image: Menu header

White House Correspondents' Association Announces 2017 Scholars

The White House Correspondents' Association is pleased to announce its 2017 scholarship winners in partnership with Columbia University, the George Washington University, Howard University, Northwestern University, Ohio University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri.

The 23 winners will be recognized at the association's annual dinner on April 29.

"We are thrilled to recognize these outstanding scholarship winners, who represent the future of our profession and illustrate the importance of fighting for First Amendment freedoms," said Jeff Mason, WHCA president and White House Correspondent for Reuters. "We look forward to celebrating them at the White House Correspondents' Dinner and watching them as they progress in their careers."

The scholarship winners are:

Columbia University

Riham Alkousaa of Damascus, Syria, is the recipient of a $5,000 tuition grant.

She is a Palestinian Syrian journalist who most recently worked in Berlin for Cicero, a monthly German magazine. She was previously a fellow at ARA (Associated Reporters Abroad) and has been published in USA Today, Global Post, and Alfanar Media. Following graduation from Damascus University in 2012, Riham worked for several Arab and Syrian media outlets such as Sham FM, Barakabits, Aliqtisadi and the SOS Children's Villages website. Riham earned a BA and a first Master's Degree in media and mass communications at Damascus University. She is attending Columbia's Journalism School for a second MA.


The George Washington University

Teniola Ayomide Ayoola of Bowie, Maryland, is the recipient of a $2,500 scholarship as part of a partnership between WHCA and GW, where she is a senior in the School of Media and Public Affairs. She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria before moving to the United States. An interest in global news led to a year-long internship with the BBC News in Washington DC where she helped cover the 2016 election. She's had a summer internship with the BBC Bureau in Lagos, Nigeria and participated in a short-term study abroad program on Globalization and the Media at the American University of Paris. She hopes to work with the Immigrant Justice Corps in New York.


Howard University

Anthony B. Brown, Jr., of Alexandria, Virginia, is the winner of the Harry S. McAlpin, Jr. Scholarship, a one-time award of $7,000. Brown, a junior, has experience in television, high fashion, celebrity interviews, photography, restaurant reviews and marketing. He has written for numerous publications, worked in public relations, volunteered in the area of educational counseling and worked at the Democratic National Convention. A docent at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Anthony also worked as a volunteer during the Flint water crisis.

Beryl C. Kessio of Harvest, Alabama, and Merdie Nzanga of Seattle, Washington, each are winners of a White House Correspondents' Association scholarship with a one-time award of $7,000. Beryl Kessio was born in Kenya and moved to Alabama with her family when she was five. She has native proficiency in Swahili and is the recipient of multiple awards and honors. Beryl has worked as a staff writer at the Morocco World News in Rabat, as a mentor with young girls, advocated for student mental health programs and volunteered at Martha's Table in DC. Merdie is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, gaining experience in research, writing, video editing, reporting and interviewing. Merdie is fluent in French, aspiring to be a foreign news correspondent. Merdie has visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and hopes her work will help to dispel misconceptions about the African continent.

Northwestern University - Deborah Orin Scholarship

Nia Prater of Abington, Pennsylvania, and Maryam Salah of Tampa, Florida, are the winners of Deborah Orin Scholarship, named for the late White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for the New York Post. Each will receive $5,000. Nia has reported on the 2017 inauguration, the Women's March, and President Trump's address to a joint session of Congress. Upon graduation, Nia hopes to report on national politics. She is currently an intern at Roll Call, conducting research and writing short political articles for online publication. Maryam has reported on Syrian conflicts, Chicago's Syrian refugee population and community perspectives on the 2016 political campaigns. She is currently based in the District of Columbia where her reporting focuses on immigration, national security and President Trump. She looks forward to a career as a long-form journalist.

Northwestern University

Alejandro (Alex) Ortiz of Romeoville, Illinois, is the recipient of a $5,000 WHCA tuition grant toward a post-graduate degree in the government and public affairs reporting track. Alex is interested in social justice and investigative reporting. Alex graduated with High Honors in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, making the Dean's List for four years. Alex has experience in sports broadcasting, reporting, editing, photography, video and social media platforms. He earned a Public Relations Certificate and is the recipient of multiple academic scholarships, awards and grants.

