UNCSA announces recipients of prestigious Kenan Scholarships

UNCSA has announced the recipients of the 2023 Kenan Excellence and Sarah Graham Kenan scholarships, the most prestigious merit-based scholarship programs at the university.

Recipients of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Excellence Scholarships are Hollyn Gambill of Mooresville, School of Filmmaking; Marissa Derrick of Columbia, South Carolina, School of Design and Production; Raquel Lebish of Miami, School of Drama; Stephen Olusemire of Lagos, Nigeria, School of Music; and Wyatt Martinez of Sealy, Texas, School of Music. The Kenan Excellence Scholarship provides selected incoming students with full tuition, required fees, and room and board for four years of undergraduate study. 

Recipient of the Sarah Graham Kenan Scholarship is Maya Mays of West Palm Beach, Florida, School of Drama. The scholarship provides full tuition, required fees, and room and board for a rising fourth-year student.

The ability to award scholarships allows UNCSA to attract the most talented student artists from throughout North Carolina, the U.S. and the world.

"The Kenan Scholars are exemplar student-artists,” said Provost Patrick J. Sims. “Their passion for their art form and academic studies, and their dedication to making the world a better place through the arts and service to community, is why they have been awarded our capstone scholarships. They inspire us and we are thrilled to have them on our campus."

Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar

The Sarah Graham Kenan scholarship goes to a rising college senior with outstanding characteristics in talent and artistic achievement, excellent academic performance, and exceptional leadership and citizenship qualities. The Sarah Graham Kenan Scholarship was established in 1984, and one rising UNCSA college senior has received this scholarship each year since the 1984-85 academic year.

Mya Mays with UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Patrick J. Sims at the Celebration of Excellence

Maya Mays with UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Patrick J. Sims at the Celebration of Excellence

Maya Mays received the following glowing recommendation for her award: “This is a student who gives and gives and gives. Maya is that rare light that just makes you feel better to be alive and around her. There is perhaps no other student who has brought more positivity and light to our school. This student is the rock of her class.”

Mays said that she has loved theater ever since she was a little girl playing the Baby Kangaroo in “Seussical Jr.,” a moment that led her to perform in many other plays, musicals, and even Shakespeare on the Santa Cruz Shakespeare stage last summer. She has been on stage at UNCSA in “Heathers,” “Roe” and “If Pretty Hurts, Ugly Must be a Muhfucka.” In addition to her stage work, Mays has also participated in many animated and live-action films, and has found joy in collaborating with the School of Filmmaking.

Mays expects to receive her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama in May 2024. She has said that she is thankful for all of the opportunities and lessons she has had at UNCSA over her past three years. She added that she cannot wait to finish with the support of this scholarship, the School of Drama faculty, and her talented peers. Mays is a member of Artists of Color, a student group, and of the Dose Collective in Winston-Salem. She was recently elected Drama senior class president and is a member of the Student Government Association.

During the summer, Mays volunteers with the Armory Arts Center in Florida.

The Kenan Excellence Scholarship recipients

The dean of each of the five arts schools nominates candidates for the scholarship from among their best newly admitted students each spring term. The scholarship selection committee reviews each nomination, considering criteria that include each student’s ability in the given arts discipline, capacity to lead and motivate, extracurricular achievement, grade point average, and standardized test scores. The committee then interviews the finalists for selection. Awards are made to the students judged to have the best potential as artist scholars, regardless of the program in which they enroll or their area of residence.

Recipients are:

Hollyn Gambill, School of Filmmaking, is a home-schooled senior.

Hollyn Gambill

Hollyn Gambill

“Diligence and attention to details are key characteristics for success in the rigorous filmmaking profession,” said Dean Deborah LaVine of the School of Filmmaking. “The combination of being an intellectually gifted young person and potential as a leader makes Hollyn an exciting addition to the School of Filmmaking community.”

A storyteller at heart, Gambill became fascinated with filmmaking in middle school and, on her own, sought opportunities to learn about it. Through Fresh Films, a nationwide program for teen filmmakers, she worked with industry professionals from Roku, Sony Pictures, Fremantle and more, and interned on various film sets during her junior and senior years of high school. She has served as a production assistant intern with Dreaming Tree Films and as an ambassador for the Fresh Films organization. She has collaborated on documentary and short film projects. She worked her way onto major film sets in Wilmington as an assistant animal wrangler and used those opportunities to gain valuable experience.

Gambill has served as the Young Adult Content Producer for the Mooresville Public Library, creating weekly videos with various teen volunteers. She is also a leader there as a member of the Teen Advisory Board.

In September 2022, Gambill received the Girl Scout’s highest honor, the Gold Award, for a project she created in service to young people with limb loss and limb difference. AmpuTeens is an online community that gives a voice to young amputees. She spent several months interviewing teens throughout the U.S. and turned those conversations into first-person stories on Instagram. Through AmpuTeens, she has given these teens and their peers a place to see themselves represented and connect with one another.

Gambill said she hopes to merge her gift of storytelling and her love for people with the power of film to create more curiosity and wonder in the world.

Marissa Derrick, School of Design and Production, specializing in stage management, is a graduate of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.

