Above the Scholarship Class of 2014:
From left to right: Back row: Shawn Berg, Craig Alan Cooper, Derek Manners, Alan Chase, Jonathan L. Franks, Cynthia L. Bennett, Candice L. Chapman, Mark Turley, Emily Mae Pennington,
Alex Jay Anderson
Middle row: Isaiah G. Wilcox, Anya Avramenko, Katelyn Alexandra MacIntyre, Cathy Gaten, Rebecca Joy Leon, Deja M. Powell , Meesha Johnson, Stanley E. Ingram Jr., Justin Howard Williams,
James Alan Boehm
Front row: Amber R. Kraft, Elizabeth Muhammad, Lucy Sidi, Yevgeniya V. Pankova, Anna Rose Walsh, Alana M. Leonhardy, Amanie Toni Riley, Bev S. Weiler, Sarah B. Patnaude,
Hayden Wallace Dahmm
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future. This year’s class had three tenBroek winners, meaning that they have been previous recipients of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship.
The first appearance of the class at a convention session occurred during the meeting of the board of directors. Members were introduced by Chairman Patti Chang, who gave their names, their home states, and their school states. Here is what they said about themselves:
Alex Anderson, New Jersey, Massachusetts: Hi, everybody. I don't get too much time to talk, so let me be quick here. I don't think I'm that fantastic, but apparently a lot of people do, or else I wouldn't be here. So I want to thank everyone and make everyone who put me here a promise: I will live up to and exceed every expectation set for me, and I'm declaring that now because that's how I'm going to live the rest of my life.
Anya Avramenko, Kansas, Kansas: Hello, everyone. My name is Anya; I'm from Ukraine. I came to America in 2008 as an exchange student in the Future Leaders Exchange Program. I lived with Jennifer and Dan Wenzel; many of you know these people. They were the first ones who introduced me to the spirit of independence of the National Federation of the Blind. In 2012 I was very fortunate to be granted a scholarship to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind, and I'm proud to say I graduated from the center. Despite extreme financial hardships I managed to start my schooling at Emporia State University, and a large part of this accomplishment is the great financial help from the NFB of Colorado and Kansas (I was a state scholarship winner). Now I'm going to Emporia State University, majoring in communication with a Spanish minor, and I want to become a legal interpreter one day. I'm thankful to the Federation for the trust and all the opportunities I've been given. I'm going to be an active member and try to give back in any way I can. Thank you.
Cindy Bennett, Washington, Washington: Good morning, and thank you. One of my challenges at work is that I have to ask my colleagues to use different information-sharing and collaboration technologies because the preferred ones are not currently accessible. This is very frustrating, and I want to do something about it. As I pursue a PhD in human-centered design at the University of Washington, I want to dedicate my research to improving the accessibility of education tools so that all students can be empowered by the content in our lessons, rather than frustrated by poorly designed products. Thank you so much, and I look forward to getting to know you this week.
Shawn Berg, Washington, Arizona: Hello, everyone. Yes, I do hail from the magical land of apples known as Washington. I'm studying mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is in Prescott, Arizona, and I'm also minoring in aerospace engineering, mathematics, and business. Hopefully I plan on going into either aerospace design or automotive design, and hopefully designing things that help the world be more accessible for us. Thank you.
James Boehm, Tennessee, Tennessee: I'd like to thank the committee. It is an honor and a privilege to be one of the thirty recipients of the NFB scholarships. We may be thirty, but we are one front, one mission in building the Federation, reflecting the flame of what it means to be blind. As president of my local chapter and the state Guide Dog Division as well as secretary for the state of Tennessee, I cannot wait to return home to reflect and share the energy that we have had here at the convention and move them as I have been moved. Thank you.
Candice Chapman, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would like to begin by thanking the scholarship committee and my Federation family for this opportunity. It is my goal to become a university counselor. As a counselor in the university setting, I will be working with people and connecting every day in forming relationships. When people reflect on these relationships that we form, they won't remember that I was a blind counselor; they'll remember that I was a counselor who happened to be blind. Your investment in me will help me to achieve this as I start my master's program in educational psychology in the fall. Thank you.
