The Morehead-Cain Foundation — home of the first merit scholarship program in the United States, founded at the first public university in the country — is pleased to announce the first cohort to join the Morehead-Cain Class of 2026 as part of its Sophomore Intake Initiative. The students — all sophomores attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — will be introduced as Morehead-Cain Scholars at the Foundation’s Fall Banquet on November 16, 2023.
The fifteen scholars come from five North Carolina counties, six states and China. Their fields of study at Carolina include statistics, computer science, biology, neuroscience, business, history, political science and education.
Morehead-Cain launched the Sophomore Intake Initiative in September 2023 to identify a small cohort of current sophomores at UNC–Chapel Hill who have demonstrated exceptional scholarship, leadership and character and invite them to join the Morehead-Cain Program as members of the Morehead-Cain Class of 2026.
The process of selecting the cohort involves an extensive application review and participation in a Final Selection Experience assessed by members of the Morehead-Cain Central Selection Committee. Candidates enter the process via nomination from a wide array of individuals on campus, including professors, department heads, teaching assistants, and staff of scholarship, service, extracurricular and cultural programs.
The new scholars join a thriving community of thinkers, leaders, creators and adventurers at UNC–Chapel Hill, who are empowered to set their potential free. Scholars gain access to a network of peers and mentors, summer enrichment programming, advising, Lovelace Fund for Discovery, funded study abroad and a living stipend.
The Sophomore Intake Initiative allows Morehead-Cain to “accelerate the journey” of exceptional students who demonstrated their capacity for leadership in their first year at Carolina, according to Morehead-Cain President Chris Bradford.
“UNC–Chapel Hill is full of emerging leaders with wide-ranging interests and aspirations. We are honored to invest in that potential by offering opportunities to pursue global experiences, design research projects, and access impactful internships,” Bradford said. “The Sophomore Intake Initiative gives Morehead-Cain the opportunity to identify more emerging leaders and offer more transformational experiences to Carolina students who will shape this campus and the world.”
Since its founding in 1945, the Morehead-Cain Program has been a model for countless merit scholarships throughout the United States. These include the University of Virginia’s Jefferson Scholars Program, Duke University’s Benjamin N. Duke Scholars Program and Emory University’s Woodruff Scholars Program.
High-resolution images of the Morehead-Cain Scholars can be downloaded here. A biography of each scholar is below.
Steven Alonso-Echegaray (Steven) graduated from Discovery High School in Newton, North Carolina, and is studying biology with a minor in Spanish for the Medical Professions. Steven is involved in fostering a vibrant Latinx community at Carolina. He serves on the board of Mi Pueblo, the largest Latinx organization on campus, dedicated to organizing events that celebrate and nurture an inclusive environment for Latinx students. He is also a part of the Lider program, a leadership development initiative in collaboration with the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business DEI Office and the Carolina Latinx Center. Beyond his academic and extracurricular pursuits, Steven has a keen interest in a diverse range of music genres, finds solace in jogging, and cherishes the great outdoors. Steven is the son of Lilia Ramirez Echegaray from Conover, North Carolina.
Christopher Jaime Arraya (Christopher) graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, and is studying computer science and sociology. At Carolina, he serves as the education lead for the Computer Science + Social Good club, teaching full-stack development to over 80 students. Christopher is also a UNC Research Ambassador and is actively involved in the TechX Society. His research delves into computational sociology and political science, currently analyzing political discourse on Facebook during the 2019 Bolivian political crisis. Outside academics, he co-founded a tech startup where he is the CEO and advises multiple nonprofits on AI regulation in governmental applications. Christopher is the son of Rebecca Arraya and Christian Arraya of Woodbridge, Virginia.
