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2017-18 Student Reflections

We asked our 2017-18 Student of the Year and Student Ambassadors to reflect on their senior year of high school and share the impact Junior Achievement of New York has had on their lives. Read about their JA experiences below.

Usman Ghani, 2018 Graduate of High School of Economics and Finance

Junior Achievement of New York’s 2017-2018 Student of the Year is Muhammad ‘Usman’ Ghani, a graduating senior at the High School of Economics and Finance. Usman’s experience as Student of the Year and his participation in programs including Job Shadows and Be Entrepreneurial have provided him with opportunities he might not have had without JA.


In addition to forming bonds with executives at top finance institutions and practicing his public speaking and leadership skills, Usman now has a solid foundation of personal finance knowledge, entrepreneurial tools, and an understanding of business in general. He is prepared to enter the real world and handle taxes, financial statements, risk taking, decision-making, and so much more – all thanks to his experience with JA.


Usman will be attending Middlebury College to study Business and Enterprise, and we cannot wait to see him back in New York City in a few years as an employee of a top financial firm.


Jahnia Cherenfant, 2018 Graduate of Brooklyn Preparatory High School

Junior Achievement opens doors for students outside of their classrooms – providing opportunities they might never have. Jahnia Cherenfant from Brooklyn Preparatory High School is a great example of this. As a member of the Junior Achievement club at her high school, Jahnia participated in various JA New York programs that allowed her to truly recognize her full potential.


Jahnia was always confident with public speaking, but teaching wasn’t something she had really thought about until JA High School Heroes came along. After teaching JA programming to elementary school students, Jahnia realized she has the capability and skills to captivate a classroom and offer new, important information. She has always been interested in giving back, but her time with JA New York exposed the impact that an organization can have on people. Now, Jahnia plans to stay involved with JA New York, as well as other notable organizations, to ensure that she contributes to the well-being of her community.


Next year, Jahnia will attend SUNY Geneseo and explore various career opportunities, from communications to education. We look forward to following Jahnia’s journey, wherever her education may take her.


Yeda Dayao, 2018 Graduate of High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies

JA Finance Park is one of JA New York’s most influential capstone programs. Through real-life simulations, middle and high school students practice creating budgets for their housing, transportation, insurance, child care, and more based on randomly assigned personal scenarios.


Yeda Dayao, a graduating senior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, credits her experience at JA Finance Park for filling her with the confidence to budget for herself and make smart economic choices. Now, each time Yeda receives paycheck from her after-school job, she pays herself first by putting some into savings. Then, she separates her wants from her needs and determines how much she can spend on both. Both of these are concepts she learned directly from Junior Achievement.


Yeda will be attending York College’s Occupational Therapy program in the fall, and she is confident that she has the knowledge and skills she will need to maintain strong personal finances. She is empowered to take on the real world and all the expenses, both budgeted and unexpected, that come with adulthood – all because of JA New York.   


Dechokyab De, 2018 Graduate of High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies

Dechokyab De (De), a graduating senior at the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, will be attending Colgate University this fall as a Biochemistry major on track for medical school. De’s experience with JA New York, particularly as a High School Hero and participant in JA Be Entrepreneurial, opened his eyes to the importance of education in one’s life and pushed him to define success for himself and ultimately reach for it.


De is graduating high school with a passion for education and an understanding of the skills he will need to transform his education into a successful career. Thanks to his participation in Junior Achievement programs, he has experience teaching elementary school students about personal finance, networking with top business executives, collaborating with his peers, thinking creatively and critically, and so much more.


De is empowered to continue his education and turn it into a bright future, and we can’t wait to see what he does.


Nicole Hernandez, 2018 Graduate of Academy of Finance and Enterprise

Nicole Hernandez, a graduating senior at the Academy of Finance and Enterprise, was first introduced to Junior Achievement of New York as a 9th grader. Like most freshmen in high school, Nicole didn’t have an innate sense of personal finance or a concrete plan for her future. JA New York, however, provided Nicole with various opportunities to change this.


Nicole participated in Job Shadows, Finance Park, the JA New York Business Plan Competition, and High School Heroes. From exploring the ins and outs of various companies to passing down JA lessons to elementary school students, Nicole got hands-on experience fine-tuning the skills she needs to take control of her future.


Now, Nicole has an understanding of how to manage money effectively, how to apply entrepreneurial thinking to the workplace, and the value of giving back to her community. JA New York’s programs and volunteers have inspired Nicole to become a passionate leader in her future and empowered her to know she can do exactly what she sets her mind to.


We know that Nicole has the skills and determination to become the confident leader she wants to be, and we can’t wait to follow her journey to success.


