From the Editor: President Riccobono introduced our scholarship committee chairperson in this way: “This is the moment in the board meeting where we come to the presentation of our scholarship program. Our scholarship program is premier in terms of acknowledging the hard work of blind students across the country. Our scholarship chair has been juggling a lot of new things in the last few months doing a great job shepherding all the committee members and going through the process of dealing with the hundreds of applications we get in a very competitive program. Here to present our 2020 scholarship finalists from the great State of New York, is Cayte Mendez.”
Cayte Mendez: Thank you, President Riccobono. Good afternoon. It's a privilege to be here with all of you this afternoon. As you know our scholarship program is one of the ways our organization makes an investment in its future and in the future of blind people across the nation. Every year we give more than $120,000 in cash and prizes to thirty blind students from across the country who have demonstrated excellence in both their academic pursuits and their community involvement and leadership. Like so many this year, I've been missing the opportunity to connect in person with my fellow Federationists. But the thing I've been missing the absolute most has been the chance to spend lots of in-person time with this amazing group of thirty scholarship finalists. I've had the opportunity to get to know them thus far over a series of Zoom calls, and they are truly an impressive and diverse group of leaders and scholars. Their enthusiasm for the scholarship process and to achieve their own goals and aspirations is evident, even through the virtual medium, and it's my honor to introduce them to you this afternoon.
So I'm going to introduce each finalist in alphabetical order by name, of course, and then I'm going to say two states. The first state will be their home state. That's the state either where they spend the most time or where they consider home, and the second will be their school state where they're going to be attending college in the fall. I'm also going to share briefly their vocational goals, and each student will introduce themselves. Throughout the presentation I'm going to share some fun facts about this scholarship class. They're a great group of finalists. Since we are urged strongly to keep things moving, without further ado, it's my privilege to present the NFB scholarship class of 2020.
Deiascha-Britte Bancayanvega, Rhode Island, California. She will be entering the field of healthcare: I would like to recognize the San Diego chapter and the National Federation of the Blind for their love and support. I am halfway in my medical education as a blind individual. My goal is to promote healthcare inclusion for the visually impaired patients and also for visually impaired healthcare workers who truly want to help yet accessibility is not fully granted. Now I speak for those who have an interest in medicine. I believe in your potential, and we all can partake in the creation of an inclusive healthcare system that welcomes everyone.
Rob Blachowicz, Arkansas, Arkansas. Rob is getting a degree in counseling: Scholars are not just academics. It is very important to note that scholars also volunteer and commit our time to helping people with technology and Braille. I have also given my time to food banks and homeless shelters. With that being said though, school counseling and a scholar is not just about volunteering, academics, and advocacy. It's also about teaching skills. One of the most important skills we can teach is teamwork, because together we can achieve our dreams.
Chris Bove, Rhode Island, Rhode Island. Chris will be pursuing a career in public service: Hello everyone. Before I start I would just like to thank you all for the opportunity to be here today. I have been working toward a career in public service for about five years now. In high school I served as a member of the Rhode Island Board of Education and as an intern in the office of Governor Gina Raimondo. At the University of Rhode Island, I serve as a committee chair on the student senate and as a member of the board of trustees. I am also an extremely active member of the Rhode Island affiliate of the NFB, and I serve as a member of the legislative team. My dream in life is to serve in government and provide a voice for people like us who have long been overlooked. This investment in my future will help get me one step closer to making that dream a reality. Thank you.
Bri Broadwater, Maryland, New Jersey. Bri will be seeking a career as a psychologist: I have been of the mindset that your life is your own, and you do with it what you choose. So that's what I do. I'm a base and tumbler on my school's cheer team, I'm an amateur baker, and I really enjoy rock climbing and hiking. I've had so many people help me during this time, so I want to help other people through volunteering with special education, helping out in my community, mentoring other blind students like myself, and now pursuing a career in psychology. I want to give back to the world like the world has given to me.
Sean Carlson, Oregon, Oregon. Sean is looking forward to a career in rehab, specifically as a teacher of blind students: Greetings. It's an honor to have been selected as a national scholarship finalist. When I joined the NFB in January 2019, I was simply seeking connection with other blind individuals like myself. What I found was a movement of successful and inspirational people doing so much good in the blind movement that I wanted to join in. I'm currently president of the Oregon student division, and the vice president of the Portland Central Chapter. After hearing about the 70 percent unemployment or underemployment of us in the blind community, I decided to switch my college major. I decided to pursue degrees which would enable me to lead and inspire others to show them that blindness is not an obstacle to becoming a successful person and leading a dignified, independent life. Thank you.
