by Anil Lewis
From the Editor: Anil Lewis is a member of the NFB board of directors and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia. Last year he was appointed to follow Peggy Elliott in chairing perhaps the most demanding committee in the Federation. From the time the coming year’s scholarship form is available on the NFB Website in early November, committee members are busy encouraging their affiliates to promote it widely within the state, answering student questions, interviewing potential applicants, and generally doing what they can to encourage excellent students from seniors in high school through graduate school to complete the NFB scholarship application form and gather and submit the necessary accompanying documents.
In the spring the committee meets for a grueling weekend of work to identify the thirty strongest applicants. When all thirty winners have been reached and confirmed, the committee’s job is to maintain contact with them to answer questions and resolve problems before the convention. During convention committee members try to get to know as many winners as possible so that they can make wise decisions about which student will receive which scholarship.
As we go to press, the 2009 process is beginning. In the following article Anil describes the process and what participating in it can do for students. This is what he says:
Last year was my first serving as chairperson of the National Federation of the Blind scholarship committee. Having been managed under such excellent stewardship since its expansion in 1984, the program presented a tremendous challenge to me. Yet the dedicated collaboration of veteran members of the scholarship committee, along with a few new members, made this challenging task a fulfilling and enjoyable one. In addition, the members of the 2008 NFB scholarship class were accepting of my nervous renderings and gracious through my logistical learning curve. They are indeed an impressive, dynamic group of students, pursuing a diverse array of postsecondary degrees, and I am certain they will accomplish great things.
We set out again, this time to select our scholarship class of 2009. On November 1, 2008, the application process and forms for the NFB Scholarship Program were posted on the Web at <www.nfb.org>. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or you can download a printed application from the site. Those who do not have access to the Web can request and receive an application by mail. In addition to providing the application, the Website is becoming a growing resource for information about the NFB Scholarship Program. You can access direct links to information on past scholarship winners, student resources, and lots more. This will expand into a broader resource for general scholarship information in the future.
We offer thirty scholarships ranging from $3,000 to our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships (1) must be legally blind (which means both eyes); (2) must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time, postsecondary course of study in a degree program at a United States institution in the fall of the 2009-2010 academic year, except that one scholarship may be given to a person employed full-time while attending school part-time; and, (3) if chosen, applicants must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship program activities. In addition to the award, each winner will be brought to convention at Federation expense. The application deadline is March 31, 2009. Students should submit only one application. The scholarship committee will decide which scholarships the winners are eligible for and which each will receive.
In order to be considered for a scholarship, students must obtain and send proof of legal blindness and the additional supporting documentation required for a complete application. This may be a print copy of our Proof of Legal Blindnessformthathas been completed and signed by a medical doctor or a professional in eye care, such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Since other services offered to blind Americans also require such proof, it will be to any student’s benefit to retain a master copy of this documentation. Alternative authoritative proof may be a letter stating the student is legally blind signed by the president of an NFB chapter or affiliate, an itinerant teacher, a rehabilitation counselor, or some other expert in blind rehabilitation.
The scholarships are not restricted to NFB members. There is no requirement for an applicant to be a member of the NFB in order to win a scholarship. In fact, many applicants were not even aware of our organization before applying for an NFB scholarship. However, although there is no requirement for applicants to be members of the NFB, we do expect winners to be committed to the principles of promoting blind people as contributing members of society who can compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.
The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. If you take a look at past winners, you will see that they have a wide range of academic pursuits and professional goals. They are a cross section of race, sex, and age. Winners are selected from around the country. In fact, there is diversity in all demographic areas. However, each person chosen demonstrated the ability to be successful academically, possessed leadership ability, and was committed to community or public service.
My advice to any potential applicant is to read the application information carefully and provide all of the required information and supporting documentation. Many applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly. Obtain references from individuals that know you as a competent, able individual. Some reference letters are unconsciously negative or condescending; others are unrealistically and inappropriately laudatory. Applicants should choose recommendation writers carefully. Most of all focus on your essay. I recommend that you write your essay in a Word document, edit it, proofread it, then cut and paste the finished essay into the online form or transfer it to the print application form. The essay should be you talking about your life, how you live it, and how you’d like to live it. Committee members give it a great deal of attention.
The scholarship committee, consisting of successful blind college graduates, reviews all applications and selects the top thirty applicants as the scholarship class of 2009. These thirty scholarship winners will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1. Again, you need submit only one application to be considered for all of the scholarships for which you are eligible. The scholarship committee will decide during the annual convention which award will be given to each winner.
The NFB Scholarship Program offers more than just money for school. It is an opportunity for personal growth and ongoing professional development. Each scholarship winner will be brought to the NFB national convention in Detroit, Michigan, July 3 through 8, at the NFB’s expense. The convention is one of the most valuable gifts we give to each winner. We expect you will find, as others have before you, that the NFB national convention is a great deal of fun, offers truly beneficial networking at the highest level, answers questions you have always wanted to ask, and is as big a prize as the scholarship check winners receive. Furthermore, we give our winners an opportunity to participate in the development of public policies that affect blind people by assisting them to attend our Washington Seminar. We offer them the opportunity to give back to other blind people by serving as mentors to future scholarship winners as members of our Scholarship Alumni Program. The NFB scholarship is the gift that keeps on giving and is more than just money for school. This November blind students are invited to go to <www.nfb.org/scholarships>, to begin their quest for this national scholarship award. Questions may be emailed to the chairman at <email@example.com>.