The American Heart Association announced the winners of its EmPowered To Serve Scholars program on Monday, awarding $1,500 scholarships to six students pursuing careers in medicine, nursing and law to help improve the health of their communities.

Ahmed Arasah from Grand Prairie, Texas

Ahmed Arasah knows firsthand that yoga is good for health. In addition to teaching yoga at a studio in New Orleans, the 24-year-old senior from Xavier University of Louisiana has held free classes for residents who can’t afford them. He’s also taught classes at Xavier.

Arasah will pursue a medical degree after he graduates this spring. The biology and psychology major said  “health equity for me means having equal access to healthy food options, adequate information as well as health facilities and resources, in order to take care of oneself and/or their family members.”

Michelle Ballasiotes from Charlotte, North Carolina

Michelle Ballasiotes, a health policy and management major at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said health equity is about “ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to live a healthy life.”

That’s why the 20-year-old lobbied her state legislature to help corner store owners stock fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods. As an AHA volunteer, she has also worked on tobacco-free campaigns in high schools and colleges. In her work with Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), Ballasiotes helped the Cherokee Youth Council in Georgia successfully advocate for tobacco-free schools.

Jose Trinidad Muratalla from Cicero, Illinois

When Jose Trinidad Muratalla’s father had a stroke, he watched his dad struggle through recovery. But Muratalla didn’t give up on his dad and together, they got fit and started eating healthier meals.

The 20-year-old college student also has shared his passion for healthy living with patients at the community clinic where he volunteers as an interpreter and health education and nutrition instructor. The biochemistry major at the University of Illinois, Chicago, plans to go to medical school.

For Muratalla, health equity “means understanding that English may not be the first language of your patient,  and they are not even comprehending what you are telling them about their diagnosis.”

Avery Nelson from Chicago

Fresh food options in Avery Nelson’s low-income neighborhood were limited and he and his mother often ate poorly. He developed diabetes and high blood pressure as a child.

Those experiences now drive the 19-year-old to promote healthy food options in areas with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. He worked with his high school engineering club to create a community garden in his childhood neighborhood of Englewood.

The public policy major at Pomona College has his sights set on law school. Nelson wants to use the knowledge he gains in both areas to pass laws that allow all communities to have healthy food options.

“Everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, deserves nutritional accessibility,” he said.

Esmeralda Ochoa from Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois

Watching her grandmother’s health decline was hard for Esmeralda Ochoa. There wasn’t much she could do for her dementia, but Ochoa resolved to help her grandmother lower her blood pressure and cholesterol.

Ochoa cooked healthy meals for her grandmother and created exercise routines for her. Her efforts paid off. Within months, her grandmother’s bad cholesterol was down and her energy was up.

The 28-year-old has extended her passion for healthy habits to helping others. Ochoa, who is on track to become a family nurse practitioner, has participated in community outreach health events offering people blood pressure and glucose checks.

The master’s student at Chamberlain University said it’s important for health care providers to understand that educational attainment and income level are closely tied to quality of health.

Dorysel Sandoval from National City, California

When Dorysel Sandoval started eating healthier meals, her family followed her lead.

The 17-year-old high school senior has encouraged her family to ditch sugary drinks, drink more water and exercise. She uses the herbs and produce she grows in the family’s garden to cook meals.

Sandoval’s experience as a nutrition education intern at a local nonprofit inspired her to make changes at home and in her school. Her volunteer work has included teaching students what to cook at home.

Sandoval said education plays a key role in improving the health of communities because “with the proper education, individuals can make wise choices about their food.”

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email