Kassandra Ciriza-Monreal (Kassandra) graduated from Randolph Community College, and previously attended Southwestern Randolph High School in Asheboro, North Carolina. She is studying Human and Organizational Leadership Development (HOLD) and romance languages with a concentration in Hispanic studies and a minor in Spanish for the professions. She is the secretary of Amexcan, the first association of Mexicans at UNC–Chapel Hill. In addition, she serves as a communications specialist and media assistant at the Institute for the Study of the Americas. She is committed to imparting basic English classes for children, youth, and adults in her hometown in Mexico, and in her free time, she finds relaxation and creativity in the art of embroidery and knitting, talents that were passed down by her grandmother, Jovita. Kassandra is the daughter of Margarita Monreal Alfaro and Sergio Ciriza Gallegos of Aguascalientes, Mexico, who reside in Asheboro.
William Harrison Cook (William) graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, and is studying business and history. At Carolina, he is involved in the Honors Carolina Student Association and North Carolina Study Center, and he started the Human Flourishing Initiative. He enjoys playing golf and fly fishing. William is the son of Ashley Cook and Joe Cook of Nashville, Tennessee.
Clara Elise DiVincenzo (Clara) graduated from Enloe High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is studying biology, and statistics and analytics, with a minor in marine sciences. At Carolina, she is a member of the Buckley Public Service Scholars, Handmade by Heels, and is the service chair of Carolina Jump Rope. Clara serves as a peer mentor and ambassador for the Department of Biology and conducts research in the Castillo Lab studying coral-algal symbiosis. She hopes to pursue a PhD in marine biology and has her long-term sights set on a career in academia. Clara is the daughter of Christine and Paolo DiVincenzo of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Mary Esposito (Mary) graduated from Cary Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is studying business and English. She is a dedicated financial educator with more than 150,000 TikTok (@moneywithmary) and Instagram (@moneywithmary1) followers and was awarded the 2022 BMTX Financial Empowerment Award. She also runs @shoppurplepear, a crochet plushie business with more than 460,000 TikTok and Instagram followers. Mary is the daughter of Don and Audrey Esposito from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Katherine Elizabeth Guittari (Kate) graduated from The Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, as the sole recipient of The Wyckoff Honor Prize. At Carolina, she is studying neuroscience on the pre-med track. Kate is a member of the Loreleis, the university’s premier upper voices a cappella group. As a player on the UNC–Chapel Hill club field hockey team, Kate helped her teammates win the 2022 National Championship. Kate is actively engaged in research at Carolina, having been awarded the 2023 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). Her lab research focuses on the safety and efficacy of pneumococcal vaccinations in patients with glomerular disease. Kate is interested in finding methods of cultivating more empathetic future healthcare professionals in the undergraduate population at UNC. Kate is the daughter of Christine Kosmides and the granddaughter of Anastasia Kosmides of Glen Ridge, New Jersey.
Christina Huang (Christina) graduated from Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and is studying political science. At Carolina, she helped co-found Students for Asian American Studies (SAAS) to champion the development of a comprehensive Asian American Studies program and successfully petitioned to hire three Asian Americanist faculty for the 2024 academic year. Acknowledging the significance of equitable access to education, Christina played a key role in establishing the UNC Affirmative Action Coalition in response to the SFFA v. UNC Supreme Court case, advocating for fair educational opportunities for marginalized communities. In addition to her academic pursuits, she is passionate about archival research and is actively engaging in oral history projects at the South Asian American Digital Archive and Southern Oral History Program. She is the daughter of Yongxi Ke and Si Huang of Ridgewood, New Jersey.
Neharika Lakshmi Kodali (Neharika) graduated from Enloe High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she was the first Indian Battalion Commander of the school’s JROTC program. For four years, she’s worked for the City of Raleigh’s Housing and Neighborhoods Department with a focus on digital and financial literacy. At Carolina, Neharika is studying business administration. With a deep curiosity for healthcare, Neharika serves as the undergraduate representative and treasurer for the UNC School of Medicine Women’s Health Multidisciplinary Consortium and as an intern at the Compass Center. She also serves as a biology peer instructor and undergraduate researcher at the School. In addition, she’s continued her love for public service through the Buckley Public Service Scholars and APPLE Service-Learning programs. Neharika is a 2023 ACC Leadership Symposium Delegate, Bonner Leaders Scholar, NC Fellow, and DEI Fellow (through the University Office of Diversity & Inclusion). Neharika loves creating Spotify playlists, playing with dogs, indulging in hands-on projects, and going on spontaneous outings with friends. Neharika is the daughter of Sujana Kodali of Hyderabad, India.
