Future Reflections        Convention Issue 2013

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The 2013 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class

Presented by Patti Gregory-Chang

From the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind recognizes thirty outstanding blind postsecondary students as NFB scholarship winners. The 2013 scholarship recipients ranged from entering college freshmen to doctoral candidates, and they were pursuing studies in an array of fields, from tax accounting to computational chemistry. At the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the thirty 2013 NFB scholarship winners (including five tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving a second NFB scholarship) came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. The speakers were introduced by Patti Gregory-Chang, who chairs the NFB Scholarship Committee. Patti announced each student's name, home state, and school state.

NFB Scholarship Class of 2013

Conrad Austen, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning, Federation family. I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for fighting for ever-increasing opportunities for me and thousands upon thousands of other blind students to succeed. I'm a senior at St. Mary's College of Maryland studying history, and I plan on getting a doctorate in history and becoming a professor researching and teaching disability history. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible, and until then I hope you continue to have a wonderful convention. Thank you.

[Patti Chang: When students win more than one of our scholarships, they are dubbed "tenBroek Fellows." Here is the first of five this year.]

Cody Bair, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning! It's a pleasure to stand in front of you today as a tenBroek Fellow. I'm a student at the University of Northern Colorado, and I'll be a senior in the fall. I'm majoring in accounting, and it's my career goal to obtain my CPA and practice in tax. This summer I'm working an internship for EKS&H [Ehrhardt, Keefe, Seiner, and Hottman], which is a large accounting firm in Colorado. I'm specializing in real estate and partnership tax. This is my third convention, and I have the pleasure of serving as the president of the Greeley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, the treasurer of the Colorado Association of Blind Students, and, as of last night, a board member of NABS. It is my goal this convention to develop as a stronger leader because I know that, while as a Federation we have accomplished a lot, we still have a lot more to accomplish, and I'm committed to working and putting in tireless hours until what we want to accomplish is accomplished. Thank you.

Danielle Burton, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, everyone. I am a freshman this fall, and I am going to major in elementary and special education with an emphasis in moderate to severe disabilities. I plan to teach students who are blind and visually impaired. I chose to do this because I want students to have more opportunities, and I want them to have some things I did not have as a student myself. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today and this week, and I hope to meet everybody. Thank you very much.

Mark Colasurdo, New Jersey, New York: Hello, everyone. My name is Mark Colasurdo, and it is an honor to be here as a scholarship winner. I want to thank the committee for this wonderful opportunity. I first came to the NFB in 2009 during the Youth Slam event and have been a student and mentor at various other STEM events since. I am currently the vice president of the New Jersey Association of Blind Students. In the fall I will be a junior at Cornell University, studying bioengineering. This summer I am doing a research internship up there funded by the National Science Foundation, where I am doing original research studying tissue engineering. In the future I hope to be a PhD scholar and research scientist in the field of biomedical engineering and to continue to participate actively in the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.

Angela DeHart, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thank you, scholarship committee and board of directors. It is an honor to be here this week. This fall I will be a senior in a program leading to dual certification in elementary and special education, with an emphasis in teaching students who have moderate to severe disabilities. My career goal is to teach students who have autism. Teaching is my passion. It is my job to educate, encourage, and inspire my students. My philosophy of teaching is the same as my philosophy of blindness. If there is one thing I want my students to learn from me, it is that their disability need not limit them, and anything is possible with enough dedication and perseverance. Thank you all.

Stephanie DeLuca, Tennessee, Tennessee: Good morning, everyone! I am honored to be here as a tenBroek Fellow this year. I am currently the president of the Tennessee Association of Blind Students. I am also hoping to defend my doctorate next spring, and with that doctorate I'd like to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) policy or STEM education policy because I believe very passionately and strongly that everyone, including the blind and visually impaired who are often ignored, have the right to a quality education, and that is how we can move up in the world. So I am looking forward to learning from all of you and learning to be a trailblazer and a leader. Thank you.

Al Elia, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. Thank you to the committee, and thank you to all of you for supporting this organization that can therefore support this wonderful class that I'm honored to be a part of. I have to confess that I took for granted for many years the rights that I have as a blind person. Then, in the late 2000s, I discovered the NFB and how much I owe to this organization for all the rights that I've had my whole life. And I realized that we're still doing that work, especially Massachusetts. You know, I think a lot of people here probably have iPhones--yes? That's the NFB and Massachusetts. And the ATM machines that we all use, that talk to us now? That's the NFB and Massachusetts. So I decided that, after fifteen years out of school and working as a software developer, I was going to go to law school. So that's what I'm doing now, and I hope to continue to do that sort of work, fighting in Massachusetts along with the NFB to increase our rights going forward. Thank you very much.

