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Warren New Tech High School senior class president Kniya Purnell was one of 45 students across the United States who received $1,000 Payback Challenge Scholarships.

The scholarships are sponsored by Next Gen Personal Finance based in Palo Alto, Calif., a nonprofit established in 2014 and designed to ensure that students leave high school with the financial skills needed to thrive in the future.

Students competing in the NCPF Payback Challenge play the organization’s online game, “Payback,” which simulates financial decisions they may face in college. After completing the game, scholarship applicants submit essays or videos described their experience participating in the Payback Challenge. Two grand prize winners receive $2,500 scholarships. Purnell was among 45 students across the country to receive Honorable Mention awards.

The daughter of Kerry Daniels and Barry Purnell of Warrenton, Purnell is a member of the National Honor Society. She is also active with Warren County 4-H Teen Court, which is designed to help youth turn their lives around. First-time youthful offenders are tried by their peers for misdemeanor offenses. Offenders admit guilt or responsibility for their actions and receive sentences that include community service and empowerment classes. If the sentences are completed, the offense will not appear on the youth’s juvenile record or return to juvenile court.

With Teen Court, Purnell has taken on a role that includes mentoring youth and participating in the program’s Sentencing Circle.

Outside of school and Teen Court, she is active with New Higher Faith Ministries in Henderson.

Purnell was introduced to the Payback Challenge by her senior math teacher, Kerine Waugh-Lewis who invited every student in the class to participate.

Purnell described “Payback” as an opportunity for students to explore a number of scenarios related to the type of college or university they wanted to attend and options for paying for college. For example, participants could indicate if they wanted to attend an in-state or out-of-state college or university, or community college, and if they wanted to study abroad at some point. 

Purnell said that the game allowed her to explore whether she would have to work over the summer to help pay for college, and enabled her to learn more about how to balance college life in general.

“The biggest idea was to find ways to balance saving money with school, personal life and how to pay for college,” she said.

After finishing the game, Purnell was asked to write an essay addressing a prompt about how she would change “Payback” to better reflect these times during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Purnell addressed the game’s question about whether or not to have a roommate. She replied that COVID-19 restrictions limit housing to one person per room, so the question about having a roommate is a non-issue right now.

Waugh-Lewis could submit only one student essay for scholarship consideration, and making the decision was not easy. However, Purnell’s entry stood out.

“I thought Kniya’s essay responded well to all aspects of the prompt, and I could submit it in its authentic form,” Waugh-Lewis said.

Earlier this month, Purnell received an email that she was selected as an Honorable Mention scholarship recipient.

“It was one of the best ways to open up 2021,” she said. “It feels great. I’m so excited and happy. I’m really thankful.

Purnell has been accepted at a number of colleges and universities. Right now, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is the top runner, but Purnell is still looking at other options. She hopes to major in business administration, preferably with a marketing concentration, and minor in biology.

Purnell is thankful to her teacher for providing the opportunity to apply for the Payback Challenge scholarship. 

Waugh-Lewis was overjoyed when she was notified that Purnell was selected.

“Kniya is a disciplined and mature scholar and person in general,” she said. “She is a very humble young lady. In general, she puts much effort into any activity she is undertaking. The fact she is also the senior class president speaks volumes.”