Natalie Charbonneau, Oregon, Oregon. Natalie is going into animal genetics and conservation: I'm stepping off the path of societal expectations that I've been traveling to pursue a career in conservation and animal genetics. My ultimate goal is to work at a university conducting research and teaching, allowing me to apply skills from my previous career path combined with my passion for animals and conservation, to actively model and continue advocating for true inclusivity and access in higher education.
Moreblessings Chikavanga, Texas, Texas. Moreblessings is looking forward to a career in law: Hello. A little bit about myself. I enjoy being an engaged citizen. I love helping people as the president of the local Leo's Club. In my high school I enjoyed volunteering by fundraising for a local children's home. I graduated from LCB in 2018, where I became more confident and met a lot of great role models. To give back to my blind community, I have worked as a buddy counselor last summer and have been participating in the Texas Affiliate since. I have a passion in diversity and inclusion, and I love advocacy work. With that being said, this summer I have had an opportunity to work at the Iowa Department for the Blind as a summer youth counselor, where I work with students with multiple disabilities teaching cane travel and technology to enforce independence and self-advocacy. I'm honored to be one of the 2020 finalists.
Cayte: This next finalist is one of the five finalists whose birthdays are in April. Apparently April is a really good month for having a birthday if you want to be a 2020 scholarship finalist.
Kevin Darcy, Colorado, Colorado. Kevin is looking forward to a career as a professor of anthropology: The life I want is to be an anthropologist. When I was told that blind people can't become anthropologists, I didn't let blindness hold me back. When I was told that blind people shouldn't do research in developing areas of the world, blindness didn't hold me back. I refused to become society's image of a blind person. Even so, I recognized that my identity as a white male comes with privileges and access to opportunities and resources that other blind people may not have. One of my professional goals is to shape public policy to increase access and opportunities for other blind students, and I've begun doing that through my work at CU Boulder.
Matthew Duffell-Hoffman, South Carolina, South Carolina. Matthew is looking forward to a career in electrical engineering: Hello everyone. A little about me: I am an athlete. In high school I was captain of both the wrestling team and the crosscountry team, and I now do jujitsu. I have volunteered at the NFB Bell Academy and at the NFB of SC's Rocky Bottom Children's Camp for the Blind. I'm currently working at our program called Summer Teen. My career aspiration is to be an entrepreneur and start a business converting ordinary cars into accessible self-driving cars, which comes from my personal desire to own a self-driving Dodge Viper.
Paxton Franke, North Dakota, North Dakota. Paxton will be getting his degree in biology and heading into a career in forensic pathology: I am at my very nature a curious person. I am passionate about my curiosity through the study of chemistry and physics. There is no better feeling for me than spending twenty minutes on a chemistry problem and finally understanding one of the mechanisms that make up this beautiful world. I want to further my understanding through the practice of forensic pathology and not only sustain my curiosity but contribute to a future that I would be happy to be a part of.
Elaine Hardin, Georgia, California. Elaine will be pursuing a degree in higher education with the goal of working in higher ed student affairs: Hi everyone. It's an honor to be here. I just graduated from Vanderbilt University, where I studied special education, taught and mentored in public schools as a student teacher, and served in several leadership positions. These experiences made me aware of inequities in education, and I'm dedicated to making a difference. This summer I'm beginning a one-year master's program in student affairs administration at UCLA. In my career I hope to have a big impact on the lives of students and on equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in higher education.
Kat Hippe, Wisconsin, Michigan. Kat will be pursuing a career in languages and special education: I just want to say thank you so much for this opportunity. It means a lot to me. I will be pursuing special education in foreign languages because I believe in advocating for other students who are underrepresented. In other countries they don't have as many opportunities as we do. So by getting a certification in foreign languages and special education, I can hopefully go over and represent the children who cannot be represented as well because I believe that everyone deserves a chance to live life to the fullest. Thank you.
Emily Kiehl, Ohio, Ohio. Emily will be pursuing a career in technology and business: Outside my information technology classes, I play tuba, oboe, and saxophone in several bands at the University of Cincinnati. I'm also a software developer who has gone to hack-a-thons across the country and presented at the world's largest consumer electronics show. I got involved with the NFB after having a blast volunteering at the BELL camp last summer. Now I'm on the board of the Ohio Association of Blind Students. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Josh Loebner, Tennessee, South Carolina. Josh will be pursuing his PhD in rhetoric and communications with the goal of working in advertising and as a professor: The NFB scholarship allows me to continue my PhD advancing research and advocacy for disability in advertising. I serve on the Mosaic Council, the ad industry's premier think tank for diversity and inclusion, and mentor disabled students interested in pursuing careers in advertising, media, and entertainment. While positive strides have been made, more needs to be done to include people with disabilities. My career goal is to develop the first textbook and college course dedicated to teaching advertising and disability inclusion. Advertising is powerful. So is the the disability community.