Leianna Joseph, 2018 Graduate of Hillcrest High School

Leianna Joseph, a graduating senior at Hillcrest High School, has known she wants to be a teacher for a long time. But it was her participation in JA New York programs that empowered her to feel she can.


As a JA High School Hero, Leianna gained an understanding of what it’s like to stand in front of a classroom and work to make an impact in students’ lives. She is more prepared for the challenges that a career in education brings, and she is confident that each child she teaches will help her grow as an individual and an educator.


Although some of Leianna’s friends and family members encouraged her to explore other career options, she has always leaned towards education. And when a JA volunteer told her the best thing she can do for her career is to pursue what she’s passionate about, she became even more inspired to follow her heart towards the classroom.


Thanks to JA volunteers and her own time as a High School Hero, Leianna is ready for her new start at St. John’s University for Adolescent Education with a major in Biology. We are thrilled to see where Leianna’s pursuit takes her and the lives she impacts through her own career in education.


Kimberly Patino, 2018 Graduate of Richmond Hill High School

For graduating senior at Richmond Hill High School, Kimberly Patino, Junior Achievement has been instrumental in cultivating money management skills at a young age. Though she has always been aware of the importance of budgeting and making smart choices, Kimberly’s participation in JA New York has given her the hands-on experience she needed to become comfortable with these concepts.


Now, when Kimberly is out shopping, she stops to think whether she really needs an item, or if her money should go towards helping her mother with their bills. She now sets up spreadsheets to carefully budget her expenses and help her make smart financial decisions.


Beginning this summer, Kimberly will be attending a preparatory school for the US Naval Academy, where she will be able to use the decision-making skills and confidence she cultivated during her time with JA New York to succeed, and we are thrilled to see her take on the real world as a prepared and savvy young adult.


Franklin Saeteros, 2018 Graduate of Academy of Finance and Enterprise

Franklin Saeteros is a graduating senior from the Academy of Finance and Enterprise, a school that Junior Achievement of New York works very closely with. Franklin is just one student who’s been significantly impacted by JA New York’s programming. The process of becoming a JA Student Ambassador and passing on his financial literacy knowledge to elementary school students through JA High School Heroes have been the most empowering for Franklin.


As a JA Student Ambassador, Franklin and his peers were given opportunities to network with top executives, share their stories to a room of almost 400 people, and form a bond with one another as representatives of JA New York in their schools and communities. As a JA High School Hero, Franklin was able to not only teach younger students about money, but he was able to be part of a bigger movement with JA – one that brings important lifelong skills to young people.


Most notable for Franklin, JA New York allowed him to share his passion for JA with others, while helping him cultivate his interview, networking, public speaking, and leadership skills. We are so excited to see where these skills take Franklin as he leaves high school for and prepares to start Dickinson College in the fall.


Brianna Serna, 2018 Graduate of Cathedral High School

Not all high school students know what they are interested in majoring in when they go to college. Not all students know what type of career they want to pursue after college. Brianna Serna is not one of those students. And she has Junior Achievement of New York to thank for that. A graduating senior from Cathedral High School, Brianna can confidently say she wants to study engineering in college and ultimately open her own business.


Engineering has always been her passion, but Brianna’s participation in JA New York opened her eyes to the possibilities of combining engineering with business and all the various job opportunities out there in both fields. JA volunteers helped Brianna form a foundation of entrepreneurship skills through JA Be Entrepreneurial, and she credits them for giving her the inspiration and confidence to know that she can create a business out of her greatest interest.


Brianna will be attending New York University Tandon School of Engineering in the fall, and we know she will arrive on her first day with the confidence to reach her full potential and the inspiration to continue to build her personal finance and entrepreneurial skills.


Gerald Urena, 2018 Graduate of Freeport High School

For some students, Junior Achievement is a source of inspiration for their careers. For others, it’s a door to college. For Gerald Urena, graduating senior at Freeport High School, Junior Achievement is a lesson in making a difference.


Gerald’s most prominent memory with JA New York is High School Heroes. Teaching elementary school students lessons in personal finance opened Gerald’s eyes to the difference he can make in his community and in people’s lives. It was when his students ran up to him begging him not to leave that he realized his teaching impacted them, and that feeling is something he will carry with him forever. Growing up as a shy kid, Gerald typically chose to stay away from the action and avoid being in the spotlight. However, the public speaking and leadership skills that JA High School Heroes helped Gerald cultivate transformed his shyness into a passion for presenting in front of people and taking on leadership roles. Now, Gerald is prepared to enter the real world. He’s prepared to make mistakes, learn from them, and keep moving forward.


In the fall, Gerald will be attending NYIT Old Westbury with a goal to become a trauma nurse or trauma doctor. We are thrilled to see the difference Gerald makes in the world as his education continues and career begins.