Ohio University

Megan Henry of Toledo, Ohio; Catherine (Cat) Hofacker of Fremont, Ohio; and Marisa Fernandez of Canton, Ohio, are each the recipient of a $4,000 scholarship. Since freshman year Megan has been a stringer or staff member of Ohio's independent newspaper, The Post. Her peers voted her "Best Rookie of the Year" in 2014-15. This summer she will intern with the Columbus Dispatch. Megan is particularly interested in covering issues of higher education. Cat has worked for a variety of local media, including OU's Compass and Ohio Today publications. She interned at The Athens NEWS, a twice-weekly newspaper in Athens, Ohio. She is now the editor-in-chief of The New Political, a student-run digital publication that covers campus, local, state and national politics. Marisa is now a senior writer and editor of the culture section of The Post. She was instrumental in helping create the Scripps Hispanic Network, a professional organization for Hispanic students in communications and journalism. This summer she will intern in New York at CBS. In the future, Marisa hopes to cover foreign affairs and tech news.

scholarship recipients

University of California, Berkeley

Sawsan Morrar of Sacramento, California, is the recipient of a $5,000 grant toward a post-graduate degree in the government and public affairs reporting track. Sawsan has been interested in public policy and its impact on diverse communities since covering the state capitol in Sacramento for the online publication, Capitol Weekly. She has since been a producer with Sacramento's NPR affiliate, Capital Public Radio and is currently freelancing, reporting on local politics and legislation. She also hosts youth workshops aimed at correcting misrepresentations of Muslim-Americans in the media.

University of Maryland

Becca King of Baltimore, Maryland, is representing the winners of the Frank Cormier scholarship, a $20,000 award that is divided among 4 students at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Becca is pursuing a double degree in broadcast journalism and government & politics. She works as a general production intern for WJLA-TV in Washington as well as production crew chief and director for Capitol News Service's Maryland Newsline. Among several awards for her work, one from the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences recognized a piece called "Growing Together" highlighting a local farm that employs adults with intellectual disabilities. Becca plans a career in broadcast news production.

scholarship recipients

University of Missouri

The following graduate students are each recipients of $3,000 grant to study in Washington for a semester: Adam Aton of Alpharetta, Georgia; Jinghong Chen of Tianjin, China; Brittany Crocker of Knoxville, Tennessee; Ye Han (Jasmine) of Suzhou, China; Kasia Kovacs of Mountain Grove, Missouri; Molly Olmstead of Gulf Shores, Alabama; Jill Ornitz of Trumbull, Connecticut; Kouichi Shirayanagi of San Mateo, California; Francisco Vara-Orta of San Antonio, Texas; Xuejiao Wang of Qinhuangdao, China.

Adam Aton works at the DC bureau of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where he covers Missouri and Illinois congressional delegations and the impact of national events on the St. Louis region. He has worked as a producer for the Global Journalist radio program and covered the European Parliament in Brussels. He worked as an assistant city editor at the Columbia Missourian and is a Missouri School of Journalism Walter Williams Scholar.

Jinghong Chen spent a semester in Washington with Al Jazeera English where she worked for a social media-oriented program called "The Stream." She researched both national and international issues and helped cover the recent presidential election. She has previous experience working for The New York Times Chinese and Global Journalist.

Brittany Crocker participated in Missouri's Washington program in the fall of 2016, working in the Investigative Reporting workshop of NPR member station WAMU. She investigated and reported on prosecutorial misconduct in the District of Columbia. She is now a reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel, part of the USA Today Network. Brittany has been a podcast host for NPR member station WUOT and reported on local government, crime and public safety for the Columbia Missourian.

Jasmine Han earned a Bachelor of Art degree in English from Sun Yat-sen University in China and a Master's Degree from the University of Missouri in 2016. She participated in Missouri's Washington program last fall at the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Her work included data analysis and an investigative story about a state environmental agency. She has been an assistant data analyst at the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) based at the Missouri School of Journalism. Jasmine is now a data journalist at Bloomberg BNA.

Kasia Kovacs is a reporter at the International Business Times in New York. She covers the labor beat, breaking news and Donald Trump. Kasia received her Master's Degree in Journalism from Missouri this past December, emphasizing investigative reporting. She covered the Mizzou campus protests as a projects reporter for the Columbian Missourian and has written for Inside Higher Ed and The Kansas City Star.

