Tronfeld West & Durrett is happy to announce the winners of our 2023 Step by Step Scholarship! Click on each of the names below to view the winning applications and learn more about the winners:

Melani Burkhart

Melani Burkhart

Melani’s Winning Submission

I was born without a name, abandoned in a rural village in China, made an orphan within 24 hours of birth by my birth mother, whose identity I will likely never know.  She wrapped me in some soft linen and placed me in a cardboard box near the Ningdu Social Welfare Institute (  The orphanage provided me with a name, Ning YuQing; I am the “result” of China’s One-Child Policy.  However, that would forever change ten months later when I was adopted by an American and Japanese couple.  Now, nearly 19 years later, I have accomplished much, with so much more to do, and with my heartfelt gratitude to my parents for their encouragement and support.

After my first four years in Carlsbad, California, my family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia.  I went through the Albemarle County Public School system, graduating with an advanced diploma in 2022 from Monticello High School, with a GPA of 4.6.  The decision making process for college was actually quite easy, with the University of Virginia in my backyard.  I was accepted into the Class of 2026, and I am weeks away from completing my first year as a Wahoo!  Currently, I am in the College of Arts & Sciences, made the Dean’s List my first semester with a 3.75 GPA, and with finals on the horizon, life has been good at UVA.

So, what do I see for myself in the years ahead?  For starters, next year I will apply to the Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy, and the McIntire School of Commerce; I am still undecided on whether to pursue leadership and public policy, or commerce and investment banking.  However, both are very interesting, and each would work well with plans to apply to law school.

While I can’t remember exactly when it was when I decided to pursue a career in law, I believe it was during my elementary school years when I first watched “Criminal Minds.”  What absolutely captivated me was the psychological aspects of criminal behavior. I kept asking myself, What made seemingly normal people do some of the most horrific and unthinkable crimes?  This helped spur my interest to take AP Psychology in high school, and this year I took Social Psychology; two more Psych courses are planned for next year.  If I can double-major, I will include Psychology.

My grandmother was afflicted with Dementia, which began in 2014.  She passed five years later.  This was my first, up close and personal interaction with mental illness.  Then, the pandemic hit.  In 2020, I was appointed the first non-voting member to the Albemarle County School Board; those were challenging times.  I remember after the 2022-23 school year began, I reported to the Board about a noticeable problem with students, at all grade levels – deteriorating mental health issues.  Regrettably, I felt as though my comments and concerns were dismissed by the Board.  Now, we have evidence about the negative effects school closures had on students.  This experience further inspired my interest in Psychology.

So, five years from now, I will be in law school.  Upon graduating, I will take the state bar and begin my legal career in a field that will eventually open the door and allow me to apply to the FBI Academy.  The end-goal, after meeting work experience requirements, is to apply to the Behavioral Analysis Unit to work as a criminal profiler.  While the Academy is highly competitive, with an acceptance rate of roughly 20%, I am extremely confident that I can make the grade and become an FBI Agent.  Why?  Because I am incredibly focused, and when I set a goal for myself, I always accomplish it.  When I was in first grade, and after receiving a White Belt in Tae Kwon Do, I was asked by my instructor, “What is your goal?”, and I said, “To be a Master Instructor!”  Thirteen years later, and countless hours of instruction, testing, competition, and teaching others, I was awarded the rank of Master Instructor, 4th Dan.  Along the way there were many cuts, sprains, and a few times when I had to re-test.  But never did I let these discouragements deter me from my goal.

I’ll also admit that, even though I was not accepted to Stanford University, my “reach school,” I took it in stride, realizing that it’s okay to set high goals and sometimes fall short.  I simply dusted off, and hoped to receive my acceptance notice from UVA.  I expect some speed bumps along the way; that’s life!  I am resilient, optimistic, and my faith encourages me to stay the path and not let disappointments blur whatever I’ve decided to pursue.  Achieving one’s goals always brings with it, challenges and adversity.

The Tronfeld West & Durrett Step-by-Step Scholarship would greatly help financially, as my family made the decision to tap into their retirement savings to help me afford college without taking out six figures in student loans.  I know that law school will be my “nut to crack,” and that the debt incurred after UVA will be mine, and mine alone.  My father is on Social Security, and at the age of 70, has had incredible difficulty getting past the age issue when applying for jobs.  My mother’s health is not great, and it prevents her from working.  In short, they are sacrificing their savings to help me.  I couldn’t be more grateful for everything they have provided me, for had I remained in China, my education would have ended at third grade, and I assuredly would be destined to a life of certain, incredible hardships and uncertainty.

There will be many applicants for this scholarship.  Some will provide a video, while others, like myself, have opted to provide an essay.  I decided to do an essay for this application because I believe written words can often be more impactful than a video.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to apply for the Tronfeld West & Durrett Step-by-Step Scholarship!