AIG and JA New York: Building a Foundation for the Future

Organizations that are built on volunteer-led programs, such as Junior Achievement of New York (JA New York), thrive in part due to private sector companies that prioritize and encourage a culture of philanthropy. From volunteers to fundraising, in-kind donations to annual grants, businesses of all sizes have a lot to offer non-profit organizations when they put corporate social responsibility at the forefront of their company culture.

JA New York works closely with partner companies to implement programs that help students build a solid foundation of financial literacy, entrepreneurship and work readiness skills – empowering them to make the most of their opportunities in life. One company that JA New York works closely with each year is AIG.  

Since 2013, AIG has provided funding to support Junior Achievement programs globally, serving schools in 24 locations including New York, Texas, Illinois, California, Ireland, Indonesia, South Africa, and many more. As part of the partnership, AIG employees are filling up classrooms with volunteers in addition to supporting various special events from Bowl-A-Thons to annual Galas.

In New York City during the 2017-2018 school year, financial support from AIG helped to deliver JA programs in over 130 classes at 17 schools across the metro area. That means over 3,000 students received direct, hands-on programming specially designed to inspire, empower, and prepare them for their futures.

Earlier this year, AIG volunteers delivered a hands-on curriculum to middle school students from School 5 in Yonkers, NY. They helped students build a foundation for making intelligent, lifelong personal financial decisions through an experiential simulation with budgets, salaries, and various family scenarios. AIG volunteers also spent a day in the classroom introducing financial literacy to kindergarten students at PS 86 in the Bronx. This program uses fun activities that teach them about the choices adults make to meet their needs and wants.

In addition to providing volunteers, AIG employees in New York have raised funds to support JA programs. In this year’s Bowl-A-Thon, AIG raised over $55,000 – enough to recruit, train, and place a volunteer in a classroom; pay for the materials needed; and fund the cost of measuring impact for 55 classes. By introducing fundraising events as well as volunteer opportunities to employees, AIG has created an environment that encourages strong participation and support for JA New York.

John Gambale, JA New York Board Member and President of New York Zone at AIG, said, “We value programming that teaches young people how to make investments and take opportunities to improve their lives, such as saving for college or starting a business.” As a global insurance institution with a focus on philanthropy and empowering young people, AIG is a natural partner of Junior Achievement.

JA New York is especially thankful to AIG for providing the resources necessary to help our young people grow up to be successful adults, and we look forward to seeing the incredible impact this partnership has on our students.

Q&A with JA New York Alumna, Hina Aqil

Meet Junior Achievement of New York alumna, Hina Aqil. Hina graduated from Park West High School and attended Babson College with a major in Finance and Management Information Systems. Now, Hina works for Goldman Sachs in London as part of their change organization.
Q: Which JA New York programs did you participate in?
A: My first program in JA that I participated in was JA Economics during my 11th grade in high school. After that, I attended a JA ambassador weekend retreat, where we learned about college application preparation and critical skills for succeeding in college. 
Q: Tell us about your favorite memory or experience with JA New York: 
A: There are so many found memories, but few that stand out are: 
-JA New York staff members going out of their way to help me with my college applications essays and help me apply for scholarships  
-When I led a team of volunteers, it was always exhilarating to see students being excited when we were in the classroom and they had an opportunity to share what they wanted to be when they grow up, exchange ideas with us about their career choices, and they were interested to hear about our college experience. The most asked question was how much money we make! 
Q: What are your extracurricular activities or hobbies?
A: I love to read and travel. The world is a very beautiful place, and as I explore new cities, cultures, and languages, it makes me appreciate what I have and take the opportunity to share my knowledge and culture as I interact with people along my journey. 
Books open a new door for me! I love to read all genres because they give me different perspectives and an opportunity to see different points of view and to constantly think and evolve. 
Q: Do you feel JA New York has helped you prepare for college and beyond? If so, how?
A: Absolutely! JA supported me by providing an overview of the college application process and critical skills for succeeding in college. Plus, they went above and beyond in helping me with my college applications and essays.
Q: Do you have any tips for rising college freshmen? 
A: College will be one of the best experiences of your life. Time management and self-discipline are critical skills for succeeding in your first year. Make sure you also take the opportunity outside of your classwork and homework to explore the new town/city you are in and network with your classmates, as some of those friendship will last a lifetime.  
Q: Why do you want to stay involved with Junior Achievement of New York?
A: I met great mentors who provided guidance and support as I was getting ready to go to college. Since then, I have been inspired by their dedication as they went out of their way to help. I want to pay it forward and follow a similar path. Guidance and mentorship is priceless at any point in our lives. 

