

Still, Dante is no loner. At AITE he was freshman class treasurer and has been class president ever since, while gaining admission to the National Honor Society, the Future Business Leaders of America (serving as president since 2020 and more than quintupling its membership), and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. He’s been a member of Westhill’s Northstar Players, the CT Drama Association Competition and has performed twice in the All School Musical (a lead, Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical!). As a freshman Dante was runner-up in the Stamford Public Schools’ city-wide Dolphin Tank Entrepreneur Competition, where he pitched an idea that he has since turned into a full-fledged business enterprise, The Bungalow Scent Co. (www.thebungalowscentco.com Look it up!) that creates, manufactures and sells scented candles and room sprays in stores, farmer’s markets and online. Simply put by Brenda Zanga, Entrepreneurship teacher at AITE, “he works, he volunteers and participates” and adds that she considers herself “so lucky to have had the privilege to have him in my classes and the opportunity to recommend him” for a scholarship, or we’d guess for anything, really.

Outside of school Dante has been deeply involved with SoundWaters, capping off his maritime education there as an instructor himself, where he has earned top reviews. Christina Genz, the Education Director says “Dante is a master of all of the ingredients of successful teaching, especially the ability to inspire.” He’s also shared his passion for the Sound with recent Latin American immigrants at Building One Community, combining weekly kayak lessons with shoreline clean-ups on weekend mornings throughout the summers. As a bonus, Dante says, he gets to practice his Spanish along the way.

Nor has Dante done it alone. He credits his mom, Danette Melchionne, as his champion and mentor, and among her lessons that he takes most to heart are those of tolerance and empathy. “Everybody has a story”, she says, cautioning her son not to judge others too quickly.

We at COTY agree. After all, if you just met Dante, you might think he’s just some really good student.

Aryan Donikena

Westhill High School

It is no coincidence that singles tennis requires single-mindedness. To perform at a high level, they say, one must empty their thoughts of everything else in the moment, except of course, tennis. Well, in Aryan’s case (Westhill High School’s first CIAC LL Boy’s Tennis State Championship finalist in over 40 years!) we have a little trouble seeing how that could have been possible. You see, despite his prowess on the hard courts, Aryan has had a lot more spinning around in his head than tennis balls.

For one thing this extremely high-ranking National Honors Society member has been a Gold Medal winning fundraiser and President’s Volunteer Service Award winner for Sewa International, a Hindu faith-based, humanitarian, nonprofit service organization that specializes in worldwide disaster relief and rehabilitation irrespective of race, color, religion, gender or nationality. He has also served as a volunteer nurse at Stamford Hospital in its postoperative nursing unit, Westhill High Debate Captain, a Student of the Year in the Westhill Computer Science Academy, and a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist. Says his “unofficial” school counselor, Spiro Milas, “to complete all of this in addition to the herculean amount of homework associated with taking four AP courses this year alone is simply indescribable”.

Back to singles, Aryan has also been a one-on-one tutor with the CT STEM Kids Club and the JAKE Academy of Public Speaking, and has sacrificed many precious high school Saturdays working with the AMBYESE (Annual Multicultural Business Youth Educational Services Embarkment) organization, which assists students with standardized test prep, STEM subject enrichment and career exploration. Said one of his successful tutees whom Aryan guided through AP Biology, “Aryan devised specific study schedules, revising entire units prior to exams. His efforts demonstrated utmost dedication, given his commitment to my understanding, and it paid off, yielding higher grades and self-confidence. Aryan is an impressive individual.”

Aryan has three heroes–first and foremost, his parents whom he credits with providing the love, support and the tools for success that he knows will continue to guide him. And also one more, whom he could not have met, but who has guided him just the same–Mahatma Gandhi, who said “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”

The depth and breadth of thought demonstrated by Aryan in his high school career has us at COTY convinced he will continue to become someone very special and we are very pleased to award him a 2022 Scholarship.

Michael Edwards

Westhill High School

Mike is one of the rare COTY winners who was preceded in the award by a sibling, his brother Alex, although scholarship is hardly the only Edward’s family business. The entrepreneurial Edward’s have built a Christmas tree farm, a hemp farm pilot for CBD, Toasty Toes Firewood Company and Edward’s Landscaping Services, all rooted in their grandparent’s family farm in Redding. The farm is also what first inspired Alex and Mike to start “Bee Brothers” in 2019, based on the Edward’s beekeeping hobby, a series of very popular presentations where they shared beekeeping art and science with Stamford elementary students, in particular at Stark School under the grateful direction of Asst. Principal Joseph Claps. When Alex went off to the University of Virginia (where Mike is also bound), their younger sister Annie joined the team, now dubbed “The Beekeepers for the Future” and to date the three of them have demonstrated the critical role of those very busy pollinators with over 2,500 students in half the city’s elementary schools!

That success, with the guidance of Mike’s AP Environmental Science teacher Carley Grant, led Mike to found and lead “Viking Apiaries” at Westhill, a club that has attracted a diverse membership (including a couple of teachers!). It meets regularly on its mission to spread word of the honeybees’ essential role in the environment and in agriculture, and seeks to grow the hobby of beekeeping while raising funds to start Westhill’s own apiary which has, in turn, already produced and sold enough honey to purchase more beehives and equipment to sustain it into the future.

At once focused and multifaceted, Mike is also deeply interested in U.S. History, in particular WW II and the Civil War, which led him to become a member and volunteer with the Office of State Archaeology. With his metal detector Mike has conducted his own “digs” unearthing musket balls, military buttons, silver coins and other relics from the Civil War, establishing an organized and documented collection with the guidance of experienced archaeologists. He’s also learned to analyze soil composition and stratigraphy to help identify the era of a given relic’s origin.

