Braille Monitor                          February 2020

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The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship

by Cayte Mendez

Cayte MendezFrom the Editor: Cayte Mendez is the chairperson of one of the most important committees of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her committee are charged with advertising our scholarship program and choosing thirty students who demonstrate academic success, leadership, and commitment to helping others. Here is Cayte’s announcement about the 2020 scholarship program:

Each July at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, our organization awards a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. Our thirty scholarships, of which the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest, are all substantial and prestigious enough to inspire any student to complete a competitive application. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply.

What exactly is the secret to winning an NFB scholarship? Over the years, I have heard quite a bit of speculation regarding the answer to this question. To be sure, there are some non-negotiable eligibility requirements. All applicants for these scholarships must:

While these are the concrete requirements, what exactly is the secret to becoming an NFB scholarship winner?

Many think the key to becoming a scholarship winner is a high grade point average (GPA). While an applicant’s GPA certainly has value because it demonstrates his or her ability to learn and be successful academically, this is by no means the only attribute that influences the decisions of the scholarship committee. Likewise, others believe that the secret to winning is abundant participation in extracurricular activities. Recognizing an applicant’s willingness to take on commitments outside of school and/or work can help the committee develop a portrait of a well-rounded individual; however, this is also not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Still others think the magic scholarship-winning ingredient is an applicant’s level of commitment to the NFB. It is certainly true that the scholarship program provides our organization with a tremendous opportunity to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are by no means restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is dedicated to creating opportunities for all blind people. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships.

Finally, there are those who speculate that the committee looks for winners among applicants from specific fields of study or specific demographics. However, over the years, students of all ages and in widely differing fields have become finalists. The class of 2019 included students entering their freshman year, as well as older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. Past scholarship winners are working toward credentials for employment in many diverse fields. So what exactly is the secret to becoming an NFB scholarship finalist? It is just this—you must apply! Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the web at www.nfb.org/scholarships, along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The application form for 2020 is already online. It will remain available until March 31. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can ask for a print application by contacting our scholarship office at scholarships@nfb.org or by calling 410-659-9314, ext. 2415.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, one letter of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. Each applicant must also complete an interview with the NFB affiliate president of his/her state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors may also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams.

In order to ensure that their application is eligible for consideration, applicants must ensure that all of the required information and supporting documentation has been received by our scholarship office either online by midnight EST, March 31, or by mail postmarked by March 31.                  

Students should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letter of reference. These letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a bright, active student and citizen.

Students can write their essays using word processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting their work into the online application form. In an effective essay, the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which he or she lives successfully as a blind person and describe the applicant’s personal goals for the future. Information about positions of leadership is especially helpful. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants who will become the scholarship class of 2020. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty finalists from all applications received. These thirty scholarship finalists will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1.

During the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, held July 14 through July 19, 2020, in Houston, Texas, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner. Attending and participating in the entire national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course, attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize.

The National Federation of the Blind’s national convention is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the world each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship finalists will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully employed in many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they ever imagined.

Often students apply more than one year before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if their scholarship and leadership merit another award. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows.

So now you know the secret. The key to success for the NFB scholarship program is as straightforward as carefully reading the application on our website and then providing all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31. I look forward to receiving your applications!

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