Molly Faerber, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: Good morning, everyone. Thank you to the members of the scholarship committee and the members of this class for giving me my first national convention. It's been astonishing so far. I'm currently a grad student at Brown University in the department of literary arts, concentrating in fiction writing. In the fall or in this upcoming academic year I'll be teaching two fiction-writing classes at Brown, and I'll also have the chance to teach a group of blind high school students a writing workshop as well. I'm going to steal something that Julie said last night that I think was really great. She said that blind people deserve to be on the stage as much as sighted people do, and I completely agree. I believe that the opinions, the experiences, and the perceptions of the world that blind people have deserve to be written, published, and read by everyone, and I am dedicated to doing everything in my power to make that happen, especially after only these few days of convention. Thank you very much.

Kristin Fleschner, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, everyone. I'm so honored and privileged to be here. I'm a third-year law student at Harvard Law School. I've been extremely privileged to have a lot of rich educational and cultural experiences along the way. I did my undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University, where I received a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science. Vanderbilt then sent me to Africa, where I researched violence against women and traveled to over eighteen countries. When I returned, I had the opportunity to work for the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, and since that time I've been a federal government employee. In that capacity I've had the opportunity to testify before Congress and brief some of our most senior policy members. But along the way I lost my vision, and I had a lot of self-doubt. The morning that I actually received my admittance letter to Harvard Law School, I wasn't sure I was making the right decision, and I wasn't sure I should even be going to law school. I actually happened to make one of my first trips to the NFB in Baltimore that day to do a training session that Scott LaBarre was putting on for blind lawyers, and I left that meeting after spending a few hours with about forty blind lawyers wondering if I shouldn't get not only my JD at Harvard but whether I should also get my PhD. I think that this is what this organization has the capacity to do, so I'm here this week to learn from all of you and the rest of the scholarship team here, and I look forward to meeting the rest of you this week.

Juna Gjata, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. My name is Juna Gjata. I am seventeen years old and will be attending Harvard as a freshman this fall. I have the privilege of being here for the first time this year, and it's so exciting. Over the past four years I've interned at a law firm and an investment agency and as a research assistant, and they have only reaffirmed in my mind that I want to be a concert pianist in the future. I have been attending a conservatory for eight years now and have had the honor of playing with six different orchestras and playing Carnegie Hall and Symphony Hall, so my dream is to be a pianist without a day job--sorry Papi.

Fredrick Hardyway, Kansas, Washington: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity; this has been wonderful. This is my first convention, and I'm just so amazed. I'm going to Washington State and getting my doctorate in world history with a primary emphasis in African history. My goal is to become a professor. I guess I found out among the scholarship winners that I'm the eldest, so thank you for the opportunity.

Tasha Hubbard, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, Federationists. I am a student at Liberty University getting my master's in professional counseling and life coaching. With that I will be counseling people who have gone through traumatic experiences that left them disabled. My goal is to give them back their hope for life and to teach them that their life isn't over now that they're disabled. I am also the president of the Peninsula Chapter in Virginia. I am the coordinator for the Peninsula BELL Program. I am on the McDonald Fellowship Committee, and I will be running for a position in the Human Services Division later on today. My theme here is giving back.

Chopper Johnson, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hi, folks. It's good to hear a little bit of South Carolina in the house. After starting my undergraduate in the early 90s, I'm finally getting around to graduating with a double degree in secondary education and history in May from the College of Charleston. This is thanks to the scholarship committee. This is my first NFB national convention; it's been a long couple of days already; I look forward to a long couple of more. So that's me.

Tyler Kavanaugh, Kansas, New York: Good morning. Thank you, scholarship committee, board of directors, Mr. President, Madame Chair. It is a great honor for me to be here this morning. I'm going to be a sophomore at the Rochester Institute of Technology, studying software engineering. This is my first national convention, and I hope to become even more involved in the Federation because I only really got kind of involved with it at the state convention in New York last November.

Mi So Kwak, California, California: First of all, I am so honored and humbled to be here today. Throughout my life I have been blessed with incredible mentors and experiences: teachers in Korea who always encouraged me to think bigger, a high school teacher who opened my mind to chemistry, a guidance counselor who gave me an opportunity to speak to a local Cub Scout pack about blindness, band directors who gave me wonderful opportunities such as being a section leader for marching band performing in a concert as a member of Southern California Ambassadors of Music, and marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade as a member of Bands of America Honor Band, and finally, many of my NFB mentors whom I have met throughout this week. This fall I'll be a freshman attending the University of California, Los Angeles, and am considering a double major in music history and communication and a minor in education. Although I'm not sure about the specifics of my career, I would like to become a teacher who could open students' minds and strengthen their self-belief, just like my teachers have done for me. Thank you.