Some of Mike’s other extracurricular activities include coaching wrestling with Stamford Junior Wrestling, where he’s also an alumni, volunteering at the Stamford Hospital Cardiology Ward, and serving as Community Outreach Coordinator with the Westhill Angels, a school based community service organization that sponsors and operates food, clothing, school supply and other drives for those less fortunate. Also as a straight-A student engaged in multiple Honors and AP courses through his high school career, Mike serves as Vice President of the National Honor Society, organizing and providing tutoring for other Westhill students. And on top of all that, Mike is the captain of the Westhill Varsity Baseball Team.

Now back to family business—Mike credits his Mom and Dad with giving him the love, encouragement and guidance that have made him who he is today—an exceptional pupil, budding environmental scientist and archaeologist, entrepreneur, history buff, star athlete and an excellent brother. Wherever life leads you (and we hope it’s back to Stamford), we at COTY say congratulations Mike!

Mollie Herz

Stamford High School

Perhaps one wouldn’t expect it of a serious, motivated, high ranking Stamford High Senior given to volunteering with special needs children, religious education, and community service, but when it comes to superheroes, especially Marvel Comics movie superheroes, Mollie Herz is a huge fan. Uncle Ben, that is, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, famously told his spidey-sensed nephew “with great power comes great responsibility” and while Mollie may not have the power thing down just yet, she’s already taken on enough responsibility to give pause to Spiderman himself.

Since middle school Mollie has volunteered as an assistant swim instructor with Swim Angelfish, an adaptive swim organization dedicated to children with various special needs, motor difficulties and sensory processing disorders. Now also working there as a lifeguard, Mollie organizes the pool equipment, greets families, answers questions and assists the instructors and therapists to keep the children safe. Mollie’s mentor and Swim Angelfish’s co-owner, Ailene Tisser says “The children . . . adore Mollie and love seeing her each week. . . she is reliable, compassionate, and patient with the children in our program. . . she is very passionate about pursuing the field of Physical Therapy and will be a true asset to whichever program she applies for.”

As an active member of the Temple Beth El community, Mollie has participated in numerous youth program activities and community service projects, and is a member of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization which performs charitable works like collection drives, packing parties and fundraisers throughout the Stamford area. For the past five years she also has volunteered as a teacher’s aide for Beth El’s Thursday afternoon and Sunday morning religious classes, and a grateful Lisa Gittelman-Udi, its Director of Congregational Learning, says “she has a wonderful manner with younger children and truly serves as a role model . . . who truly understands and takes to heart what it means to be of service to her community”.

Mollie has also served as a member of Friendship Circle, an organization whose mission is to bridge the gap between special needs and typical youth through shared experience, especially in their Buddies at Home program, where she mentored an individual child at home. And for the past two years she’s been president of Friendly Faces at Stamford High, also dedicated to making students with special needs feel that they are in integral part of the school community. Jumpstart, a therapeutic early childhood classroom experience for two year olds with special needs, and Leadership Academy, a volunteer organization at Stamford High, have also been lucky enough to have Mollie’s enthusiastic participation.

No one knew what makes a superhero better than Marvel’s creator, Stan Lee. He said “that person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt a real superhero.”

Now that sounds a lot like Mollie, and we at COTY are huge fans.

Aishwarya Sivasubramanian

Academy of Information
Technology & Engineering

One might say that AITE Guidance Counselor Joshua Bogard was given to hyperbole when he pledged his future vote for Aishwarya for “President of the World”. After all, she’s only a high school senior and of course there’s the fact that the office itself is not really a thing. Still, one would guess there has to be a reason for that kind of enthusiasm for a student’s future. Actually, there are many.

Beginning at least as far back as middle school Aishwarya discovered the impact she could have on others as an assistant counselor for four and five year olds at Union Memorial Preschool, taking on more and more responsibility with each passing year. But that was just the start. As a freshman at AITE she was part of the inaugural year of Generation Impact, a young woman-led not-for-profit that fundraises and provides grants for meaningful causes like Center for Children’s Advocacy, DOMUS Kids, CLC, Open Door Shelter and Building One Community (to name a few) and one of Aishwarya’s passions, Mental Health Services (at Bridgeport Hospital), eventually becoming GI’s Membership Chair on the Board of Directors. Said Sara Allard and Ellen Reid, GI’s Program Advisors “Aishwarya is one of the most positive, outgoing and engaging teenagers we know. . .we consider ourselves so lucky to have her in our program!” Meanwhile she had also joined Interact Club as a freshman (the Rotary’s youth branch), performing community service programs such as Toys for Tots, food and blood drives, and many others, becoming its President for her junior and senior years. President. You might see where this is going.

Aishwarya has become President of pretty much every organization she has joined that has one—The Spanish Honor Society, which has raised funds for Nicaragua, the National Honor Society attending to tutoring other students, and the Science Honor Society providing STEM programs for elementary, middle and other high school students. She has also been on the Executive Board of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council since sophomore year, leading programs for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, Lead Ambassador for AITE providing orientation to new students, and Table Leader for AITE’s Out of the Box night promoting STEM to younger students. As a junior she finished first as an individual speaker in the CT State Debate Competition (taking second place overall), and even was part of a team that had a research paper published by the IEEE MIT Undergraduate Research Technology Conference concerning methods to curb teen vaping.

Next up for Aishwarya is the University of Virginia, which she will attend as a prestigious Jefferson Scholar, which may be a step on the path to neuroscientific research, a pursuit which combines her passion for mental health awareness and her precocious aptitude in the sciences. But wherever it may lead, we have no doubt, she will be a leader.

Mr. Bogard, we at COTY see your point.