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Founder and President, Top Notch Scholar

Heritage: Dominican/American

Age: 27


Past Recognitions:  

  • MassINC Recognition: Gateway City Leader

  • Top Ranked U.S. Executive by the National Council of American Executives in Leadership


By: Frank Morris


Talk with Joanna de Peña for a few minutes, and you’ll immediately sense the amount of energy and enthusiasm she has, especially when it comes to her passion: youth leadership development.

“I live and breathe youth leadership development. It means so much to me,” the 27-year-old Lawrence native said.

An alum of the Boys & Girls Club, de Peña says she received discipline, mentorship, leadership and personal success guidance while involved with the club as a youth. Now as the founder and leader of Top Notch Scholars she says, “I am giving back everything I learned that has shaped me into a strong, hardworking and passionate young professional.”

With her volunteer-run nonprofit organization, de Peña says she is able to reach high school students and “make a real impact” through her motivational speaking engagements, leadership workshops and conferences that include breakout sessions.

“I love the instant gratification from the youth in guiding them to build self-confidence, believe in themselves, make better decisions, become a leader amongst their peers and follow their dreams,” she said.

Top Notch Scholars’ events are high energy, take place on high school campuses, and are geared towards teaching teens the skills they need to make their visions a reality.

“If someone is interested in the science field, we say you should be preparing now. They say, ‘No, I’m a kid, I’m chilling.’ But what we’re saying is if you want to go to the science field, here is what you should be doing,” dePeña said.

The Lasell College graduate is in the midst of working on her master’s from Merrimack College, where she’s studying education with a focus in community engagement. She is expected to graduate in 2017 and is already looking at Ph.D. options.

“Through working hard and maintaining your grades, opportunities come to you,” she said.


De Peña is also in the process of writing a book focused on self-confidence and bullying, which is aimed at teens and developing new leaders. “Success Shield” is slated for release May 19, 2017, the day of her graduation.

“I’m just sharing the knowledge, really. Everything I learned, it has helped me and why not share it with the kids?” she said.

And de Peña’s dreams don’t stop there. She is currently organizing a regional youth leadership conference at Merrimack College that would host 600 students from 10 different schools. The event is scheduled to take place in the spring and is the pilot program for a leadership conference to be held at TD Garden soon.

“I see myself as a national youth speaker. Ten years from now, I want to replicate [the] TD Garden [event] in four or five key cities across the country, running arena-style youth leadership conferences,” she said.

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