Alan Chase, North Carolina, North Carolina: First I'd like to thank the committee and the national board and of course all of you, my Federation family, for making this opportunity possible. Currently I'm a doctoral student at North Carolina State University. I'm studying educational administration, and I am very passionate about building community amongst the Federation and amongst people who are visually impaired. I'm also very passionate about helping people to transition to higher education. I've demonstrated that by serving as the president of the North Carolina Association of Blind Students and building our membership and building community amongst our student division. But more importantly I've also created a summer camp for students with visual impairments to learn the skills that they need in order to be successful in higher education. It is my goal and vision that, like our BELL Program and other initiatives of the Federation, at some point in the future the Envisioning Youth Empowerment (EYE) Retreat will also be something that is offered throughout the country as part of our Federation. Thank you.
Craig Cooper, Oregon, Oregon: Thank you very much. It's an honor and a privilege to be here this morning. Fifteen years ago I did mornings on a radio station in Shreveport, Louisiana, and we were discussing ideas for raising a thousand toys for kids at Christmastime. I said, "Well, I'll go up on the radio station billboard until we get a thousand toys." You could have heard a pin drop in that room as they contemplated the idea of a blind guy falling off the billboard. Well, I didn't fall off the billboard; I was up there for three days, we raised the thousand toys, and the underprivileged kids got a Christmas. Ten years ago Hurricane Ivan is headed for the Gulf Coast, and I'm afternoons on WTVY in Dothan, Alabama. We said, "We've got to cover this; this is serious; there's going to be tornados and such." So I anchored the coverage with my team on all our radio stations in Dothan on the eighth floor of an office building. We covered it all night, and the next day a woman called me on the request line and said, "Thank you so much. We were in the closet, we had no power, the wind was coming up, the tornado sirens were going off, and all we had was y'all. And y'all were telling us what to do, and y'all were calm. Thank you." And I hung up the phone, and I was crying, that was—wow, powerful. And last year as part of my training to be a teacher (I'm in the master's program at Southern Oregon University), I was able to mentor and tutor kids—learning disabilities, kids with autism and such, and that gave me a great feeling as well. I'm going into teaching because I want to bring out the best in kids, and I consider it an absolute blessing to be here this morning. I'm eager and willing and happy to give back to the Federation in any way I can, so please let me know how. Thank you.
Hayden Dahmm, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everybody. I am a senior studying engineering at Swarthmore College, and I'm the first blind student there in several years. So as a result being in the presence of hundreds of blind individuals is moving confirmation for me that I am not alone. I intend to continue my studies of environmental engineering, and I would also like to continue designing access tools so that blind individuals can have equal opportunities in STEM disciplines. I am blind as a consequence of being born over three months prematurely. When I was in the neonatal intensive care unit, a nurse said to my mother, "Miss, your son is never going to be a rocket scientist." I realize now that it is true; I will never be a rocket scientist—not because I am unable, but because I wish to do other things. The NFB testifies to me and proves to me that, just because limitations might be assumed from birth, we the blind can pursue whatever dreams we wish to. Thank you so much for making this opportunity.
Jonathan Franks, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everyone. I am pursuing a bachelor's in social work with a minor in psychology at the University of Texas. Eventually I'll also be pursuing a master's degree in social work and become a licensed clinical social worker so I can work with children. I am also a proud member of the board of the NFB of Texas, Austin chapter. I am a NEWSLINE® trainer for high school, middle school, and college students, and I am also an avid legislative advocate for the state of Texas. I am also a certified diabetes advocate for the American Diabetes Association and am on the board of the Hook the Cure-Diabetes Awareness student organization at the University of Texas. I am truly honored to be here. Thank you.
Cathy Gaten, California, California: Good morning, Dr. Maurer, board members, and Federationists. Being selected for this award is truly an honor. When someone recognizes your hard work, it's a confidence-builder. I would like to thank the scholarship committee for their belief in me and let them know that it's not going to be in vain. I plan to give back until it hurts. Thank you from the depths of my heart.
Stanley Ingram, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Greetings to my NFB family. I'm grateful, honored, and proud to be a member of the 2014 NFB scholarship class. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for allowing this to happen today. I'm studying for my MBA, and I will be a project manager and work with and for the NFB to continue the work of our founders and leaders—Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer—to change the perceptions of the capabilities of the blind in this world and in the United States of America. Thank you.