Domonique Lawless, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning. I am very honored to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, currently living in Ruston, Louisiana, where I am attending Louisiana Tech, finishing my master's degree in teaching blind students orientation and mobility. I've been in the National Federation of the Blind for thirteen years. In 2005 I founded the Tennessee Association of Blind Students and had the opportunity to serve as its president from 2005 to 2011. I also served on the state board for the Tennessee affiliate as well as served on the National Association of Blind Students board from 2007 to 2012. Although I hold no current board positions, I love working behind the scenes in various education programs, like the BELL Program in Louisiana and soon the BELL Program in Virginia. I look forward to doing anything I can to help the Federation, and I'm looking forward to the rest of convention.

Alex Loch, Minnesota, Minnesota: Hi, everyone. My name is Alex Loch. I'm a third-year grad student at the College of St. Scholastica, earning a doctorate in physical therapy. I will own my own practice--a physical therapy clinic--one day. I live in Duluth, Minnesota, and we're in the process of getting a chapter started in Duluth; so any tips are welcome. In Minnesota we have these things called "Ole and Lena jokes," so I'm going to tell you one: Sven was walking down the street, and he noticed his buddy Ole standing by the jewelry store. He said, "Hey, Ole, vat you doing?" Ole said, "Oh, it's Lena's birthday, and she asked for something with a lot of diamonds." Sven said, "Yah? Vell, vat'd you get her?" Ole said, "Vell, I got her a deck of cards." Thank you all so much; have a lovely convention.

Brooke Lovell, Utah, Utah: Hello, everyone, I'm so thankful to be here today. I'm an incoming freshman at Brigham Young University, and I will be majoring in psychology. I plan to become a marriage and family counselor. This summer I'm interning at a counseling office in Salt Lake City, and I absolutely love it. I have been involved with the NFB for coming up on three years now. I had the opportunity to attend Washington Seminar, and that was right after I became involved with the NFB. Then I was on the founding board of our local chapter and served as the secretary there for two years. I am currently treasurer of our student division, and I have had the opportunity to serve as a junior mentor at the BELL Program and in Project STRIVE in our state. I'm so thankful for all these awesome opportunities that I've had to give back, because I have received so much from the NFB and from my mentors and from you, my Federation family. I hope you all have a very happy day. Thank you.

Julie McGinnity, Missouri, Missouri: Hi, everyone. First of all I would like to thank Patti Chang and the rest of the scholarship committee for giving me this opportunity once again. I'm having a great time. I would also like to thank Lorraine Rovig for all the work she's doing; it can't be easy to be with us all the time! I was recently told that I could only be a blind character in an opera because I'm blind, and all the sighted people are supposed to play the sighted characters. Yeah, unfortunately this is something that we face every day. Many of us in this room have faced this attitude. I would like to become an accomplished performer and be a professor of voice. I would like to teach all kinds of students performance techniques. I would also like to advocate for blind performers because that attitude is wrong, and we need to fix it, guys. Thank you.

Mona Minkara, Florida, Florida: Hi, everyone. I'm actually originally from Boston; I moved down here for graduate school. I am a third-year at the University of Florida, part of the Quantum Theory Project. I am studying computational chemistry. I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Wellesley College in 2009 with a double major in chemistry and Middle Eastern studies. Then I was really fortunate to get a Howard Hughes Medical Institution grant to do a year of pure research, and I decided this is what I want to do with the rest of my life--I love it. Unfortunately, growing up I wasn't really involved with the NFB or anything involved with blind associations. I was not taught Braille, and I did not have enough vision to read large print. I've done everything auditorily, but, coming here, I've decided I'm going to learn Braille. Actually, Julie McGinnity--who just spoke--she just showed me the alphabet; I was able to read a couple of sentences on her BrailleNote, so I'm really excited to see where that takes me. Thank you.

Disa Muse, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Thank you. My associate's and bachelor's were in areas of law, and I honestly just had a mild plan of being a paralegal. But, as I was going through school during the last two years, I've faced more battles than I've ever faced in my life. It was the first time I'd gone to college blind. I battled one professor one semester. I thought, "Good, that'll never happen again." No, next semester, major battle, semester-long. Then voc rehab, and, by the end I said, "Do you know what? They don't seem to understand! I'm part of the NFB, and I don't take no for an answer." I'm now dedicating my life to that type of service for others. Thank you.

