Bret Schanzenbach
President & CEO
Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce 

In September 2020 the Carlsbad Chamber launched its second annual Rising Star of the Month program to honor local area high school seniors for demonstrating character, integrity, love of learning, involvement in school and community activities and the ability to overcome challenging life circumstances without compromising their education. And despite COVID-19 moving the entire program to Zoom, nearly 40 high school seniors from four different high schools were honored.

The Rising Star of the Month program has quickly established itself in the Carlsbad community for the impact it brings each month. “The opportunity to identify and honor a student as the Rising Star is one of the highlights of my month every time,” shared Bryan Brockett, Principal at Carlsbad High School. “The Rising Star’s focus on students who have overcome adversity to impact their school and community is particularly meaningful, because it shows students that we recognize the efforts that it takes to be successful and validates the hard work that these students do.”

The Carlsbad Educational Foundation was founded in 1983 to raise private support for public education. They have contributed over $10M to public schools in our community throughout that time. They have been a sponsor for both years that the Rising Star program has been in existence here locally. “Hear one persevering story of a Rising Star and you will forever be impacted,” said Laura Pitts, Chief Executive Officer of Carlsbad Educational Foundation. “These honorees demonstrate what it means to have resilience, what it looks to like to overcome obstacles, and what it takes to give generously in spite of hardship. We’re fortunate to have these young leaders in our community and it’s an honor to help them succeed.”

Rosemary Eshelman is the Student Services Specialist for the Carlsbad Unified School District. She witnessed the program first-hand when it first arrived in Carlsbad. “The Rising Star Program is such an amazing way to highlight high school students who have persevered to achieve their goals,” stated Eshelman. “It is also a wonderful way to bring the community together through sponsors and showing these young people that they have many people encouraging them to succeed. It is a win-win for Carlsbad.” 

After witnessing the program, Eshelman recommended that the Chamber apply for a grant from the Carlsbad Charitable Foundation to get support. The Carlsbad Charitable Foundation became the title sponsor in 2020-21. Estella Mitrani, the Coordinator for the Carlsbad Charitable Foundation stated, “The Carlsbad Charitable Foundation is proud to support this program. The impact it brings to Carlsbad to honor these students is so valuable.”

The students who are honored each month are selected by the high schools themselves. The Chamber shares the mission statement of the program and the schools take the initiative from there. Brockett shared, “Each month I go back to the mission of the program to see which criteria our candidates meet; I really think that this gives us a diverse group of honorees throughout the year, which only makes the program stronger.”

Brockett concluded by sharing, “I know I speak for all the schools involved when I say how much we appreciate the efforts of the Chamber and program sponsors in recognizing an amazing group of students each month.”

At the end of the school year, those students who were honored throughout the year as Rising Stars of the Month, are then eligible to apply for the Rising Star of the YEAR scholarship. This year the Carlsbad Chamber was able to honor nine exceptional students. They were all recognized for making a difference in their home, school and community. Each of the nine Rising Stars of the Year were acknowledged last month with a $1,500 scholarship. A short description about each student is listed here to introduce them to you. To get a better idea of their impact, go out Carlsbad.org and view the recording of our scholarship celebration.

Karen Antonio (Carlsbad High School) has been an active member of MANA since 7th grade. MANA helps Latina women go to college, something Karen never imagined for herself. But she has learned that great leaders have vision, and now she is passionate about helping others in low-income situations succeed. In the fall she will attend Cal. State San Marcos and study Childhood Development and Psychology. She plans to be a child psychologist and/or teacher.

Carter Blom (Sage Creek High School) has bled Sage Creek green and gold for four years. As the leader of the Bob Squad, Carter has led everyone in school spirit. His leadership helped Sage Creek win the 2020 KUSI Battle of the Fans. Carter has always believed in leading by example. He will attend Baylor University in the fall and major in Sports Business.

Chiara Frank (La Costa Canyon High School) moved to the Carlsbad area just a couple of years ago, but has made a large impact in a short amount of time. Not only did she join Speech and Debate and help lead a “Be the Change” food drive with Feed America during the pandemic, but she also brought Michelle Obama’s My School Votes program to LCC. Over 300 students attended virtual presentations on the importance of voting. Chiara was also a huge advocate for student mental health and helped save Wellness Wednesdays when the district contemplated discontinuing them. Chiara will attend UCLA in the fall and plans to study microbiology and education.

Bennett Hochner (Sage Creek High School) has been passionate about making an impact in Carlsbad for a long time. At school Bennett was a Link Crew leader who helped 9th graders acclimate to high school. He has volunteered for several years at Agua Hedionda Discovery Center with trail maintenance. And his Sage Creek Genius Project identified over $1M in unclaimed funds for local area businesses and organizations. Bennett will attend USC this fall and major in Business Administration.

Aiko Lozar (Carlsbad High School) is so passionate about storytelling that she created a new Student Production Club at Carlsbad High. As part of this club, she wrote her own play entitled “Love is Blind”. After winning awards for the script, the play was professionally produced. Now, the Student Production Club is helping others write, direct and produce their own creations. In the fall Aiko will attend Chapman University and major in Film Production. She plans to be a Film Director and create films for under-represented voices.

Nolan Mejia (Sage Creek High School) responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by creating Grocery Grab, a free food delivery service for senior citizens in Carlsbad. This service delivered over 10,000 grocery items during the pandemic. Additionally, over $2,500 in tips came in from grateful seniors, and these funds were given to the COVID Response Fund. Nolan is also the President of the Latino STEM Club, aimed at encouraging more Latinos to go into STEM professions. Nolan will attend Stanford in the fall and major in Management Science & Engineering. He plans to lead a biotech company to help improve our quality of life.

Bella Niems (Sage Creek High School) lost her grandfather to COVID last year, which profoundly affected her. She responded by serving others. Bella was a Community Coordinator for Grocery Grab, to help bring food directly to seniors in Carlsbad. Additionally, after seeing the rise of homelessness in Carlsbad, she created Holidays for Homeless. She raised over $2,000 that she used to give blankets, food, socks and more to local homeless. In the fall Bella will attend USC and major in Business Administration. In the future she plans to become the CEO of a nonprofit.

Ismael Vera (Carlsbad High School) came to the United States the summer before his 8th grade year. He did not know one word of English. Now, only 5 years later, he not only is an honors student, he has become the lead supporter for new students coming here from all other cultures. His incredible work ethic coupled with his engaging smile have served him well. He plans to attend Mira Costa Community College in the fall, then transfer to Cal State San Marcos to major in Marketing. Ismael intends to go into International Business.

Kami Zablan (Sage Creek High School) has excelled at bringing out the best in others throughout her life. She has been a leader in Link Crew, Generations of Children, Fast Fashion and more. Her bend toward community service has been evident from the beginning. She will attend UCSD in the fall to study Human Biology. Kami intends to go to Medical School and become an OB/Gyn so she can assist the underserved populations of our community.

Congratulations to all our Rising Stars of the Year. We look forward to seeing your star shine brightly in the future and we hope you bring your light to Carlsbad and San Diego North County.

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