SPARTA, NJ –Two Sparta High School alumni are getting ready to head to Philadelphia. They are not going for the history or the nightlife. Alexandra Poret and Simon Levien are taking the trip, with all expenses paid by Taco Bell. As part of their Live Mas Scholarship program, the two will attend workshops at the three day event to be held on The Study at University City in the Drexel and UPenn neighborhood.
Poret, the Valedictorian of the Class of 2018 is attending MIT pursuing a degree in biological engineering, so she can “eventually help to discover the human microbiome and eventual engineer it for the gain of human health.” Poret was selected to be a U. S. Presidential Scholar, one of only 161 in the country in 2018. In 2016 Poret met President Barak Obama, having been invited to the White House as one of 11 Kid-Science Advisors.
Salutatorian of the Class of 2019, Levien stood out this spring having been accepted to six Ivy League schools along with 18 other universities. Deciding to attend Harvard over Stanford was likely the biggest challenge Levien faced in his senior year. During his time at Sparta High School Levien had numerous winning essays published in the New York Times, often combining his passions for journalism and science. He worked with the high school science teachers to bring CRISPR technology to the classrooms through a Sparta Education Foundation Grant.
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The Taco Bell Foundation initiative not only provides a financial scholarship, from $5,000 to $25,000, they support the students to be successful on their college campuses. The Live Mas Scholarship event is focused around building the students’ resumes, helping them hone their personal goals and create career connections by working with mentors and other scholarship recipients from all over the country.
The organization’s website says, “They come from all over the country. They have different passions, stories and dreams. But they have one thing in common. They want to change the world.”
The students will hear from an “Influencer” guest speakers, attend a resume writing clinic, hone interview skills and meet with mentors and LinkedIn professionals. The students will also have the opportunity to learn how to tell their story, how to pitch ideas about their passion projects. Even the meal times are working events.
Both alumni are self starters who, during thier time at Sparta High School sought and earned a great number of accolades, contests and grants. Poret found out about the Live Mas Scholarship opportunity in her senior year. After successfully applying she encouraged Levien to apply in his senior year as well. The unique application process requires the submission of a two minute video created by the applicant. The video can be animated, a short film or a testimonial expression the applicant’s passion. It is the content of the video, not the quality that counts. The application must include information about the post high school program of study as well as a presentation of the applicants passion and how will following that passion change their community or the world along with a few other items.
The notification of the award also came on a Tablet mailed to the alumni.
Of the 23 recipients from New Jersey Sparta High School stands out with two alumni having earned the recognition. Only Robbinsville has more with three. The Live Mas Scholarship program was launched in 2018 with $3 million from The Taco Bell Foundation. In 2019 the foundations awarded more than $4.5 million in Live Mas Scholarships; $1 million to new recipients and $2.25 million through the renewal program for previous recipients and $900,000 to Taco Bell restaurant employees.
According to the organization they will award 100 scholarships; 10 for $25,000, 60 for $10,000 and 30 for $5,000.
The Taco Bell Foundation has been running since 1995. Since then they have awarded nearly $83 million in grants and scholarships focused on education and career readiness, according to their website.