Treva Olivero, Louisiana, Louisiana: Hello, everyone, thank you. I am very honored and blessed and humbled to have this opportunity. This is my tenth convention. In the past I haven't been able to go to school to get a scholarship, but currently I am attending the Louisiana Tech master's program for teaching blind students. I'm very excited, and what sparked an interest in teaching was my experience with the Louisiana and the Maryland BELL programs and also the Braille Rocks Program in Maryland. I'd like to thank my mentors from the NFB of Indiana and the NFB of Maryland for all their support. Thank you so much for believing in me and giving me this opportunity so that I can go and teach future Federationists.

Steven Phelps, Utah, Utah: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a member of the Utah affiliate, and within that affiliate I am the president of the Utah Valley Chapter. I am in my final year of study at the University of Utah. I am working on two master's degrees, one in social work and the other in public administration. I'm also working on a graduate certificate in disability studies. With this combination of degrees and a certificate, I will be able to provide relief and initiate necessary changes for people with disabilities through advocacy, legislation, policy efforts, and administrative leadership. I believe that I can make a difference in people's lives, and this belief has been furthered during recent national conventions, Washington Seminar, and activities within the Utah affiliate. I am committed to furthering the mission of the National Federation of the Blind and its programs and affiliates. Thank you.

Heather Rasmussen, Tennessee, Washington DC: Hi. I've been in the NFB for several years, about six, I think. I owe a lot to this organization. I went to the Colorado Center for the Blind in 2009-2010. It was a truly life-changing experience. That being said, I've never been able to come to a national convention before, and I'm really truly grateful to be here; it's amazing. I have a bit of a different background; I grew up on a goat farm--yes, a goat farm--in Tennessee. I am now at American University in Washington, DC; I'm majoring in international studies with a focus in conflict resolution because it's really hard to get anything done in terms of development if you're being shot at. I'm minoring in Spanish because it's awesome and criminal justice because I have a passion for US prison reform. Coming from an under-served population--being blind--I feel empathy with that population because they're very neglected in this country. For the last year I studied abroad in the University of Ireland in Galway, and I love dogs.

Kaitlin Shelton, Ohio, Ohio: Hello, and good morning, everyone. This fall I will be a sophomore at the University of Dayton, where I am majoring in music therapy with a minor in psychology. I have yet to decide what specific population I want to work with, but I'm considering concentrating in work with teens with all sorts of disabilities; substance abuse and recovery; medical patients; or music therapy in a pediatric hospital. I've had a couple volunteer internships, including one at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and I hope to get more in order to sort of figure out my niche and see where I want to go. I'm pretty active on campus. I do several activities, including volunteer organizations, two fraternities, marching band, and a bunch of musical ensembles. As far as the Federation goes, I am active in the Ohio Association of Blind Students, where I currently serve as secretary, and the Community Service Group, and I hope to become more involved as the week goes on. This is my first convention, and I'm really excited and honored to be here. I'm really thankful for this opportunity, so thank you to everyone who's made this possible, as well as everyone here for working for a better future for blind people. Thank you.

Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez, California, California: Good morning, fellow Federationists. First off, I am very blessed. I feel very blessed to be part of the scholarship class this year, and it is with great humility that I say thank you to each and every one of you, as well as the scholarship committee. I am a graduate student at Cal State University, San Bernardino. I am earning a master's degree in rehab counseling. I currently work as a service coordinator at the department of rehab in California. Rehab is very near and dear to my heart. But I am more than that. I am also a mother, a wife, and a Federationist. I have the privilege of working in the great state of California next to some seasoned mentors. I serve as treasurer of our student division and vice president of our diabetes division, and I am president of the Southwest Riverside County Chapter. But my privilege extends beyond the California borders. I get to work alongside all of you, and I get to be part of the difference we are going to make in this world. Again, I thank you, and I look forward to meeting more of you. Everybody have a great convention. Thank you.

Ivy Wanta, New York, Connecticut: Hi, everyone. I'm so grateful to be here as a scholarship winner. I'm starting at Yale University this fall, hoping to major in physics and planning to have a future in alternate energy sources. I'm also incredibly involved in theater. Throughout my high school career I acted in, directed, or wrote seventeen different plays and musicals. This is my first convention, and I really do feel like this scholarship has given me the gift of the NFB, and I can't wait to take that gift home and get involved in my state affiliate. Thank you so much.

Kathryn Webster, Connecticut, North Carolina: Good morning, my new Federation family. This is my first national convention, and my name is Kathryn Webster. I am originally from Florida, live in Connecticut, and will be starting my freshman year of undergraduate at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. I plan on pursuing a double major in mathematical business and economics with a minor in health and human services, hopefully. My career goal right now is to be an actuarial scientist and a motivational speaker. I am new to the Federation--fairly new--but I am looking forward to this week, and I am loving it. And I just wanted to give a shout-out to Justin Salisbury because he convinced me to highly consider going to the LCB, and he has definitely been a great mentor throughout this whole process. I can't wait to keep on being a Federationist and getting involved. Thank you.