JA New York Business Plan Competition: From Classroom to Conference Room

Eleven years ago, Junior Achievement of New York developed a capstone program that would ultimately become a premier starting point for young entrepreneurs, igniting the spark in hundreds of high school students each year to pursue a career in business. The JA New York Business Plan Competition (BPC) was not only meant to be a lesson in the basics of entrepreneurship, but it was designed as an intense education program that inspires students to think far outside the box and prepare for a real-world business pitch to top New York City executives. And that’s exactly what it became.

Starting with the preliminary application round, over 150 student teams are paired with a corporate or community volunteer mentor – a businessperson who has the knowledge and experience to help the team fine-tune their business plan. After six-weeks of development, teams submit their written business plans to be evaluated by a pool of volunteer judges who will choose the strongest, most creative, and most innovative business plans to advance to the next round of competition.

After two rounds of judging, just under twenty teams are invited to compete in the semifinals. But the real competition happens during the final round where only six teams vie for the first place title. The teams that have made it this far have already surpassed dozens of other business plans; worked with veteran businesspeople one-on-one to perfect their pitches; and defended their ideas to a panel of judges made up of C-suite executives, founders of businesses, and marketing gurus.

The past ten years of BPC have introduced young, savvy businesspeople into the marketplace, ready to unleash their innovative ideas and abilities to transform the business world and the future of the economy. From classroom to conference room, many BPC alumni attribute much of their success in business to JA New York and the opportunities that it provided.

Jackson Finio, a 2012 BPC alumnus, co-founded Fund3, a hedge fund that employs machine learning algorithms to capitalize on the volatility of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Awad Sayeed, a 2008 BPC alumnus, is now the Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Pixlee, a visual marketing platform that helps brands market and sell their products using real customer photos and videos. Both of these former BPC champions have incorporated the skills they learned throughout the competition into their careers, from the basics of writing a business plan to advocating for their ideas to high-profile investors.

We at Junior Achievement of New York are thrilled to watch as each year’s competitors go head to head because we know the results of BPC are undeniable. Alumni have turned their plans into reality, former BPC “CEO’s” have pursued the corner office in the real world, and thousands of students have left the bounds of high school with the knowledge of how to start a business and the confidence that they can.


What's Your Favorite Part of JA New York?

Danielle Hall is a member of Civic Corps, a division of NYC Service, working with Junior Achievement of New York for the 2017-18 year on the Programs team, helping to bring JA programming to the 85,000 students we serve across all regions.

We asked Danielle to share her favorite part about working with JA New York so far. Here's what she told us:

Since I started working at Junior Achievement of New York, I've had the experience of working with and coming into contact with a lot of great people and volunteers. Specifically, I've had the opportunity to work with their High School Heroes (HSH) program, which is designed for high school students to go into classrooms to teach elementary school programs for the day. They get to go into local schools in their community and earn a total of eight community service hours.

One of the most interesting parts of HSH is going to the trainings and observing how nervous the students often are about teaching younger children. The student volunteers sometimes doubt themselves during the trainings; however, the moment they get to the school and are in the classrooms, they rise to the challenge and become teachers for the day.

Being at these trainings and events I have seen a lot of 'aha' moments with our student volunteers. Usually half-way through the day, they've shaken off initial nerves and express how much fun they are having or how smart and well-behaved their classes are. By the end of the day, most, if not all, of the volunteers express they would love to return to do more events and that they have learned so much from being role models to these younger children.

I've seen students' attitudes change so much from the initial trainings to the events and afterwards. They often realize they had no reason to be nervous, and as long as they've prepared their JA materials with their group or partners, everything goes easily.

In addition, it's always so fun and encouraging to see how happy and enthusiastic the elementary school teachers and younger students are to have JA High School Heroes at their schools. HSH events are fun for everyone, including the JA staff, knowing that our student volunteers are contributing their time to teach younger generations about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and career readiness, and ultimately walk away with more confidence and knowledge themselves.

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Press Releases

JA Press Releases



  • "JA activities support our college and career readiness expectations as they bridge connections to real world experiences and professions" – Hazel Cruz, PS 83

    -Junior Achievement Teacher
  • "I learned that running a business includes a lot of work! You have to know how to run it, how much to pay your employees and much more." – PS 83

    -Junior Achievement Student
  • "Guess what? A volunteer from Junior Achievement came to my class! I learned that cities are places to live, eat, work and play." – Justin, PS 83

    -Junior Achievement Student
  • "Junior Achievement has given me my blueprint for success in college and beyond. JA has allowed me to grow as a student, entrepreneur, and as a future college student." – Kaiyell Pettie

    -Junior Achievement Alumnus
  • "JA volunteers give children tangible examples of the unlimited opportunities available to them."

    -Junior Achievement Volunteer

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