For 20 years, The First Tee has inspired and empowered the next generation through value-based programs, community service, and the game of golf. Equally dedicated to the world’s future leaders, John Deere has sponsored The First Tee since 2012. To continue showing its support, the John Deere Power for Good Scholarship Contest was created to recognize the efforts of young men and women who, like John Deere, have a passion for making their surroundings better.
Through an essay application, students were asked to write about how they are a “Power for Good” in their communities and how helping others connects to The First Tee’s Nine Core Values.
After conducting a competitive nationwide selection process, John Deere awarded college scholarships and a VIP experience at the John Deere Classic to three students:
Neeve Chen, who lives in Roseville, California, volunteered more than 300 hours at the Junior Golf Academy as a mentor and The First Tee ambassador, teaches golf to athletes with special needs, and is a National Honor Society club officer.
Varsha Nekkanti, from San Jose, California, founded AidAware, a nonprofit to increase college enrollment rates; volunteered nearly 250 hours as a junior coach at The First Tee; and is the founder and president of her high school’s Model United Nations club.
The third recipient is the subject of our profile.
Meet Serena Chen
Hometown: West Windsor, New Jersey
Grade: High School Senior
School: The Lawrenceville School
One of Serena Chen’s passions is very familiar to John Deere. Her essay on how to feed the world won the World Food Prize, which is awarded for “specific, exceptionally significant, individual achievement at any point along the full range of the food production and distribution chain.”
Her essay focused on how to improve farming in Ecuador, where she’ll spend two weeks immediately prior to the John Deere Classic at a family organic farm.
While there, she expects to learn first-hand about food insecurity, nutrition, and sustainable farming practices.
“I have an interest in how to make the supply chain more sustainable,” Chen said, “and just a couple miles down the road there’s a coffee plantation owned by Starbucks, which could be a good example of how some companies are working on their sourcing and developing a sustainable supply chain.”
Nate Clark, associate director of Corporate Citizenship at John Deere, said “It was exciting to see a First Tee winner is also a World Food Prize winner. John Deere and the John Deere Foundation are long-time supporters of the World Food Prize because it not only recognizes men and women who are improving lives through their innovations in agriculture, but also inspires and develops the next generation of leaders in agriculture.”
Chen’s involvement with The First Tee program goes back nearly a decade.
Chen’s parents took their daughter to a class when she was 7 years old, adding to her already long list of sports, which included ice skating, soccer, and gymnastics. But golf didn’t stick. At least not at first. “I was terrible,” she recalled, and dropped out of the program after a year.
But Chen realized she wasn’t a quitter, rejoined The First Tee, and by the time she was 11 years old had become the opposite of terrible.
This led to playing in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship and representing New York and New Jersey at the first ever Drive, Chip, and Putt contest, held at the fabled Augusta National Golf Club. She even had the chance to meet avid golfer and former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.
Chen’s successes off the course have been on a par with her successes on it, including being named a 2018 Power for Good scholarship winner.
Another of her passions is cooking, so when her school’s Lives Saving Lives Club advertised a fundraiser that would involve cooking for other people, she joined. She has since created a number of initiatives to promote organ donations and become the club’s president. The club’s advisor Arthur Thomas, himself a recipient of a donated heart, has high praise for her efforts. “Serena is a leader in the purest form because nothing is ‘about her,’” Thomas said, “and she can get others to perform way above their natural tendencies because they strive to imitate her in this context.”
Closer to home, Chen works on a small organic farm at her school. “We grow kale, arugula, cabbage — everything for the school dining hall,” she said. “I have also researched food waste,” which her school is combatting by collecting all discarded food and using some to feed pigs, some as fertilizer, and the rest for composting.
This fall, Chen will resume teaching a weekly class for The First Tee of Greater Trenton and begin applying to colleges. She intends to study how to make supply chains more sustainable and, she said, “definitely continue playing golf.”