Matthew Yeater, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning, Federationists. I, too, would like to say thank you so much to the scholarship committee for your hard work and dedication, and the board of directors. On behalf of all of us, all of you affiliate leaders, without you guys we wouldn't be where we are, so thank you very much. I graduated from Indiana Bible College last year and am a first-year grad student at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I've been part of the Federation for five years, recruited by Ron Brown. My first convention was part of the College Leadership Program four years ago, so this is my fourth convention. The leadership seminar changed my life, really. I went back home with a new perspective and an open understanding. During my senior year of college I started the National Federation of the Blind of Michiana, a newly formed chapter. I serve on the building committee where we're celebrating that just last week we got a building donated to us--office space--so we're really looking forward to that. We have a couple of grant writers--one of whom works with the International Rotary--he's a gifts manager, his major is corporate sponsorship--so we're excited for the new developments. Thank you guys for all that you do for us.

Stephanie Zundel, New Jersey, Tennessee: Good morning, my Federation family. I am so thankful, blessed, and honored to have been awarded one of the NFB's scholarships. I will be attending Vanderbilt University in the fall as a freshman. I will be double majoring in speech pathology and psychology. I have also just decided to minor in something that has to do with animals, since I absolutely love animals. I attended the Youth Slam in 2011, and I also just graduated from the LEAD Program, which is led by Joe Ruffalo and Jerilyn Higgins. I just have one quick story to share on why I absolutely love the NFB and why it is such a great organization. This year I was in an AP government class. All the students in this class belong to a national e-Congress, which is a website where students from all over the country create their own laws. These laws are sent to other classrooms across the country, where they either pass or fail. I made a law about how I think there should be a way that blind people can distinguish between money, other than using money readers. It is fine if people disagree with my ideas, but the way these people failed was unbelievable. They told me that blind people never go to stores without a sighted companion. This is why I do boxing--because of my anger--and also why I joined the NFB. The NFB is here to fight for our equality because we know that blind people can accomplish everything that sighted people can. Thank you.

Scholarship Presentations

On Saturday evening, July 6, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Gregory-Chang came to the podium to present this year's winners and announce which scholarships each had been awarded. Each winner shook hands with NFB President Marc Maurer and inventor Ray Kurzweil before taking a place at the back of the platform. In addition to the NFB scholarship, each of the thirty winners received a $1,000 check and plaque from Ray Kurzweil; a Google Nexus 7 tablet for access to the Blio ebook reader from K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc.; and a $1,000 cash award from Google. This package of gifts added over $2,000 of value to every scholarship award.

The final award of the evening was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez, who then spoke briefly to the audience. This is what she said:

Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez: I'm trying to catch my breath right now and stand at the same time, so excuse the shaking in my voice, please. Good evening, my Federation family. Words can never express the thanks or even the feelings I have right now. In 2007 I sat on the side of the road--devastated--realizing that I was blind. My car was parked; I had called my brother for a ride because I had almost hit a car. In 2009 I had the opportunity, the blessing, to attend my first national convention in Detroit. I partook in our walk, in our March for Independence. I left that convention changing the word "devastation" to "determination"--to dare to dream. It is with great humility that I stand here before you this evening, again truly thanking each and every one of you. I may not know you personally, but we are working together, and that is all I need to know. Thank you, my Federation family. It is my privilege to walk with you as we go to Washington each year and as we walk the streets and show society what it means to work together in changing what it means to be blind. Thank you.

Following is the complete list of 2013 scholarship winners and the awards they received:

$3,000 NFB Awards: Conrad Austen, Cody Bair, Danielle Burton, Mark Colasurdo, Albert (Al) Elia, Juna Gjata, Fredrick Hardyway, Natasha Hubbard, Tyler Kavanaugh, Mi So Kwak, Domonique Lawless, Alex Loch, Disa Muse, Steven J. Phelps, Heather Rasmussen, Kaitlin Shelton, Ivy Wanta, Matthew Yeater, and Stephanie Zundel

$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Treva Olivero

$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Angela Dehart

$3,000 The Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Stephanie DeLuca

$5,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarships: Mona Minkara and Kathryn Webster

$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Chopper Johnson

$5,000 The Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Molly Faerber

$7,000 NFB Scholarships: Brooke Lowell and Julie Ann McGinnity

$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Kristin Fleschner

$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez.

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