Molly Olmstead expects to receive her Master's Degree in Journalism from Missouri this May, majoring in magazine journalism. She participated in Missouri's Washington program working at Slate Magazine, writing blog posts and assisting with various editorial tasks. While an undergrad at the University of Alabama and in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Molly wrote for several local newspapers and magazines.

Jill Ornitz is a DC-based public policy reporter who covers healthcare and financial policies. While participating in Missouri's Washington program, Jill worked for the Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau where she covered the presidential election and handled digital production responsibilities. Her work also appeared in other Tronc newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun. She has also reported for ABC News and CBS St. Louis Radio, KMOX.

Kouichi Shirayanagi completed a Master's Degree at the Missouri School of Journalism in December, following fall participation in Missouri's Washington program as an intern at Reuters. He is now a reporter in New York for the commercial real estate portal Bisnow. Kouichi has also completed an internship with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Francisco Vara-Orta is presently in DC participating in Missouri's Washington program, working at Education Week as a general assignment reporter on data and investigative projects. Francisco has 15 years' prior experience in professional newsrooms and has published by the LA Times, Austin Business Journal, Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio Express-News, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Nieman Storyboard, Education Week and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Xuejiao Wang earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from Nanjing Tech University and a first Master's Degree in International Journalism at the Communication University of China. She moved to the US in 2015. Xuejiao is in DC as part of Missouri's Washington program where she works on a data-driven investigative project at the Investigative Reporting Workshop (IRW.) Her responsibilities include researching, data analysis, interviewing and data reporting.

For more information, contact Steve Thomma



For additional information about past winners, please visit the SCHOLARSHIP ARCHIVE page.


The WHCA sponsors some $100,000 in scholarships that are awarded at our annual dinner every year. In 2016, to go beyond just awarding funds, the board started a mentorship program that paired up students with members of the association for career advice and counsel. This year's program was a big success.

scholarship panel



Some of this year's WHCA scholarship recipients at the 2017 reception. Photo by Mike Theiler

dinner slideshow link

2017 SLIDESHOW photos/ Mike Theiler


slideshow link
Photos/Mary F. Calvert

The 2016 SLIDESHOW has full coverage of the pre-dinner festivities, the scholarship and award presentations, and the full after dinner program.

These images are the property of Mary F. Calvert and protected under United States and International copyright laws. Copying, duplicating, saving as a digital file, printing, publishing in form of media including web, all social media, (including but not limited to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) manipulating, transmitting or reproducing without the prior written permission of Mary F. Calvert is strictly forbidden and would constitute a breach of copyright.

VIEW 2016 SLIDESHOW of the scholarship luncheon


Photos/J.M. Eddins Jr.


Photos/J.M. Eddins Jr.


This year's SLIDESHOW has full coverage of the pre-dinner introductions and the scholarship awards presentations

Full coverage of the pre-dinner introductions and the scholarship awards presentations. Photos/Daniel P. Swartz


C-SPAN DINNER/AWARDS COVERAGEWatch the C-SPAN video of the dinner, awards, and scholarship presentations at








For a list of WHCA℠ scholarship recipients from 1991 - 2010, visit the SCHOLARSHIP ARCHIVE page, which also features links to videos of past dinners and scholarship presentations.

2010 scholarships2010 SCHOLARSHIPS -- READ MORE



President Bush climbs up on a chair to equalize the height differential between himself and 6' 8" David Rivelli. Photo/The Associated Press

2007 scholarships




2012 SLIDESHOW - full coverage of the pre-dinner festivities and the scholarship awards presentations. Photos/Mike Theiler



The 2011 SLIDESHOW has a number of images of the reception and scholarship presentations.

 link to slideshow

Our 2010 SLIDESHOW features The President and Mrs. Obama, WHCA℠ members, journalism award winners, scholarship recipients, and some familiar faces from Washington and Hollywood. Flash player and a javascript-enabled browser are required to view the slideshow.

slideshow link


slideshow link



Watch WHCA℠ dinner videos dating back to 1993 on C-SPAN.ORG. Footage includes award presentations, scholarships, historical retrospectives, political humor,and some great "people watching" at the annual dinner.



Copyright © 2017 White House Correspondents' Association℠

contact the whca news and blogs scholarships awards dinner news membership info history of the whca officers and board of directors home page