Mayor's Office Press Release

City of Houston Awards Scholarships to Five Area High School Seniors

April 28, 2022 -- Five Houston area high school seniors will be rewarded for sharing their two cents — or 500 words — about how City of Houston employees could strengthen the city and improve quality of life for residents.

Nearly 300 students submitted 500-word essays to the 30th annual Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) Essay Contest. The essays covered topics from animal adoption to public health awareness, LGTBQ+ issues to food deserts. The scholarships range from $2,000 to $500 and are funded by Cigna, the contest’s sponsor for the past five years.

The finalists’ essays were shared with Mayor Sylvester Turner and department leaders in Houston Public Works, Houston Health Department, and the Municipal Courts Department.

An in-person award ceremony will be held on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, at 3:30 p.m. in the Legacy Room at Houston City Hall for the scholarship winners.

Presentations will be made by Mayor’s Office of Education Director Olivera Jankovska, Human Resources Director Jane E. Cheeks and Melinda Balezentis, account executive for Cigna. City Cellars HTX will be providing refreshments during the ceremony.

“This year’s group of winners continue to represent the best and brightest of the Greater Houston Area school districts,” said Pete Mayes, senior communications specialist, and Essay Contest chair. “While the contest does present students with an opportunity to earn money for college and sharpen their writing skills, it also gives us a glimpse of who our future leaders will be, what is important to them, and how they want to serve their communities.”

“The fact that we are able to host an in-person award ceremony to honor them is not lost on us as well. It’s important that the city be able to honor them in this manner that befits this accomplishment.”

The contest was open to all public and private high schools in Harris County and surrounding counties. Essays were judged by a panel of 15 city employees. Scholarships were awarded solely on the merits of the essay and class rank, GPA and letters of recommendation were not required.

This year’s winners are:

1st Place: $2,000
Tommy Wan

Tommy Wan

Tommy Wan is graduating from The Village School, a nondenominational private school in Houston, Texas. He wrote, “Empowering Youth Civic Engagement,” in which he discussed creating a centralized civic engagement program for today’s youth in District F. He plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin to study Civil Engineering and Government.

Excerpt: “Education is a force to be reckoned with. It's a passport to greater opportunity for working-class families, a weapon to enact change, and an avenue to equalize those within communities. The District F Office, Parks and Recreation, and the Mayor’s Office of Education all recognize the need for youth intervention and programming. However, we are missing a decisive factor in youth programming—civic engagement.”

2nd Place: $1,2000
Anjali Agrawal

Anjali Agrawal

Anjali Agrawal is graduating from The Harmony School of Innovation-Sugar Land, Fort Bend Independent School District. She wrote, “Feed the Young to Feed the Future,” in which she offered the creation of “Feeding Young Scholars of America” as a program that will address food insecurity for among youth. She will be studying computer science at the University of Texas at Austin in the selective Turing Scholars Honors Program.

Excerpt: “Despite popular conception, food insecurity is not just a ‘lack of food.’ It can also include limited access to healthier foods and nutrition education. My program, called Feeding Young Scholars of America (FYSA), will holistically address these many factors involved in food insecurity. The program’s target population is Third Ward children, which are more likely to be impacted by food insecurity than adults.”

3rd Place: $800
Cris Ferreon

Cris Ferreon

Cris Ferreon is graduating from Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, Houston Independent School District. Cris wrote, “Extending Public Health Awareness and Support,” which seeks to continue expanding disease prevention awareness and expanding mental health support by developing intervention strategies as the assistant director of Public Health. Cris plans to major in biochemistry at the University of Texas at Austin.

Excerpt: “To accommodate our city’s changing demographic and culture, we must implement policies that show that the city of Houston can adapt for the better. Public health should be viewed from all perspectives, considering how diverse our population is.”

Honorable Mention Place: $500
Alayna "Jae" Morales

Alayna Morales

Alayna “Jae” Morales is graduating from Cypress Falls High School, Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District. She wrote, “Open Arms: A community of people who care about each other,” in which she discusses issues confronting LGTBQ+ teens and creating programs to help them be seen, heard, and accepted. She plans to attend Lonestar College, where she will take cosmetology classes and major in barbering.

Excerpt: “While Take Time Texas already connects family caregivers with caregiving companies, 70% of family caregivers still experience depression or anxiety. A rewards system that provides family caregivers with subsidized respite would promote participation, benefitting both caregivers and the elderly.”

Honorable Mention: $500
Amy Gao

Amy Gao

Amy Gao is graduating from Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions, Houston Independent School District. She wrote, “Promoting Animal Adoptions Through Community Outreach,” where plans to promote more volunteer opportunities and adoption events in the Greater Houston area as the marketing and outreach manager for BARC.  She plans to major in Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin.

Excerpt: “Owning a pet can offer the following benefits: increasing exercise, providing companionship, and finding an emotional balance. As the BARC Marketing and Outreach Manager, I aim to promote the adoption of animals to help pets find their forever home. This will strengthen Houston’s largest animal shelter and give health benefits to pet owners across the city.”

The Public Service Recognition Week Essay Contest will reopen for applications in January 2023. Visit for updates and links to the winning essays and winner profiles.