Meesha Johnson, New York, New York: Hello. Good morning, fellow Federationists. My name is Meesha Johnson. I am from Long Island, New York. I'm a single mother, and I'm a student at Suffolk County Community College, studying in the field of human services and law. I am also a double transplant recipient in August of 2010, and I just found out that one of the other finalists here is also a recipient, so I'm thinking that that's a new division that we may need to start here. A lot of people keep asking me how I am enjoying this. This is my first convention that I've ever been to, and I'm going to say what I've been telling everybody: this is not my last time. Thank you to the Federation for this honor, for the privilege of a scholarship to go toward my schooling. I am very thankful and grateful, and I'm grateful to be here. Thank you again.
Amber Kraft, North Dakota, North Dakota: I would like to start off by saying thank you to everyone for making it possible for me to be here; it's an honor. I'm from Bismarck, North Dakota. I just graduated from high school last May. I want to major in computer science, and I actually started classes already at Bismarck State. I'm missing math class to be here this week. I just want to say thank you to everyone.
Rebecca Leon, Tennessee, Tennessee: Good morning, everyone. I'm a social work major in Tennessee. I know that all of you here have dreams and aspirations. For some of you that may be traveling abroad or it may be going skydiving or making a cupcake. I encourage each of you to chase these dreams. For me, personally, my goal is to have a safe house for girls who have been trafficked and abused. I wish this to be a place where they can come and heal emotionally and mentally, where they will be taught music and art as therapies. I thank you all for having me here today and supporting me in my dreams. I choose to see every experience in life as an opportunity, a challenge, and an adventure, and I certainly see blindness in the same way. Thank you.
Alana Leonhardy, Idaho, Idaho: Good almost-afternoon, fellow Federationists. I am not here because I crave the prestige. I am not here simply for the money (although that is nice). I am here because I want the ability to make a difference in somebody's life somewhere. I am studying psychology, perhaps a very common major. But my goal is maybe a little less common: I want to work specifically with women who have disabilities who have been abused. I don't know if I'll go to law school and do battle against the bad guys in the courtroom or if I'll stay on the front line and do crisis intervention in the hospital and the like. What I do know is that I want to be a powerhouse in the Federation and that I will be a force to be reckoned with. Thank you.
Katelyn MacIntyre, Arizona, Pennsylvania: Hello, everyone, and thank you so much, Dr. Maurer, members of the board, and scholarship committee, and congratulations to my fellow finalists; it is such an honor to be among you all. I love music; music is my passion and my dream, and I love sharing that with other people. I believe that music is the language of the soul, and it truly transcends spoken language barriers and can reach such diverse audiences. To follow that, I'm studying a master's in music in vocal performance at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, starting this fall. I look forward to being a music educator and a concert performer. I sing everything from opera to jazz, and I love all kinds of music, so much so that I also enjoy studying music in culture (also known as ethnomusicology.) I'm a volunteer at the musical instrument museum, and I'm pursuing an opera program in Austria immediately after the convention this summer. So I'm thankful for the many opportunities I've had to perform around the world and share my music with diverse audiences, and I'm truly honored to be a part of this scholarship class. Thank you, and I'm enjoying my time at the NFB convention.
Derek Manners, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, new family. My name is Derek Manners. I'm about to start my second year at Harvard Law School. I graduated from the University of Texas—hook'em Horns—summa cum laude with my economics in government degree. I am looking forward to putting all of that long, hard-fought, and expensive education to work for the NFB. I realized pretty quickly when I first got here that the scholarship money isn't the real prize of this convention; it is the opportunity to get to meet all of you and to participate and to learn the opportunities I can do to get to work.
Elizabeth Muhammad, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Thank you to everyone who has made it possible for me to be here today. In the fall I will be a freshman at Bryn Mawr College majoring in political science and minoring in journalism. I have always been sure of my academic goals, but I have not always been 100 percent sure of my career goals. That is until yesterday, when I had the opportunity to have a great conversation with a man who helped me figure this out. Opportunity, advancement, and certainty: that is what the NFB means to me, and that is why I will continue on in this great organization. Thank you.
Yevgeniya "Zhenya" Pankova, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone. My name is Zhenya Pankova. I was born in Russia, but I moved to the US when I was three, so I'm fluent in both English and Russian. In the fall I'm going to be an incoming freshman at Bridgewater State University with a double major in special education and math. The reason I want to major in special education is because I've had such a strong support system throughout my life, and I want to give back. I want to let the kids know that they can be fully independent, no matter what they do, and that they can reach for the stars. I'd like to thank the committee for allowing me to be here today so that I could reach for the stars and reach my goals. Thank you.
