Five Miami-Dade teens named 2016 Student Leaders

Bank of America selected five Miami-Dade girls as part of its 2016 Student Leaders Program. Katherine Perez, Sara Sarmiento, Caridad Cruz, Deirdre Edward and Donna Murillo each excel academically and also conducted community service projects throughout their high school careers.
Bank of America selected five Miami-Dade girls as part of its 2016 Student Leaders Program. Katherine Perez, Sara Sarmiento, Caridad Cruz, Deirdre Edward and Donna Murillo each excel academically and also conducted community service projects throughout their high school careers. Bank of America

Bank of America selected five Miami-Dade County students to participate in its 2016 Student Leaders Program, and they each have one thing in common — they’re all young women.

“This has been the first time in a few years that we have had a whole cohort of female leaders,” said Erin Sutherland, the program’s community relations manager. “They get to connect with leaders around the country, and its more than us providing internships with the Boys and Girls Club and we are providing them with their first check.”

Katherine Perez of G. Holmes Braddock High, Sara Sarmiento and Deirdre Edward of Coral Reef High, Caridad Cruz of Hialeah Gardens High, and Donna Murillo of MAST Academy received the news just before the start of summer.

“I actually didn’t read the email until late March because it was in my spam folder,” said Deirdre, 18. “I thought I didn’t get in at first, but was elated to see that I did.”

The eight-week long program selects juniors and seniors based on academic achievement and community service. Leaders gain paid internships with a local nonprofit organizations to learn civic, social, and business leadership skills. Students also meet about 200 more student leaders from around the world during a week-long leadership summit in Washington, D.C., which took place July 10-15.

This year’s leading ladies are interns at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade, and are learning the role nonprofits play in the community.

“I was lucky enough to be placed as an art teacher at the Boys & Girls Club,” said Sara, 17. “I have full creative freedom with what we do with the students here.”

For Sara, her community service projects throughout high school focused on her passion: art.

She was a student producer at the Holocaust Impact Theater that raised awareness on issues affecting Miami area youth. She also raised awareness about poverty, hunger, and immigration through The Artivist, a website that raises awareness for humanity, children, animals, and the environment through a combination of art and activism.

Since participating in the program, Sara has found an interest in politics.

“Art will always be a passion and a hobby,” said Sara, “but I want to study something along the lines of political science and international relations.”

The other student leaders also completed community service projects that followed their passions.

Donna followed her passion to study bioengineering as an intern with neurologists and neuropathologists at the University of Miami.

For the past two summers; she mentored freshmen in MAST Academy’s Summer Anchor Program; and assisted with research on memory disorders and neurological disorders.

For Katherine, becoming the secretary of her school’s Health Information Project allowed her to combine two passions: health and education.

“After hearing HIP’s mission, I wanted to participate and help educate freshmen on health topics,” said Katherine, 18. “Through this experience, I’ve learned that health education is vital, as teens unintentionally hurt their well-being due to a lack of knowledge.”

Caridad’s passion for theater, creative writing, film, and TV production led to her presidency in the Theatre Club at Hialeah Gardens High. She was also nominated for a 2016 Silver Knight Award in English after teaching a creative writing class.

Deirdre used her passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics to teach at Palmetto Elementary School; run a tutoring program at Frank C. Martin K – 8 Center; and conduct research while attending Florida State University’s Young Scholars Program.

“I studied geophysical fluid dynamics, and I wrote a computer program with the intention of forecasting sink holes near Tallahassee.”

The Student Leaders Program doesn’t only give internships to the students, but aims to teach them networking and branding skills through the leadership summit.

“The summit ranged a variety of things: speakers, activities, meeting senators and representatives,” Sara said. “We weren’t all on the same page when it came to issues, but we were all able to respectfully communicate our opinions.”

The leaders also participated in a mock congress that dealt with gun violence, immigration reform, and mass incarceration.

“One of the most powerful parts of the summit was the group of people we were with,” said Deirdre. “Though it was a diverse group, everyone was open and respectful, and we learned from each other. We came up with real solutions.”

The summit also featured a Better Money Habits workshop to teach student leaders about borrowing money for college, and balancing checking and savings accounts.

This is especially important for senior leaders, like Deirdre, that will attend college in fall.

“The workshop helped me understand how money works,” Deirdre said. “I can successfully go through college without worrying about money.”

Deirdre will attend the University of Chicago to study chemistry.

“We are committed to being good citizens and helping students get employment, and to give them the tools to succeed,” said Sutherland, the community relations manager. “It’s more than providing internships—we are providing them with their first check.”

More information

The 2017 Bank of America Student Leaders application will be available Oct. 31 through Feb. 3.

To apply, students must be a junior or senior, be legally authorized to work in the United States without sponsorship, be in good standing at school, and have at least one recommendation letter.

For more criteria information, or to apply, visit