Lynette Kennard and Maple Levine present the Kayla Mueller scholarship to Melina Burnside. Courtesy photo
Melina Burnside, a New Mexico State University student from Los Alamos, was formally presented with a very special award—the Mueller Scholarship—in a ceremony at the Los Alamos Kiwanis meeting on Jan. 7. Kayla Mueller was a young American human rights activist and humanitarian aid worker from Prescott, Ariz. She was taken captive by ISIS terrorists in August 2013 in Aleppo, Syria, after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital. She died while in captivity. The Southwest District of Kiwanis (SWD) created the Mueller scholarship in her honor.
Kayla Mueller posed after speaking to Kiwanis Club in Prescott, Ariz. Courtesy photo
Sponsoring Kiwanis Clubs were asked to nominate candidates for the scholarship. They were to articulate how the nominee has dedicated themselves unselfishly to making the world a better place. Kiwanis was looking for extended community service that reaches beyond our own borders. Morrie Pongratz, a member of Los Alamos Kiwanis, heard about the scholarship in Mueller’s name and thought that Melina Burnside shared many of Mueller’s good qualities. He nominated Burnside for the award.
In his nomination letter to the Southwest District of Kiwanis, Pongratz noted that Melina Burnside graduated from Los Alamos High School in 2017 and received “a one-year scholarship from our (Kiwanis) club.” He said, “Her subsequent community service has more than lived up to our expectations.” And he added:
“…Melina is now enrolled at New Mexico State University majoring in Social Work with a minor in Peace Corps Preparation. In college she has continued to be involved in making the world a better place, much like Kayla Mueller.
“Last year Melina was a resident assistant in one of the freshman halls. She was also a senator with the Associated Students of New Mexico State University (ASNMSU, the student government). This allowed her to write bills to get students reimbursed for traveling to do humanitarian work in Indonesia, Belize, and Guatemala.
“Last spring, her fellow students recognized her leadership qualities and elected Melina to be the Vice President of ASNMSU.
“Recently she began working with Aggies Without Limits, which is a team of university students at NMSU similar to Engineering Without Borders. Every year, Aggies Without Limits goes abroad to complete different engineering projects in underdeveloped communities.
“This year, they went to a small village in the jungle of Guatemala that does not have access to potable water. They engineered a water system … last year, then implemented it throughout their four weeks there this summer. They were a group of about 30 people, and they got to completely finish the project!….”
On Nov. 17 Pongratz got a letter from Lynette Kennard, the Children’s Fund Chair for Southwest District Kiwanis International, informing him that Melina had been selected for the award. While Burnside was home on winter break Lynette Kennard and Maple Levine, ambassador for the Children’s Fund, came to Los Alamos to present the scholarship to Burnside. Don Levine, Maple’s husband and the immediate past Governor of the Southwest District, came too. At the presentation Burnside was accompanied by her parents, Nathan and Patricia Burnside of Los Alamos, and by her boyfriend, Michael Leong, an NMSU student from Albuquerque.
The Southwest District of Kiwanis comprises 95 Kiwanis clubs ranging from El Paso in the east to Lake Havasu City in the west.
Melina Burnside with some of the children of the Guatemalan community of San Jose Lote 19. Courtesy photo
Lynette Kennard and Maple Levine present the Kayla Mueller scholarship to Melina Burnside