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BranchOut! Celebrates 8th Anniversary

After a summer filled with new developments, lifelong connections, and hundreds of service hours logged, the BranchOut! Student Leadership team worked tirelessly to plan one last event: our 8th anniversary celebration and program wrap-up. On October 7th, 2023, BranchOut! mentors (and some potential new ones) gathered via zoom for an evening of performances, speeches, and reflections. If you were unable to attend this event live, keep reading on to get a taste of the growth and achievements we celebrated last week.


2023 BranchOut! Mentors

Our program began with introductions from our student emcees and words from our keynote speaker, Mr. Ryan McElveen. A former at-large member of the Fairfax County School Board and a long-term supporter of BranchOut!, McElveen spoke about the importance of the work BranchOut! accomplishes each year, specifically the support provided to Fairfax County’s educational system. Citing the long lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, McElveen affirmed that tutoring is an essential service to close opportunity and achievement gaps in our local schools.

Keynote Speaker, Ryan McElveen

After the close of the keynote speech, BranchOut! Co-founder, Dr. Yuhsien Wu, provided some reflections of her own and shared a video illustrating the vast number of ways BranchOut! mentors made an impact this year: from interviewing college admissions officers to supporting local STEAM camps and developing a learning app for students.


Next, we heard from Ms. Rui Xu, adult leader and one of the program liaisons for the Howard County Chapter. She spoke proudly of the amazing work accomplished by our HoCo mentors, especially their unique ability to manage a variety of programs under the HoCo chapter umbrella. HoCo students participate in both summer and school year programs, including supporting the Howard County Autism Society, the Black Student Achievement Program, and Innovation Pathways Credit Recovery.


A major highlight of the event was hearing the impressive program recaps from each student leader. Some highlights include…

  • Career Panels organized 3 student-led career panels featuring professionals across STEM fields

  • The Explorer conducted 10+ total interviews from 8+ countries

  • Our mentoring programs across FCPS, Belong! VA, and MC STEAM together logged hundreds of volunteer hours.

  • The newly established Boston Chapter began their work by supporting the Community Art Center in Cambridge, MA with their ArtRocks! Summer Camp.

  • Innovator published SOLve app on the Play Store and garnered 9000 GitHub additions


Our evening would not be complete without a moment to send off some of our seniors: Brian Zhou, David Cao, Johnny Liu, and Evan Wang. Each shared touching stories from their time as BranchOut! mentors, causing everyone in the audience who worked closely with them to reflect fondly on memories made over the years.


Brian Zhou, President of BranchOut!, left us with some final words highlighting the incredible network one gains as a BranchOut! mentor. If you are considering joining, for whatever reason (be it service hours or the desire to try something new), know that an added benefit of joining our program is the chance to make connections between like-minded peers. The individuals you will meet through BranchOut! are always ready to lend a helping hand or to help you find a unique way to contribute.


While we hope BranchOut! Mentors across teams, states, and grades all felt applauded by the event, there were a select few students who received special recognition for their above-and-beyond contributions to advancing the mission of BranchOut! this year.


The President's Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) winners logged between 50-100 hours to qualify for this special recognition.

The recipients are:

  • Jai Arora - Langley High School

  • Ethan Gao - River Hill High School

  • Jarod Jiang - Langley High School

  • Sarah Li - McLean High School

  • Jonathan Li - McLean High School

  • Clara Luo - The Bryn Mawr School

  • Hannah Zhou - Centennial High School


Congressional Certificate winners received special recognition from VA Senator Tim Kaine on their exceptional contributions to service, upon express recommendation from BranchOut!’s adult leadership team. The recipients are:

  • David Cao - TJHSST

  • Julia Chen - Reservoir High School

  • Ronny Gattuso - Syracuse University

  • Henry He - Syracuse University

  • Johnny Liu - TJHSST

  • Patrick Shi - TJHSST

  • Joshua Soong - River Hill High School

  • Evan Wang - Montgomery Blair High School

  • Jeffrey Xu - River Hill High School

  • Jayce Zhang - Reservoir High School

  • Brian Zhou - TJHSST


If you are a student in 8th grade+, or the parent of one, consider making your mark as a BranchOut! Mentor for the 2023-2024 cycle. Our application is now LIVE on our website: https://www.velbranchout.org/apply.


To attend future live events with BranchOut! and learn more, be sure to stay up to date with us over at our Facebook, Instagram, or website!


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