Sara Luna, Illinois, Illinois. Sara is entering a career in museum accessibility: I would wager that most of you in attendance have visited a history museum at some point. Perhaps like me you were disappointed by the overwhelmingly visual experience. The intent of museums is to preserve history and educate the public. Personally studying history has vastly increased my understanding and appreciation of my African-American and Mexican heritage. Therefore, I intend to work to help make museums a more accessible space so that everyone may learn from these incredible institutions. Thank you.
Victor Marques, Michigan, Michigan. Victor will be entering a career in vision rehab therapy: I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to be a finalist this year. I'm a graduate student at Western Michigan University. If everything goes well in April, I will graduate summa cum laude with my master's degree. I am a professional musician. I am heavily involved with Toastmasters International, and I also work as a patient services coordinator at a free health clinic where I help patients overcome barriers to accessing healthcare. My main goal as a rehabilitation professional is to provide quality comprehensive services so that my consumers can live the lives that they choose without limits. Thank you.
Griffin Miller, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. Griffin intends to pursue a career as an actuary: Hello, I'm Griffin. I'm pursuing a career as an actuary. I've always been interested in math since I was young and always been in advanced math classes for my age. I actually took algebra one in third grade. In addition to that, I have been interested in technology for the blind. There's another blind student at my school who I help with technology, and I also participate in the choir.
Jillian Milton, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Jillian will be pursuing a career in product development: Hi. As a legally blind student I am proud to have graduated twelfth in a class of about four hundred students. I became the first student in the nation to test with dual screens on multiple standardized tests. For the past four years I have participated in competitive sports like marching band and track that helped break barriers for other students with disabilities. I was an elected officer in the music and science honor societies. My volunteerism includes kayaking and open water swims and the BELL camp. In college I would like to study engineering or computer science to create technology products that are accessible for all.
Brian Mucyo, Arizona, New York. Brian will be entering a career in human rights law: I would like to start off by thanking the committee for this great opportunity to be a finalist this year. I just graduated from Grand Canyon University with an honors bachelor's in finance and economics. I was actually also named the top student for our college of business, so once our graduation is rescheduled, I'll be giving the commencement speech. Among other things in the past year I have been serving on the student board of the Arizona affiliate and on the board of the Guide Dogs for the Blind chapter in Phoenix. I am currently working with a business consulting firm, where we're actively working to help businesses navigate and survive this pandemic. In the fall I start my new chapter going to law school, where I hope to gain more experience and resources to be an even better advocate.
Cayte: Our scholarship class this year spans exactly three decades. Our youngest scholarship finalist is the next one I'm going to introduce. She is still seventeen and will be turning eighteen at the end of this month. Our most senior finalist is forty-seven, so just exactly thirty years between.
Marissa Nissley, New Jersey, District of Columbia. Marissa will be getting a degree in economics and entering a career in law: Hello everyone. Throughout high school I served as captain of my school's mock trial team, and for the first time this year our team placed third in the state. I served as vice president of my local DECA chapter, where I not only competed in business role-play events but also organized community fundraisers for several charities. Next year I plan to attend Georgetown University and major in economics with the goal of attending law school after undergrad. Thank you, and I'm honored to be an NFB scholarship finalist.
Sherry Pablo, California, California. Sherry will be pursuing a career in health policy and management: Ten years ago I unexpectedly lost my sight after graduating from college. My journey since then has included teaching myself how to read Braille, volunteering with seniors, providing health education to youth in a clinic, and most recently leading a team in a statewide program addressing the opioid epidemic. With a master's in public health from UC Berkeley, I plan to improve accessibility and promote equity within healthcare systems and in health policy. Thank you so much for this opportunity and investment in my future.
Cayte: Our next finalist is a tenBroek Fellow. The tenBroek fellowships are awarded to scholarship finalists who have previously won a National Federation of the Blind scholarship, and they are named after the first president of the NFB, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. So let me introduce you to Precious Perez.