Melani’s Comments on Winning

“I hope to major in commerce or economics at the University of Virginia. After my undergraduate, I plan on attending law school with an interest in criminal law. Earning this scholarship showed me how hard work does eventually pay off. This also alleviates some of my family’s financial burdens, which I am grateful for.”

Cheyenne Rendon

Cheyenne’s Winning Submission

Becoming a digital media artist is a rewarding and exciting career path. It involves creating and manipulating various forms of digital media, such as graphics, animations, videos, and sound. Digital media artists use technology and creativity to produce engaging and entertaining content for a wide range of applications, including advertising, gaming, film, and social media.

To achieve the goal of becoming a digital media artist, one needs to set specific goals and take concrete steps to achieve them. In the next five years, a good starting point would be to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge through formal education or self-study. This could include pursuing a degree in digital media arts, attending workshops and seminars, and practicing with various software and tools.

In the next ten years, one could aim to gain practical experience by working on projects, either as a freelancer or as an employee in a media company. This would involve building a portfolio of work, networking with other professionals in the industry, and keeping up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies.

In the next twenty years, the goal could be to become a recognized expert in the field, perhaps by starting one’s own media company or by teaching and mentoring aspiring digital media artists. This would require continued learning, innovation, and leadership skills.

Challenges along the way to becoming a digital media artist include keeping up with rapidly evolving technologies and trends, competing with other talented artists, and finding ways to stand out in a crowded market. Overcoming these challenges would require persistence, hard work, and a willingness to adapt and learn.

The Tronfeld West & Durrett Step-by-Step Scholarship would be a significant help in taking the first big step towards a career in digital media arts. The scholarship would provide financial support for tuition, books, and other educational expenses, enabling one to focus on learning and developing skills. Additionally, receiving the scholarship would be a recognition of one’s potential and talent, providing motivation and encouragement to pursue one’s goals.

Cheyenne’s Comments on Winning

“Earning this scholarship in my eyes means that I have been seen and accepted for my talents as a student and future master of the fine arts. I will be majoring in the Visual art field and aim to ace, if not exceed, the expectations of my mentors and future followers. Being an aspiring artist both traditional and digital, this scholarship is the boost that I long for. The ability to have this scholarship goes to show that shooting for your passions and goals can really make a difference in one’s life.”

Maya White

Maya White

Maya’s Winning Submission

My name is Maya White and I am a 17 year old senior student at Clarke County High School. I graduate this upcoming June and I will be attending Old Dominion University in the fall to come. I will be majoring in biomedical sciences while I am in school and I would afterwards like to go to medical school where I will work as hard as I possibly can to become an Obstetrician. For years I have imagined myself being a doctor and I have chosen this exact field of medicine because the importance and overwhelming beauty of childbirth interests me immensely and the thought of being able to guide a woman throughout her pregnancy and introduce her baby into this world is just a huge dream of mine. I know that these goals are big, huge even, and I have prepared myself for the challenges that are destined to come. I know that my major in college will be significantly harder than those of other careers and I have learned to be okay with that and I plan to take it one day at a time and I will make sure I have studying techniques that work best for me and my learning style, I will give myself brain breaks when needed to ensure I give my brain a moment to reset, while also pushing myself even when it gets challenging. I would like to graduate school with a 3.5 minimum gpa and I am confident that if I stick to being consistent and strive for what I know I can do, I will be able to accomplish that and much more along with it. Graduating college will be just the beginning for my journey because I then will head to medical school which I know will be even more challenging and strenuous. My family has always been so extremely supportive of me and my dreams and so I know that I will have a strong support system to keep me going everyday with good spirits which will be a huge help. I am a first generation college student in my family which is honestly one of my greatest reasons to strive for these big goals so that I can make my family proud in the greatest ways imaginable. My mom is currently in college herself and she is pursuing her business degree. She will graduate school the same upcoming June that I will graduate high school and I could not be prouder of what she is doing. She had me very young which unfortunately meant that school kind of slipped away from her at the time and she has been doing everything for my brothers and I alone ever since. Money is a tight subject in our home and even though we aren’t often too gifted in that category, she makes the best out of what she has for us, which is a greater gift than any amount of finances ever could be. A few years back we were homeless for about a year and it was hard. I found it hard to feel like I fit in with everybody around me because at the time I didn’t have much of what they had and it was draining. We have since been pretty stable back on our feet and things have been a lot better and I thank God every single day for helping us overcome that. I mention all of that simply to show that no matter what obstacles life throws at you, with the right mindset and positive attitude about what’s in store for you, anything is able to be overcome. This scholarship will help me and my mom out tremendously because she has been a nervous wreck for about a year now trying to figure out how she is going to pay for my school and I have been working at my job as much as I can while still giving myself time for school, but I can only help so much, and with college prices my financial help isn’t really a lot and even just a single scholarship would take so much stress off of my mom because every dollar truly does helps count. I hope that you have learned something valuable about me throughout this essay and I thank you greatly for your time and consideration.