Shreeya Satis Patel (Shreeya) graduated from T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, North Carolina, and is studying geography, food studies, and public policy. At Carolina, she has been involved in the Carbonshed Lab, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience (DR3) project, the Asian American Center, and the Residence Hall Association. This past summer, she was a research intern studying plant life in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. Currently, she is studying sustainable agriculture in Cape Town, South Africa. Through her various experiences at Carolina and beyond, she explores topics such as food insecurity and sustainable development. Shreeya is the daughter of Gauri Patel and Satis Patel of Asheville, North Carolina.
Derek Edward Peng (Derek) graduated from Ames High School in Ames, Iowa, and is studying business administration and French. At Carolina, he founded the Photography Club at Carolina, is a photographer for the Daily Tar Heel, and is a Parr Center Scholar. He tutors students at the UNC Math Help Center, supports affordable housing with UNC Habitat for Humanity, and plays Club Golf. He is passionate about ethical decision-making and enjoys the outdoors and the arts. Derek is the son of Natalia and Edward Peng of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Karina Samuel (Karina) graduated from North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Florida, and is studying statistics and analytics and business administration. At Carolina, she has leadership roles in numerous business organizations. She is the chief marketing officer of Chapel Thrill Escapes, the on-campus, student-run escape room, the career development chair of the Sustainable Business Club, a business analyst at Consult Your Community, and a data analyst intern at the UNC Environmental Finance Center (EFC). At the EFC, Karina examines the differing energy bills paid by communities with more people of color and provides data-driven recommendations to policy experts to alleviate the issue. In her community, Karina leads several sustainability initiatives, including a campaign to provide financial and legal resources to South Floridians living in fence-line communities. She recently won the William C. Friday Research Award to help educate North Carolina youth about climate disasters and their respective mitigation strategies. Karina is the daughter of Sherene and Vijay Samuel of Coral Springs, Florida.
Daniel Enrique Simon (Dani) graduated from Franklin Academy High School in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and is studying economics, business administration, and data science. At Carolina, he is the marketing director for the Association of Latino Professionals for America and is researching Latino entrepreneurship in North Carolina and its impact on communities. During the academic year, Dani volunteers as an intern for PORCH Communities. He is interested in how economic development can be incentivized by the private sector and applied as a proactive solution to food security. Dani is the son of Karina Egloff and Carlos Simon of San José, Costa Rica.
Alena Jolie Thomas (Alena) graduated from Village Christian Academy in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and is studying Business Administration with a concentration in real estate and American Indian and Indigenous studies. At Carolina, she serves as the treasurer and vice president of Alpha Pi Omega Sorority, Incorporated, the first and largest Native American sorority in the United States. She also enjoys spending her time involved in Carolina Indian Circle as a member of powwow and banquet committee. In the future, she wants to return to work in her indigenous Lumbee community to promote economic development. Alena is the daughter of Azalea and Aaron Thomas of Pembroke, North Carolina.
Shuyan Wu (Hazel) graduated from Beijing National Day School in Beijing, China, and is studying health policy and management, and statistics. At Carolina, they serve as the campus ambassador for international student health insurance and are active in the Undergraduate Student Health Action Coalition, where they assist fellow international students in navigating healthcare resources in the United States and advocate for accessible and quality healthcare for all. Hazel has contributed as a research assistant in the Penn Lab for Social Cognition and Schizophrenia and the McLean Research Group at the UNC School of Medicine, where they assist in the development of a digital platform for first psychosis recovery and promote peer-to-peer support. Beyond academic pursuits, Hazel has a passion for dancing and creative writing, and they are currently working on their poetry collection. Hazel is the child of Kui Xu and Guohua Wu of Nanjing, China.