2016 Scholarship Winners

Many semifinalists in this year's VRG scholarship contest were off the charts. They are beyond their peers in their accomplishments. Imagine being vegetarian and overcoming the challenges of poverty, or being the only vegetarian in cattle-raising country. Though certainly more of these amazing students deserve awards, here are this year's winners of three college scholarships from The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Lauren Hickey, Connecticut

Lauren Hickey has been a vegetarian since she was seven years old. She stated, "As my mother tells it, one day I looked up from my dinner plate and blurted 'Mommy, what's this made out of?' ... When my mother so gently explained that the meat I was eating was once an animal, I was suddenly alarmed and upset. I simply couldn't understand how I would eat something dead that I coo at and cuddle with alive... As a second grader, I soon realized that although being different took a dose of courage, it was strangely thrilling ... Since seven years old, I have unwaveringly abided by my principles... In third grade, I stood in front of my enrichment class, beaming as I enlightened them on my area of expertise: vegetarianism... After presenting my slideshow to the class, my mom and little sister strolled into the classroom on cue with samples of mangos and hummus."

Lauren joined the Colchester Board of Education as a student member in 2014. She states, "Two years ago I initiated a Farm to School program in my town and established our high school's first organic garden. Colchester's Farm to School Initiatives is a program that reaches every school in the district with fresh vegetables from local farms and multiple school gardens. I initiated a weekly program at the intermediate school in which I teach a weekly class of 39 students in grades 3-5 about fresh food and environmental consciousness. I wrote and received a grant for fruit trees that the kids planted in the spring. I helped coordinate collaboration between the AP Biology students who took a field trip to the elementary school, where the second graders taught THEM how to compost."

When teaching the third to fifth graders, "It moved my heart to hear a student tell me that he wants to save the environment and all the animals. I was filled with joy when every kid jumped out of their seat with both hands in the air when I asked, 'So who liked the kale?' I even teared up watching the kids take enormous pride in planting trees with their own hands that will bear fruit for generations."

"My vegetarian journey began when I was seven years old when I realized that I could not agree with killing animals... I have made a conscious effort to frame my vegetarian mission in a very positive way rooted in encouragement... When I was in fifth grade, I wrote an essay for the Connecticut Higher Education Trust on my future career goals and how college would help me achieve them. I declared I would become an 'animal activist.' In retrospect, I was not too far off the mark. I plan on going to college and majoring in Environmental Studies... In college and beyond, I plan on promoting vegetarianism by engaging in an environmental or animal activism club, working in the organic garden, and ensuring dining hall food promotes values... Maybe one day I will live out my 5th grade dream of giving speeches around the world."

Riley Howard, Ohio

Riley Howard became vegetarian after her sister started ordering vegan literature from PETA. In sixth grade, she began bringing pamphlets to school to distribute to students during lunch times. Riley became vegan in eighth grade. She started an animal rights club in high school, which organized campus screenings, bake sales, and vegan potlucks during school. Riley stated, "I've found a lot of success modifying my advocacy...I used to show cruelty investigations, but I saw how much more harm that does than good. Instead of having members walk out in the middle of meetings, people stay the whole time, engage in conversation, and perform social media outreach."

In January of her junior year, she went to Chicago for a month to intern with Mercy for Animals, jumping between office work and outdoor leafleting. She did another internship with them in Los Angeles.

In 2015 at school she organized a screening of Cowspiracy for 200 members from the local community. "I talked to athletic coaches and got them to agree to cancel practice for the screening. Students brought their friends and family."

She had her school agree to add more vegan items to the menu. "They bought a rice cooker, through which they provide self-service rice, quinoa, and other whole grains. They have started offering nutritional yeast and vegan dressings in the salad bar. They've agreed to provide a daily vegan cooked meal. Now they sell veggie burgers, portabello sandwiches, vegan grilled cheese, and various vegetables and rice dishes. They also sell vegan sorbet, which has been a huge hit."

Riley was an apprentice crew leader for the Student Conservation Association in Texas. "I made quite a few vegetable rice/quinoa dishes that were a big hit among all the crew members...I made sure to make food for the group that was not only vegan but also tasted good to nonvegans."

Riley is also a gifted artist. Her work can be found at


One reference stated, "Riley does not simply think outside the box; she affirms that there is, in fact, no box. After 30 years as an educator, I have learned that I have not seen it all, because I have never before experienced Riley Howard. Quite simply, Riley gets it. She gets life's complexities and its redemption. She gets the purpose of compassion. Riley is helping the environment, animals, humans... all those in need."

Jasmine Westerdahl, California

Jasmine Westerdahl has been involved in promoting vegetarian nutrition and cooking classes in various communities most of her life in both Hawaii and California, including assisting in doing vegan cooking on a television show in Hawaii called Tasty and Meatless. Jasmine is the youth representative and coordinator for her church health committee. She volunteers and coordinates other youth in assisting with community vegetarian cooking classes and lectures.

Patricia Bragg from the Bragg company said, "For the past seven years, Jasmine has been an enthusiastic volunteer for both the Bragg Live Food Products Company and our nonprofit Bragg Health Foundation. For our health product company, Jasmine has represented Bragg at national health food industry trade shows and conferences. She has professionally educated consumers and health food retailers about our line of vegan food products. She also helped test recipes for our vegetarian cookbook and assisted in evaluating new vegan/vegetarian food and beverage product formulations for our company, so that they could be kid tested. Volunteering for our nonprofit foundation, Jasmine represented us at community health education events, lectures and seminars, fairs, and our exhibit booths." (Also, Jasmine assisted The Vegetarian Resource Group at our booth during the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Annual Meeting, and we witnessed firsthand her knowledgeable and professional demeanor.)

Jasmine attended a Seventh-day Adventist school. She said that more than half of her school's student body are not vegetarian, but she has had the opportunity to educate her classmates about vegetarian diets. A faculty member stated, "Jasmine always is volunteering and helping with community outreach through helping educate about nutrition throughout the community. She is always first to help and last to leave. A leader to me is not always the loudest person but the person who works hard for no credit but to do the right thing. This is in essence Jasmine."

As a lifelong vegan, Jasmine said, "I have a passion to continue my education through college and university in nutrition with a strong desire to one day be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in vegetarian nutrition to my patients and clients. I believe in vegetarian nutrition for both health reasons as well as for the compassion for animals."

The deadline for the next Vegetarian Resource Group Scholarship is February 20, 2017. For details, go to


To support Vegetarian Resource Group internships and scholarships, donate at www.vrg.org/donate.