Maya’s Comments on Winning

“Winning this scholarship means the world to my family and I because this will help me pay my way through college with a little less stress on my family and I’s shoulders to find ways to pay for it. I will be majoring in biomedical sciences and I wish to be an Obstetrician in the years to come. Having the opportunity to win this scholarship has already lifted a world of stress off my family and I am so grateful for that and the people who made it happen. Thank you!”

Lauren-Danielle Muñoz

Lauren-Danielle Munoz

Lauren-Danielle’s Winning Submission

Supporting Essay:

When I was thirteen years old, my younger brother and I were sitting on the sofa and watching television. As the commercials aired I suddenly heard my younger brother softly count from zero to one hundred! I lifted from my seat and hugged him tightly, beaming with joy at his big accomplishment. I watched him bounce with delight and parade the room, declaring “I CAN count to big numbers, Lauren! I AM a big boy, now”. In minutes, the infant who constantly wanted to be graced in my arms was gone. In seconds, I discovered that my great influence was reflected in the development of this child, transforming him into a confident and strong person who learned how to take care of himself. I realized how rewarding and beautiful it was to see the results of the dedication and sacrifice I invested in this child’s life. Since I was six years old, I initially thought the arrival of my younger brother opened the doors to my interest in providing care for young children. When I placed him into my care for many years, I watched my delight in devoting endless energy and effort to nurture children grow along with me. At social gatherings and congregations, I noticed my eyes were always drawn to the young children, prompting me to tend to their needs just as I taught myself numerous times before. It was then I noticed my gift lift off, carrying my practiced and nurturing tendencies for all children. It was then I realized how my previous experience impacted me best, strengthening my fondness for caring for all children, just like they were my own. It was then I thought I found the greatest fulfillment, knowing that I could become a person that any child could rely on to provide ease, warmth, safety, and support for their needs.
After the night it all happened, it was here that I realized I had been missing something all along.
Though I’ve traveled a long journey right beside a child, helping them grow and surpass momentous milestones in their life it didn’t complete me. Instead, it was the gift of providing care for children and watching my influence reflect strength and self-assurance in their ability to do the same for themselves. It was here where I began to solidify my passion- my dream of creating this magic all the time and aspiring to bring it to all children in pediatrics.

As I aspire to achieve my dream in pediatrics, I also aspire to influence Latinas to become more involved in the medical field. At an early age, I assumed that a Hispanic female couldn’t shine and become an asset to the medical industry. From doctors’ appointments to television shows, I was strongly convinced no ounce of Hispanic females and color belonged in the medical community. Eleven years later, I realize that I want to be a role model and asset in the effort of motivating more Latina representation in medicine. I want my story and endeavors to encourage many future generations of [young] Hispanic females to drive the positive change that is most needed in the medical community.

In five years, I see myself interning at hospitals and pediatric practices, preparing for medical school. I see myself walking down the graduation stage, receiving my bachelor’s in biology.
Ten years from now, I will graduate with my doctorate, holding my degree in one hand and my pride in the other. Alongside this, I will have completed my pediatric residency.
Twenty years from now, I will return to Gainesville and work as a pediatrician at one of the offices  I visited as a child. At this office, I will give back to my community and provide many children with the best of care. I will be the doctor that represents Latina color and courage, a doctor wished I could look up to as a child.

In the years to come in my academic journey, there might be moments when I will discover a whirlpool of discouragement, apprehension, and stress. There will be moments when I’ll feel like I don’t belong in the 0.29% of the population who are capable enough to become doctors. However, I know I invested so much effort and dedication to get me where I am today. Along with a 4.03 GPA, membership in the National Honor Society, and active involvement in extracurriculars, I also juggled the responsibility of being a 2nd mother figure in my home. I experienced a sense of overwhelm since I was a young girl, feeling like I had to 2 jobs that pulled me left and right; I was constantly in charge of cleaning and managing the house, tending to my younger brother’s everyday needs, and cooking meals for my entire family. Regardless of it all, I was my strength, pushing myself to work hard, navigate through the chaos, and rise above the inner demons that wanted to bring me down nearly every day. Just as I worked hard and juggled the chaos between school and home, my personal experience helped me develop a sense of strength and resilience against stressors that wanted to swallow me whole. Though [the path to] becoming a pediatrician is challenging, I know that I will also be my source of strength through the next chapter of my scholastic journey.