Sarah Patnaude, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning. Every day we raise expectations of blind individuals because low expectations create obstacles between blind individuals and our dreams. I want to thank the Federation for investing in every blind individual. I want to continue my work in the Federation by ultimately becoming a lawyer for the NFB or working in the advocacy and policy department at our National Center. On the first day of my internship, Dr. Maurer asked, "Who desires a seat at the table?" I am here today to promise you that I will take that seat. Thank you.
Emily Pennington (tenBroek Fellow), Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone. It is with great pleasure that I represent not only the wonderful scholarship class of 2014 but the great state of Ohio. I am a junior accounting major at Xavier University. I am hoping to pursue my MBA, law degree, and master's in taxation to become a tax lawyer. Aside from that, I'm ready to immerse myself in the Federation. This is my second convention, but I fully intend to be there for the one-hundredth in 2040. Thank you, everyone—have a great day.
Deja Powell (tenBroek Fellow), Utah, Utah: Good morning. My name is Deja Powell, and my journey started back twelve years ago when I won my first scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind. I later went on to graduate with a master's degree in orientation and mobility, and I taught adults for a few years (yes, I'm a proud NOMC). Then I had this really mean boss named Dr. Eddie Bell, and he came to me and said, "There's some blind kids in our city, and they aren't going to get O & M instruction unless you teach them." I had no intentions of teaching kids; of course I went and taught them, and I fell in love. I found my passion. I realized that blind kids deserve every opportunity possible; they deserve to be told that whatever they're dreaming and wanting to be, they can be. That's my goal. I'm working on my PhD in K-12 education so I can improve the lives of blind kids in the future. I want to say that I'm so grateful for this scholarship, and whatever you invest in me, you'll also invest in them, and I will introduce my students to the National Federation of the Blind.
Amanie Riley, New York, New York: Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to receive this scholarship and to speak before you today. This is my first convention, but definitely not the last. This convention is just a stepping stone to the numerous conventions that I will attend in the future. I am currently a senior at Mercy College in a combined bachelor-master's program; therefore I will graduate with my bachelor's degree in psychology and education next May and graduate with my master's in special education in 2016. After that I would like to go back to school to receive certifications to become a TVI because I'm a big advocate for Braille literacy and the use of assistive technology. Once again, thank you for this wonderful convention so far, and I'm looking forward to interacting with each and every one of you.
Lucy Sidi, Illinois, Iowa: Hi, everyone. My name is Lucy, and I will be a freshman at Grinnell College in the fall. I'm considering a major in environmental science, but I hope to go on to law school and eventually become an advocate for the disabled and the mentally ill. This is my first NFB convention. I've never been to a gathering that was so empowering, and so far I've been really amazed with everything I've seen. Thank you so much for having me here today.
Mark Turley, Utah, Utah: We just went from the youngest to the oldest. I'd like to first of all thank Dr. Maurer and the Scholarship Committee for giving me this opportunity. In 2005 I was lost. I had just lost most of my sight, I'd lost my twenty-year career in the Navy, and I had lost a lot of my self-esteem and self-worth. My family loved me, but they didn't know what to do. Then in 2007 I discovered the NFB, and I immediately took to its philosophy, and I found a home there. While I appreciate this scholarship, the NFB has already given me far more than this. When I was in church as a young kid, I was taught that, if you want to find yourself, then lose yourself in service. I currently serve as the chapter president in Salt Lake, and I'm on the board in Utah. I'm now pursuing a master's degree at the University of Utah in mathematics to pursue a new career in education teaching. I appreciate this very much; I love the NFB, and I'm a lifer.
Anna Walsh, Alabama, Alabama: Good morning. Thank you for selecting me for this honor. In the fall I will be a freshman at Auburn University, where I will pursue a degree in political science. Afterwards I will attend law school because I have a strong desire to facilitate change in our society, and I believe that a good understanding of the law will help me in this effort. Through my involvement in the NFB, I have realized that I can pursue the life I want. Therefore, as I strive to achieve my goals, I will remain involved in the Federation, because it has given me far more than I ever expected. Thank you.
