EMU's 2022 Yoder and Webb Scholars, from left: Maria Longenecker, Nia Boyd, Anne Cornelius, Elili Asefa, and Arelys Martinez Fabian. (Photos by Derrick Chirinos)

Meet this year’s Yoder and Webb Scholars

Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) has announced the 2022 Yoder and Webb Scholars. The scholarships cover full tuition and include admission into EMU’s Honors Program.

The Yoder Scholars program was founded by Carol and Paul R. Yoder Jr., both graduates of 1963, with a gift of more than $1.2 million. [Read more about their reluctance for a spotlight and long legacy of philanthropy when named as 2011 Philanthropists of the Year by the Fundraising Professionals of America, Shenandoah chapter.]

The Webb Scholars program honors Ada Webb, one of the first African-American students to attend the university; and Margaret (Peggy) Webb who was the first African-American graduate in 1954.

Incoming first-years compete for the award at Honors Weekend. This year’s application included a 400-word response to the question, “There are three types of people in the world; which are you?” Applicants were also challenged to create a conceptual response by communicating anything they wanted through the medium of a blank 3×5 card.

Honors faculty make their selections based on academic performance, community and extracurricular involvement, creativity, clarity of thought, and leadership potential.

Read about the 2022 Yoder and Webb scholars: Elili Asefa, Nia Boyd, Anne Cornelius, Maria Longenecker, and Arelys Martinez Fabian.

Elili Asefa

When Elili Asefa visited EMU during Honors Weekend, she immediately felt like she would belong here. “The two days that I was here were truly amazing,” she said. “I met incredible people and made friends that instantly welcomed me to campus.” 

The environment is diverse and inclusive, she said. “With the cross-cultural engagements and the emphasis of faith and peacebuilding present at EMU, I feel like I will be able to enrich my canvas throughout my time here.”

A native of Nairobi, Kenya, she moved at age five to Ethiopia and at nine to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

She was a member of the varsity track and cross country teams and competed for Lancaster City Track Club during her J.P. McCaskey High School. Asefa was also involved in Black Student Union and Gospel Choir, and served as the student representative to the school board and a church youth leader.

She earned recognition as the 2021-2022 McCAskey Female Athlete of the Year, student of the month, and L-L-league Scholar Athlete. She was also a member of National Honors Society and Distinguished Honor Roll. 

Asefa originally planned to become a physical therapist, but has decided to pivot to nursing. “I always valued health institutions and the great importance they bring to the world,” Asefa said. “As a woman of color, I also hope to create a chain that will inspire more women of color to aim to pursue a health career. I believe that bringing more diversity to this field is crucial for the future of all health institutions around the world.”

Nia Boyd

Nia Boyd, from Richmond, Virginia, plans to major in art and English with minors in either pre-law or Spanish. She hopes to become a criminal lawyer.

Boyd played field hockey and softball for Henrico High School. She earned an honorable mention in field hockey for 2nd Team All-Region , and for softball, two Warrior awards. She is looking forward to running on EMU’s track and field team.

“When it came to my sports, I enjoyed the release I felt. When I was entering high school, the transition was harder than most because I had lost my father in July,” she said. “I think my sports taught me perseverance through the pain and that anything is possible.”

Boyd was also a member of her school’s mock trial team. She earned the Best Attorney in Virginia award twice. She was the first at Henrico to have achieved this in her first year of competition, which her coach named as remarkable. As a senior, she earned a perfect score. The mock trial experience helped her learn to articulate her feelings or beliefs and advocate effectively for others.

She was also a member of the Black Student Union. “This club showed me how to embrace my roots and be proud of who I was,” she said.

Boyd chose EMU because of the community. “I loved the atmosphere on campus and enjoyed how everyone was welcoming of one another,” she said. “I liked how small it was, because it made me feel like I would be taken care of and understood by people around me rather than just a number. I’m excited about meeting new friends and becoming active in this community.”

Anne Cornelius

Anne Cornelius grew up in Yangon, Myanmar, and graduated from Thalun International School in 2021 in the midst of a pandemic and political unrest.

She is still considering different career paths, but with the same goal. “I’ve chosen international business as a major for the time being, solely to fulfill my purpose of returning back home and participating in the mending of the Burmese economy,” Cornelius said.

In high school, Cornelius was a part of the Student Council, Art Club, Community Service, and Trash Hero. She received the Best Data Analysis and Best Presentation awards during the Learning Across Borders programs, which involve competing for environmental science projects in different countries. 

Cornelius also participated in various advocacy activities, such as GM4MD and USACM, and worked as a reporter for a news company. She also volunteered as a teacher and translator at multiple churches and events. These experiences highlight the importance of community and genuinity, she said. “I truly learned to treasure the community I had that showed me genuine kindness and peace.”

When she visited, Cornelius realized how much EMU’s values aligned with her own. “The community was very welcoming and supportive. As someone who recently graduated with seven other students in my class, EMU’s small classroom sizes and the student to teacher ratio were the reasons why I chose to become a Royal.”

Maria Longenecker

When Maria Longenecker came to EMU for a visit last winter, she attended a trivia night and went to an Ultimate Frisbee event. The sense of community she experienced drew her to EMU. “Even from that short weekend, I could sense that EMU was a place where people cared deeply about each other and also could have a lot of fun together,” she said.

She is a biology major, with plans for a career in education or the medical field. 

Longenecker is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and attended JP McCaskey High School. She earned the International Baccalaureate, bilingual (Spanish-English) diploma, McCaskey’s 2022 Shawn W. Wampler Award, and membership in National Honors Society. 

Longenecker was on the student council, superintendent’s cabinet, and pole vaulted and ran for the track team. She also helped out in an elementary music classroom. 

“I love music and participated in multiple choirs, the theater department, and marching band,” she said. “The music department was a great source of community and friendship throughout high school.”

She was active with Blossom Hill Mennonite Church and also worked at the Lancaster Sweet Shoppe and Stroopie Co. for 3.5 years. “I loved getting to know the ‘regulars’ on a more personal level,” Longenecker said. “Since I worked there for so long, I would get to know a few customers really well and it was fun following along with their stories through all of the ups and downs.” 

Arelys Martinez Fabian

Arelys Martinez Fabian is majoring in education and Spanish with the hopes of becoming a teacher.

“I started school with very basic level English and it was very difficult trying to learn and become adapted to the new culture,” she said. “I would love to be able to help other students who experience that same feeling, the way my amazing teachers helped me.”

Hailing from Winchester, Virginia, Martinez Fabian graduated from Millbrook High School, where she was senior president of Interact Club and a SCA representative for her class. Additionally, she was class vice president of the Spanish Club. She was also a member of FCCLA and Multicultural Club. 

“I met some of my best friends there and it taught me so much about being proud of who I am and my culture,” she said.

Martinez Fabian also won best poster for FCCLA at the state level, earned a bilingual certification, was the Student of the Year for Teachers for Tomorrow in recognition for her volunteer work she completed).

During high school, Martinez Fabian worked at Cracker Barrel and Target, but her most influential job was at a daycare as a teacher’s assistant. “My choice to be a teacher was solidified there because I loved working with the students,” she said. “It taught me a lot about how different children are from each other, for example, their learning styles or creativity. My time at the daycare taught me more about patience and understanding.”

The decision to come to EMU came down to the close and welcoming community for Martinez Fabian. “I am super excited about getting to learn about new perspectives and experience a completely different environment,” she said.

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