Over the past couple of months, I applied to various state universities, like UVA, VCU, and William and Mary. However, it’s extremely expensive to afford an education nowadays, especially as I aspire to work in the medical field. In the past five years, my parents returned to school and graduated, but they’re still trying to pay off the debt that came with their education. On top of this, they’re also caught in a bind, struggling to gather enough money to pay for tuition for their three children who are approaching college. The way I see it, financial strain has become like the pestering neighbor from 80’s sitcoms who weaved its way into my family- it constantly approaches us when we least expect it, forcing us to push aside everything we’re doing to make room to accommodate them. From the moment they enter our home, our minds are occupied by their presence; we’re ceaselessly devising plans to make them go away, even though they always manage to find their way back to us.
When I came across the Tronfeld West and Durrett scholarship, I realized their help will make a big difference in my academic journey. This scholarship will help open a door of opportunity, an opportunity in which I can afford and attend university. At university, I can gain more knowledge, strengthen my gifts with children, and make a difference in medicine. With this scholarship, I see a golden opportunity that could help me with my dream to provide all children with the best of care and prepare their wings from infancy until the moment they’re ready to fly on their own.

Lauren-Danielle’s Comments on Winning

“In the Fall, I plan to study biology at Northern Virginia Community College and transfer to the University of Virginia after earning my associate’s degree. Though this scholarship will allow me to dedicate more time and energy towards my education and a lifelong dream, it will also help me to become an advocate and role model for many younger generations of Hispanics aspiring to work in medicine. I can inspire more of my people to come forward, take a stand, and make a difference in our world, forever.”

Jazz Miles

Jazz’s Winning Submission

As my grandmother drove her one-mile route to the grocery store, she suddenly could not see anything to her left. Cars honked at her as she drifted into oncoming traffic. Thankfully, she did not crash.

After scans, doctors told us she had a terminal brain tumor. Our family felt devastated. On February 15, 2017, she had brain surgery, to remove what doctors thought was an “aggressive glioma.” Her surgeon told my mother to start thinking about my grandmother’s final plans. Two weeks later, after University of Virginia performed extensive testing on the brain tissue that was removed, we learned her accurate diagnosis. She suffered from a rare form of multiple sclerosis, tumefactive MS, which doctors said looks exactly like a brain tumor on scans.

I stayed overnight after she came home from the hospital and stayed with her during the summers. She needs extra assistance because, whenever she has an MS flare, she becomes disoriented in her own home and needs 24-hour-supervision.

During these trying times, music kept our spirits up. We played hits from our respective generations. She introduced me to Etta James and I played Anderson .Paak for her. Often we stayed up late at night talking about different music genres and comparing various styles. This sparked my interest in creating music.
This interest in music heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Because I was not physically going to school or participating in extracurricular activities, I spent my time learning different types of music software. I stayed connected with my peers by forming a music collective with my friends.

At the same time, our family struggled to find affordable, reliable daytime care for my grandmother. I frequently filled in by cooking her meals, helping with laundry, and getting her groceries. We continued to share music for hours as my grandmother told me stories of the concerts she attended. This led me to want to create my own music. I taught myself music software and spent more time making music.

When people think of communications fields, they often think of things associated with newswriting and broadcasting. Audio sometimes becomes an afterthought. That is not the case for me. My passion is the technology of sound and audio production. The way audio enhances the visual aspect of film and television is one of the most fascinating areas to me. I want to come to an understanding of how sound can evoke different emotions and enhance stories. The quality of a soundtrack for television and film can be the difference between a masterpiece and a flop. Audio is as important in delivering messages as visuals when it comes to creating cinematic pieces.

In college, I will take courses that focus on communications, writing, and music production to enhance my storytelling skills. I hope to partner with student script writers and filmmakers to produce meaningful, educational content and documentaries. Because more information is shared visually and online now, once I graduate, I plan to spend at least 5 years composing music for a range of educational outlets. Afterwards, my goal is to launch my own production company that will provide a variety of music and sound production services for film, television, online, and commercials. Finding the right people to team with, while I am learning will be most challenging. I plan to utilize my professors and mentors to guide me. I realize that I am beginning my journey. Listening to others who have more experience will help me avoid some pitfalls.

Overall, I’m glad I was able to spend more time with my grandmother during the pandemic because it helped me realize my dream of pursuing a career in music composition.

Being able to convey emotions, tell stories, and take myself to another place sonically is something I now cherish. I composed original music for a memorial service, created music for a virtual community awards ceremony, and wrote and produced an album that has 50,000 streams on Spotify.

My goal is to continue to tell stories through music by scoring music for television and film. I hope to score educational documentaries. I am grateful that my grandmother and I had music to help us through that challenging time. It allowed me to discover and grow this passion.

Through these experiences I have concluded that challenging situations are lessons in disguise. I am glad I learned how to deal with both professional and personal situations while growing as a person. I plan to continue learning and growing.

With the Tronfeld, West & Durrett scholarship, I will be able to fund my education, without overburdening my parents who have two other children, and also support and care for my disabled grandmother.