Announcing 2020 Essay Challenge Winners, Additional Awards, and Program Expansions

May 5, 2020, 10:27 AM by Denali 

essay challenge

We are proud to announce that amid the crisis, we not only maintained our scholarship program, but we expanded it, brought it online, and completely reworked it to focus on one of our most important missions: bringing financial literacy to today’s youth.

Too many students leave for college underprepared and underfunded, taking on student debt without understanding how it may affect them. Our mission is to tackle both parts of the issue: enable students to attend college by providing scholarships and help them succeed by equipping them with the necessary financial skills.

Announcing the 2020 Essay Challenge winners--and an additional $5000 award!

We are proud to announce that on top of having the most applicants in the history of the Denali Scholarship program, this year the essays were so good that we had a tie for 3rd place and are awarding an extra $5000 scholarship.

Instead of the three winners we originally planned for, this year's contest features four winners:


  • Jessica Yang – senior at West Anchorage High School. She plans to attend Stanford University to study Neuroscience or Human Biology.
  • Gavin Block – senior at Colony High School and also attending the Mat-Su Middle College School. He will be attending Cornell, studying Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering.
  • Grayling Peterson – senior at South Anchorage High School, with plans to study Engineering Physics at Dartmouth College.
  • Kristina Yu – senior at West Anchorage High School. She will be attending Babson College, studying Entrepreneurship.

We want to thank everyone who entered. We know that the last couple of months have tested everyone’s resolve, but the fact that so many of our local students not only applied but sent in some of the best essays we’ve ever had has given us a tremendous amount of hope for the future. We know each one of the applicants will make an impact in their new colleges and will use the financial knowledge they showed in their essays to build a successful future.

Going above and beyond: We are rewarding every participant with $50

These students have truly inspired us. During difficult times they stepped up and rose to the occasion, putting in the hard work required to ensure a better future.

We know that many of you enter scholarship contest after scholarship contest, with nothing to show for your time. To thank everyone who participated, this year we are giving every single student who entered a $50 savings bond—your hard work and perseverance needs to be rewarded!

Raising a generation of financially responsible adults

We are dedicated to helping our members build their lives. Part of this mission means ensuring our future members have the knowledge they need as they get started in the world.

The next generation needs to be prepared for the real challenges and financial traps they face, from budgeting issues to taking on unnecessary debt and irresponsible credit card use—the problems are more than bad habits. Teenagers and young adults are at an age where the mistake of swiping a credit card a few too many times can be devastating, sticking with them for years to come.  

Students who participated in our program will have walked away with a few more financial skills under their belt. They will be able to make smart decisions when the time comes. 

Providing the hope of a college education

We ran this year's program while having to deal with the unforeseen difficulties of a global pandemic. The scholarship money we have awarded will provide some security to students whose other plans might be changing and will help alleviate the burden of college tuition that can be hard to manage at any time. We’re proud of every student who still managed to get their essay in under stressful circumstances. 

Denali is breaking the mold of traditional scholarship programs, leading the way in equipping Alaska students with money management skills rarely taught in schools. Going forward, we hope to create an even better program and bring financial education to more Alaska students. It’s an important mission—one we will never abandon.