Precious Perez, Massachusetts, Massachusetts. Precious will be entering a career in music education: Hi everyone. This is an honor, so thank you to the scholarship committee. I'm a vocalist, songwriter, and music educator. I'm a first generation college student, a Puerto Rican woman with anxiety from a low income family. I'm the first blind student to study music education at Berkeley and the first blind student to study abroad at a Valencia [College] campus. My goal is to break down barriers for blind educators and performers to lead by example in the mainstream setting. I represent multiple communities, so I will strive to teach my students beauty and diversity. Music is unity; education is power, and I will use both to abolish blindness stereotypes. Thank you.
Teresita Rios, California, Indiana. Teresita will be pursuing a career in law: I was born in Mexico and moved to the US at the age of eleven. I would not be as academically inclined if not for my parents. In high school through mock trial I fell in love with the founding documents of this nation. Throughout college I volunteered and interned in different legal resource centers which cemented my interest in the law. Graduating cum laude with honors from UCL, today I am thrilled to say that I am attending law school in the fall, and in three years I will be better equipped to at least in part pay my parents for their countless sacrifices and have a deeper understanding of the US Constitution. Thank you so very much for helping me achieve my dream. Thank you.
Cayte: So before we introduce this next scholarship finalist, I would just like to say that our class is representative of twenty-six states. Some folks represent two states because of their home state and their school state. This next finalist will be representing one state and that is the state of Nebraska.
Dannielle Schutz, Nebraska, Nebraska. Danielle will be pursuing a degree in biological systems engineering and will be pursuing a career in medical research: I have received many academic and athletic awards throughout my high school career. I have shown goats and pigs for eleven years through 4H and FFA. At the University of Nebraska, I plan to study biological systems engineering. As a medical scientist I plan to research genetic eye disorders. I was born with a rare form of Stargardt disease. My doctors inspired me to follow a path that would combine my love of science with my desire to improve the lives of others.
Nick Spohn, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. Nick will be pursuing a career in mechanical engineering: I became visually impaired right before my ninth grade school year. I have led others by example through my hard work and dedication. I was one of the students involved in advocating for the college board to administer proper accommodations during this year's AP exams. Everyone should have an equal opportunity when it comes to education. My career goal is to become a mechanical engineer and make an impact on society.
Logan Stenzel, Minnesota, Minnesota. Logan will be entering the field of finance and technology entrepreneurship: Mixing technical and communication skills is essential to life as a blind person. Being able to come up with clever solutions to access issues is essential to success as a blind person and for the entire blind community. As a high school debater, I utilized these skills to achieve competitive success, unanimously winning the Minnesota state debate championship while advocating for more inclusive practices in debate. I'm grateful for the NFB scholarship for allowing me to continue this work into college.
Marie Villaneda, Indiana, Indiana. Marie will be pursuing a career as an orientation and mobility instructor: As we all know, it is very important for blind youth to connect with and learn from blind adults. This is one driving factor in my passion to address the shortage of blind orientation and mobility instructors. I worked for four years with youth at the Indiana School for the Blind, and I have been involved with the NFB since 2017 through conventions and Washington Seminar. I look forward to a continued engagement with the Federation and sincerely appreciate the investment in my future.
Shane Wegner, Minnesota, Minnesota. Shane will be undertaking a career in corporate law: What could be more exciting than a career in corporate law? Yeah, I've never heard anybody say that. No. It's not exciting. But you want to know what it is: how corporate America views diversity and inclusion. Has anyone noticed what group of people are not represented? Well, it's you and me, people with a disability. That bothers me. I want that to change. That is why I am excited about corporate law. I want to drive that change for people like us. Thank you to the scholarship committee and the board of directors for giving me this opportunity.
Alek Wolfe, Vermont, Vermont. Alek will be pursuing a career in broadcasting: Hi, thank you for this incredible honor. A very important quote that my basketball coach told me when I first got into radio was, "You live and you learn." Through my time in radio I've gotten the opportunity to give back to my community, a very important part of that being a community garden and being able to broadcast on live radio a soccer tournament in honor of a resident who had passed away from a car accident. Since then I have been able to give to many charities in her name and through radio. With this scholarship I hope to continue the work through radio and give back to the community, and I want to thank the committee for letting me be here and continue my work in giving back to the community.
Brayan Zamarripa, Oklahoma, Oklahoma. Brayan will be entering the field of media production and accessibility: Hello everybody. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I am primarily a musician. I play guitar, violin, and a bit of voice too. I compose in many different genres and do a little bit of production as well. I also do testing for music software and accessibility in order to provide access for all who use it. Outside of music I am the secretary for my state NFB affiliate, and I also serve on committees in my local chapter. I love studying languages. I speak four of them. And I'm really looking forward to getting to know everyone.
Cayte Mendez: Mr. President, this concludes the presentation of the 2020 scholarship class.