Marissa Derrick

Marissa Derrick

“Marissa Derrick is a student of many talents and incredible potential who will undoubtedly have a profound impact on our community here at UNCSA and in the profession at large,” said Michael J. Kelley, dean of the School of Design and Production. “In both her artistic endeavors and personal service, Marissa strives to create opportunities and access for others.”

While maintaining her focus on theater, Derrick’s passion for stage management grew during her junior and senior high school years. During the fall of her senior year, she stage-managed “The Trojan Women” and “Iphigenia in Aulis,” and in the spring, she stage-managed and co-produced the Governor’s School’s first “Color Cabaret,” a show organized by the Multi-Cultural Club that provided students of color an opportunity to display their talents and culture in their own way. During the last month of her senior year, Derrick worked as the script adviser for four short films. In a special honor, the Governor’s School faculty selected her as the Class of 2022 graduation speaker.

Derrick found a love for video, sound and music editing beginning at the age of 10 through editing her fifth-grade graduation video using WeVideo. She is also proficient in iMovie, Final Cut, Garage Band and Adobe Premier Pro, having edited her own short films, music videos and music for professional choreographers who have worked with artists such as Todrick Hall and Michael McCary. She is also trained in modern and African dance and writes short films, plays and poetry.

Outside of her artistic endeavors, Derrick volunteers with various nonprofit organizations and programs. She supports the James F. Byrnes Foundation by helping with its annual June Luncheon and Super Weekend events. She also collects, packages and donates clothes and hygiene products for the Oliver Gospel Mission in Columbia. She served as vice president of the National Honor Society and cultural chair of the Multi-Cultural Club.

Raquel Lebish, School of Drama, is a senior at the New World School of the Arts in Miami.

Raquel Lebish

Raquel Lebish

“Of the over 600 applicants we auditioned this cycle, Raquel’s stood out as perhaps the finest,” said Quin Gordon, director of recruitment for the School of Drama. “This is not hyperbole. This is a young artist of extraordinary gifts.”

Having done theater for 10 years, Lebish has numerous theatrical credits, including "What the Constitution Means to Me,” "Romeo and Juliet," "Twelfth Night," and "Gruesome Playground Injuries." In 2021, she played Kathryn in the upcoming short film "Requiem." In 2023, she starred as the titular character in "Vera," an upcoming feature film by Sergio Vizuete that will be released in 2024. Additionally, she has been named a YoungArts 2023 winner, and holds three superior rankings for the Florida Thespians District Competitions. 

In academics, Lebish is the founder of Artisans Peak, a temporary program that held online performing arts classes for children during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is currently on the boards of her school's Key Club and BeHIP Program, as well as the Students Demand Action Miami Chapter.

Lebish says that she firmly believes in using her art to evoke change throughout the world, and is committed to diverse, inclusive storytelling. 

Bassoonist Stephen Olusemire, School of Music, is a graduate of the Army Children Senior High School in Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.

Stephen Olusemire

Stephen Olusemire

“A remarkable and unique aspect of the student experience at UNCSA is the way our community fosters and develops student leaders and leadership opportunities,” said Dean Saxton Rose of the School of Music. “Stephen is driven, ambitious, unusually resilient, and full of hope. He has the potential to affect the campus culture and develop leadership skills that will help him realize his dreams of developing the musical landscape in Africa.”

While gaining international attention as a bassoonist over the past three years, Olusemire has studied with such bassoon luminaries as Daniel Matsukawa, Kim Laskowski, Stephen Paulson, Sheila Popkin (a UNCSA alumna), and George Sakakeeny. He has performed with The Muson Symphony Orchestra, Vesta Orchestra, The Divine Symphony Orchestra, and Dulcis Orchestra, where he performed principal roles.

Olusemire says that he wants to be able to touch the lives of people through music, using it to bring peace to his country and the world. He hopes to develop the first major symphony orchestra in his home country and would like to create opportunities for young musicians to perform both Western classical music and African music.

Wyatt Martinez, trumpet, School of Music, is a senior at Sealy High School in Sealy, Texas.

Wyatt Martinez

Wyatt Martinez

“Wyatt has become one of the most accomplished high school trumpet players in all of Texas,” Dean Rose said. “He has won positions in the Texas All-State band three times; twice, as first chair. This is an amazing accomplishment in Texas, by far the most competitive state for All-State Band in the U.S. He boasts an expressive, full sound; excellent clarity and rhythmic integrity; and colorful phrasing.”

During his high school career, Martinez has performed in the Association of Texas Small School Bands 4-A All-State Band three times, including two first chairs. He has competed in the Texas State Solo and Ensemble Competition six times, three times performing a solo, and the rest, with the Sealy Brass Quintet. Out of all of his performances at the Solo and Ensemble Competition, he has received five gold medals and one silver.

Heavily involved with his community, Martinez has volunteered with Meals on Wheels and served as the assistant worship leader for a year at his church, playing backing guitar. He currently serves as the worship leader, playing the piano. Martinez is an active member of the National Honor Society, a group of academically gifted students who serve their communities and lead their peers in the classroom. He is also an assistant coach for the Sealy Cubs, a minor league baseball team.

Contact Media Relations

Get the best news, performance and alumni stories from UNCSA.

May 10, 2023