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Nala Hayden '22 and Corey Predella '22

Below is the announcement Josh Rilla—faculty chair of the Alex Cohn Grant—made to Upper School students:

Good morning, everyone! My name is Mr. Rilla. I am the coach for the Alex Cohn Grant!


This year, 18 students applied for the Alex Cohn Grant from the sophomore or junior class. It was the biggest applicant pool we have seen in over 5 years. 

It’s good news of course, to have so much interest, but it’s also challenging because the odds get more competitive. So, today I’d like to announce the Cohn Grant recipients this year, but also highlight the downright AMAZING proposals that didn’t win the grant but hopefully through our support as a community, we can help these students still achieve their dreams despite. 


We had three students this year cross passions for visual art with social action. One proposed to spread messages of awareness through large-scale murals in and around Boston, while two other students, focused on the impacts of climate change, proposed to create art out of sustainable materials, like reusing discarded stuff from the R&D center to create fashionable clothing or even growing their own vegetables here on campus to create natural dyes for sustainable paint projects—picture beet roots for reds and cabbage for blues. Climate change was a common theme in other proposals as well, but not through art. One student is hoping to encourage more sustainable living by-building their own chicken farm right here in the city next to their home! Fresh eggs daily.

Given the times we are in, a handful of proposals focused on the Covid-19 crisis. Some students around you are hoping to produce documentaries on the less publicized toll that the crisis has taken on us and our community, from increases in mental health episodes to increases in opioid addiction and increases in violence fueled by racism.

Others wanted to provide creative interventions in rising homelessness due to Covid, particularly in local, predominantly BIPOC communities. Students pitched ideas of creating donation drives, doing weekend truck deliveries to those in need, creating a website to inspire donations, and even buying these donation goods from Black-owned businesses to create an ecosystem of support through trying times.   [Next slide]  


While some focused on Boston specifically, others focused on their prior hometowns, hoping to use photography, writing and documentary as a way to reconnect with and humanize the struggles of the communities they once called home. And one final filmmaker and film buff focused on our immediate Beaver community, proposing to build an in-house projection room (basically a Beaver home theater) with a curated list of hundreds of “must-see films,” the kinds that will change your life and promote that feeling we’re all missing so much these days -- that feeling of gathering together, someday mask free, popcorn in hand, for a theatrical event. [Next slide]


Lastly, we have some coders in the room today with big entrepreneurial ideas. Two students proposed doing a deep dive into a technology known as Blockchain, a cryptocurrency wallet; they hoped to learn and then educate others on this technology that may someday control your bank account! And another student sought to solve a common Beaver problem through coding and design-thinking: For any of you who take the T to the Chestnut Hill stop and walk to and from Beaver each day, this student proposed to design, build, and code a fleet of hoverboards that you could reserve, like Bird scooters, and ride from the T stop to Beaver each day. An energy efficient solution to a rather cold walk in February. 


The bottom line is that the committee had a wealth of excellent ideas, and we couldn’t be more proud of the submissions we received. So, let’s give a round of applause to those who applied. 

After much deliberation, the Cohn Committee decided to split the award this year between two project ideas.


Please join me in congratulating Nala Hayden and Corey Predella! 


The first recipient is Junior Nala Hayden. Nala proposed to create her own non-profit company of sorts called MyHairLove. Nala wants to change the way younger generations of black students understand the history, science, and politics of their hair. Black hairstyles are commonly stigmatized in our society, and young kids grow up having an adversarial relationship with their natural hair; in Nala’s words, “I want to be able to reteach a part of my culture that was taken away and give it a new historical value.”  She will be producing informative YouTube videos, holding online workshops for young kids by sending hair education kits to them ahead of the sessions, and by partnering with AISNE, she also hopes to promote her message to more and more local Independent Schools. Let’s give it up for Nala!


Our second recipient is also focusing on the head in their project, but more specifically the brain. Junior Corey Predella is passionate about the ways that neurotechnology could aid us with common problems. Inspired by his grandmother who has lost some of her ability to speak, a condition known as aphasia, Corey is hoping to study neuroscience through various online courses, including one held by MIT,  and then use his design, math and coding skills to develop two wearable technologies that could aid a person with aphasia, this neurocognitive difficulty in speaking. Part of the ethos of his project is to eventually share all of the design and coding through a website making the technology not only usable but modifiable by anyone with similar issues like aphasia. 

Let’s give it up for Corey!


Thanks again to all who applied and all who plan to apply in future years!




Nala Hayden '22 will create her own nonprofit called MyHairLove.

"I want to be able to reteach a part of my culture that was taken away and give it a new historical value."


Corey Predella '22 will study neuroscience through various online courses, including one held by MIT,  and then use his design, math and coding skills to develop two wearable technologies that could aid a person with aphasia, a neurocognitive difficulty in speaking.

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