North Providence student takes home top prize in Courageous RI Youth Media Contest

Young creators from across the globe celebrated for creative work that connects media literacy with violence prevention

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – June 28, 2024 – Courageous RI – an initiative of the Media Education Lab and the University of Rhode Island – hosted a Youth Media Contest Celebration at Rhode Island PBS, celebrating young people worldwide for their creative efforts to address the question: “How can media literacy, active listening, kindness and compassion, and community engagement reduce the hate and fear that leads to violence?”

Over $10,000 in prizes were awarded, including a grand prize of $1,000 to North Providence resident and Yale University student Nico Upegui for his song “My Child.” Second place went to Cranston High School West student Eduardo Velasco’s anti-misinformation graphic design project entitled “The Power of Fire,” and third to Tanya Bachu of the Brownell Talbot School in Omaha, Neb., and her poem “Whispers of Light.” 

“The Courageous RI initiative has been an engaging and inclusive pathway that has helped so many people discover connections between media literacy, active listening, and violence prevention,” said Dr. Renee Hobbs, Media Education Lab founder and co-director.“The young creators we celebrated at the event represent the potential for a more media literate, less divisive, and more empathetic future. They inspire our optimism about a future where critical thinking about media helps people reduce the fear and hate that leads to violence.” 

The celebration featured remarks from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Danette Frederique as well as Dr. Benjamin Thevenin, a youth media expert who managed the Youth Media Contest and awarded the prizes. Winners also participated in a panel discussion on the importance of using media literacy to address the problem of hateful propaganda and disinformation, moderated by reporter Michelle San Miguel of Rhode Island PBS Weekly 

“At Rhode Island PBS and The Public’s Radio, we highly value media literacy education and its importance for future generations,” said Co-CEO of Rhode Island PBS Foundation and The Public’s Radio, David W. Piccerelli. “We were proud to support Courageous RI and the talented students involved. Their exceptional work empowers us to continue our mission of producing trustworthy content and resources that our community can rely on.”

“Preventing rising violence and extremism requires authentic and respectful conversations, especially in online spaces,” said Catherine Morris, program director of Courageous RI. “Young people like the participants in our Youth Media Contest are leading by example to make those conversations the norm among their peers.” 

Courageous RI also recognized the work of educators in increasing youth media literacy. Four local teachers—Kate Ray of Cranston High School West, Doreen Picozzi of Lincoln High School, Ariel Dagan and Ben Alden of Tri-County Regional Vocational High School—received special awards for teacher leadership, along with Indiana University’s Professor Pamela Morris

The graphic design created by Eduardo Velasco, age 17, will also be posted on a digital billboard along Route 95 this summer and other student creative work will be featured in local newspapers and radio programs.  

“Here in Rhode Island and across the globe, young people increasingly face a need for media literacy in their day-to-day lives,” said Ray. “As an educator, it is truly inspiring to see youth engage in media literacy education and receive encouragement and recognition from organizations like Courageous RI.” 

The complete list of Youth Media Contest winners include: 


  • Nico Upegui, resident of North Providence
  • Eduardo Velasco, Cranston High School West
  • Camila Sofia Tabora, Lincoln High School, Lincoln
  • Dariana Y Pena, Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, Providence
  • Yessica Gomez Gutierrez, DelSesto Middle School, Providence


  • Tanya Bachu, Brownell Talbot School, Omaha, Nebraska
  • Aanya Sharma, Cambridge High School, United Arab Emirates 
  • Adelina Semenova, Zaporizhzhya Gymnasium №25, Ukraine 
  • Aurora Gomez, King High School, Tampa, Florida 
  • Celia Fuhrman, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Wisconsin 
  • Dasha Smerechynska, The Center of Scientific and Technical Creativity of Student Youth, Ukraine 
  • Freja Smith, Emma Wallace, Jennifer Killeen, Julianna Coutsouradis, Nyah Cuascut, Anvi Ghosh, Francesca Tornambee, and Liam Wallace, North Salem Middle and High School, New York 
  • Gracie Ferguson, Bellevue High School, Washington 
  • Jimena Leal, Ally Parker, Mary-Kate Nolley, Alexander Ridge, Sydney Owens, and Shelby Vanatta, Indiana University, Columbus, Indiana 
  • Jordyn Mae Velitchkov, Harding Middle School, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 
  • Sanskriti Negi, West High School, Salt Lake City, Utah 

To learn more about Courageous RI visit To learn more about the Media Education Lab visit 

About the Media Education Lab: The Media Education Lab is an online learning community whose mission is to advance the quality of digital and media literacy education through scholarship and community service. Founded in 2005, the Media Education Lab includes a team of affiliated experts who represent a broad multidisciplinary network of educators, academics, and media professionals. More than 20,000 users from across the country and around the world participated in the programs and services offered by the Media Education Lab in 2023.