Bev Weiler, Colorado, Colorado: Good afternoon. I was thinking as I was coming through the line how I've had some interesting congruences in my life. As a teenager I was working with hearing-impaired and multiply-handicapped students, and now I am a blind student. I ran lights for rock ‘n roll out on the road, one of three women at that time in the country as a rock 'n roll roady, and now I have troubles with the light. Finally, I used to do seminars for the worldwide offices of Sun Microsystems, planning seminars for four hundred people, and here I am an honoree and attending a seminar with over two thousand people. Going from being a troubled teen to my master's degree now at Regis University, where I will work with troubled teens, I greatly appreciate the honor of the scholarship from NFB. Thank you very much.
Isaiah Wilcox (tenBroek Fellow), Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, thank you to Dr. Maurer and to the national board for reinvesting in me. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here to enjoy this opportunity once again. I will be pursuing my MBA degree from Georgia Tech in the fall. But let me just take a step back and remind everyone that in 2008 I won the scholarship. That was the fuel that I needed to light my Federation fire, to go home, to start a student division, then to join the state board, and now to be the president of our Atlanta chapter. So this scholarship means much more than just the financial capability to graduate school. It means that you give us an opportunity to join the Federation and to get started. Again, thank you all for having me here today, and I look forward to meeting each and every one of you.
Justin Williams, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hello, everybody. It is an honor and a privilege to be here. I attend the University of South Carolina, seeking my second master's degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling. My plan is to assist in a very aggressive way in ADA accessibility with the internet, with the web, and with reasonable accommodations and advocacy. The idea is to empower individuals with disabilities (whether they be blind or otherwise) to be independent and also to have accessibility so that some of those websites we're finding inaccessible—I'd like to at least look them over and then report them and let the right people help make them accessible. Like I said, this is my second master's degree. I've already worked at the commission for the blind as a JAWS trainer, a computer trainer for assistive technology. I've also run the Vanguard Rent-a-car Program for certifying individuals who are blind for customer service jobs. Also we've certified folks who were from vocational rehabilitation but weren't blind for these customer service positions. This has been a great week, I'm enjoying it, and I hear it's going to get even better. I appreciate the opportunities that the National Federation of the Blind has presented to me, and I look forward to being of service. Thank you very much.
On Sunday evening, July 6, following the annual banquet speech, Chairman Chang came to the podium to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships they had been awarded. This year the winners shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before they took their places on 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, and a $1,000 cash award from Google. This package of gifts added over $2,500 of value to every scholarship award.
After the scholarship class was introduced and the amount of each award was announced, Ms. Deja Powell was invited to address the convention in recognition of her winning the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Here is what she said:
Wow. Thank you so much to the committee, to Dr. Maurer for being such a great leader for me since I joined the Federation some thirteen years ago, and thank you to all of you, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, for giving me this scholarship today. You are part of the team.
I have felt strongly that my dad has been with me this week. He died eight years ago of brain cancer. My dad and I owned a lawn mowing business when I was a senior in high school, and we called it Kicking Grass Lawn Care. I remember a day when we had just finished mowing the lawn together. We sat on the grass, and he said to me, "Deja, promise me something. (This is before he knew he had cancer.) Promise me that you'll find someone or something that will help you become the person you want to be." This week I've felt my dad here, and I know that this organization—the National Federation of the Blind—is exactly what he'd hoped for me. You have my guarantee that your investment in me will go to the education of blind kids.
One little girl came to me this week on the Cane Walk and said to me, "Miss Deja, I just want you to know (her name is MaKenzie, she's awesome,) that I'm a real good cane traveler, and there's probably not a lot you're going to be able to teach me." And I love that, and I want that for every kid. So thank you so much for putting your trust and faith in me.
Following is the complete list of 2014 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 NFB Awards: Alex Anderson, Anya Avramenko, James Boehn, Alan Chase, Craig Cooper, Hayden Dahmm, Jonathan Franks, Cathy Gaten, Stanley Ingram, Amber Kraft, Rebecca Leon, Alana Leonhardy, Derek Manners, Zhenya Pankova, Amanie Riley, Lucy Sidi, Anna Walsh, Bev Weiler, and Justin Williams
$3,000 The Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Cindy Bennett
$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Mark Turley
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Isaiah Wilcox
$5,000 NFB Awards: Meesha Johnson, Shawn Berg, and Emily Pennington
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Elizabeth Muhammad
$7,000 NFB Scholarship: Sarah Patnaude
$7,000 Donald and Betty Capps Leadership and Service Scholarship: Katelyn MacIntyre
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Candice Chapman
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Deja Powell