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Philanthropy Lifts the Disability Resource Center and Students it Serves

The following article first appeared in Florida International University’s newsletter, and it is shared here with permission.

Many students face daunting challenges when they enter college: academic difficulties, financial problems, and major and career choices, just to name a few. Some students face additional challenges that require customized learning services and individualized attention. The Disability Resource Center (DRC) at FIU helps ensure that students with special needs have access to needed guidance and services to help them succeed.

The DRC serves more than 3,600 FIU students and strives to promote their success by working in collaboration with community stakeholders, students, faculty, staff, and administrators to foster diverse learning environments that are accessible, usable, inclusive, and sustainable. Private philanthropy is essential for the DRC to provide these services, and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation is among the key organizations whose support has helped the center expand its services and reach more students across campus.

“Our partnership with FIU is a testament to the achievements that students with disabilities can attain when they have the resources they need,” said Robert A. Krause, CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. “FIU is among the institutions leading the way to ensure accessibility.”

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s support of nearly $2.2 million to FIU over the past decade has funded nearly 1,200 scholarships to 650 students. The Foundation also funds scholarships to students with disabilities at all the other universities in the State University System of Florida. According to DRC Director Amanda Niguidula, “the Johnson Scholarship Foundation has opened countless doors for our hard-working students associated with the DRC.”

Christy England, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for the State University System of Florida, added: “The State University System of Florida is passionate about student success. We are grateful for the community support our institutions receive, which betters outcomes and enables longer-lasting impacts for our students.”

Analia Camarda

Marc Buoniconti, a well-known community leader and philanthropist who has had a national impact on disability awareness, recently created a new endowment to assist students. This endowment will enable eligible FIU learners to graduate on time and enter their profession of choice. Buoniconti, the founder of the Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center, is a national leader in fostering support to cure paralysis. “My passion is to give hope to countless students who have the will and drive to succeed but lack the financial resources to cover their costs,” he said.

FIU junior cybersecurity major Analia Camarda, who is deaf, is just one of many students benefitting from Johnson Scholarship Foundation support, which helped bridge a financial gap she experienced. Camarda was able to surmount the special learning obstacles presented during the COVID-19 pandemic and to keep pace with classwork using sign language interpreters, live captioning computer apps, and the assistance of professional note-takers.

With a passion for networking with her peers and having participated in multiple tech-based internships – including at Microsoft and Sentinel One – Camarda is well on her way to achieving her dream of working for a major tech firm. She is also actively involved on campus, participating in student organizations such as Women in Cybersecurity and Upsilon Pi Epsilon, and she is an inductee of multiple honor societies.

Roger Bendana

Junior Roger Bendana credits a Johnson Scholarship with helping him concentrate on his studies and to pursue his passion for working with animals by participating in the summer biology program at Zoo Miami.

“The scholarship really helped me to just stay focused on school and not have to worry about work,” Bendana noted.

He said the DRC has been a great support system that connected him to support networks across campus, such as the Peer Mentorship Program – which he found so valuable that he intends to become a peer mentor himself now that he is an upperclassman.

“Generous donors like the Johnson Foundation and Marc Buoniconti provide the critical resources to ensure that every FIU student can attain success,” Niguidula said. “We are thankful for their support to our students and the DRC, which will enable them to have better and more meaningful lives as a result.”

 

 


Todd Ellenberg is Director of Campaign Communication for the Florida International University Foundation.

 

Mentoring Through the Important Conversations

I met Neiry nearly six years ago at the orientation for Take Stock In Children. She was there with her mom. I told them both right from the beginning, I plan to be with you all four years of high school, unless something takes me away from mentoring. They both looked at me and smiled.

Neiry was very shy, but over time, we built an incredible relationship and understanding of each other. We both looked forward to seeing each other every week during the school year, and over the summer we kept in touch via text. Neiry had a few challenges over the course of the four years of high school, but she found her way with the help and guidance of TSIC. We talked about ways to overcome what she was facing. We talked about goal setting and communication. By “we” I mean me and the team at Take Stock – we were all involved in Neiry’s success – it takes a village!

Neiry and Mentor Danielle Basinski

One day we met up during her senior year and she looked nervous. I asked her what was going on. She said, “I have been talking to an Army recruiter, and I think I am going to join the Army.” I was in shock, but I remained supportive throughout our conversation. For years we discussed her getting a college degree in engineering, so I was completely taken aback when she said she wanted to join the Army.

Next, she needed to tell her parents. We talked it through and how to communicate this to them. After she had the conversation with her mom and dad, her mom called me, and we talked it through. They both asked me to come to the recruiting office with them to meet with the recruiter, and I did. What an honor it was to be asked to go with them and ask questions on their behalf to make sure she was making the right decision.

We still message quite frequently, and I am so proud of her. She has been in the Army now for two years, is currently enrolled in college classes and is getting ready to be deployed to Poland for a period of time.

Mentoring with Take Stock in Children has been one of the greatest highlights of my life in volunteering and I feel so fortunate to be a part of such an incredible organization.

Mentoring is a key component of the success of every participant in the Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Program, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Each year more than 350 mentors participate in the program. If you would like to contribute as a mentor, please contact Kimberly Briard at KBriard@takestockpalmbeach.org.


Danielle Baskinski is a mentor with the Take Stock in Children program.

Tribal Colleges – Providing Native People with Access to Choice, Visibility and Control

This article was first published on the website of the American Indian College Fund, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. It is one of many organizations that facilitate educational opportunities for Indigenous people, a focus area of the Foundation. JSF also has worked directly with tribal colleges and universities across the country to expand educational opportunities for Indigenous students. The article was shared with permission.

Fall is back-to-school time for college students all over Indian Country. It is a time when I pause and think about how important tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are and how critical it is for mainstream institutions to have support readily available for Native students.

In June, I shared thoughts about the meaning of tribal sovereignty as symbolized by our tribal flags and by the flags of tribal colleges. Now as the fall semester has started across schools nationwide, I have been thinking about how TCUs represent sovereignty and enact sovereign rights.

From their very existence and through the ways they serve students and communities, TCUs are models of tribal sovereignty. Sovereignty is a legal term that emerged to frame the rights and responsibilities of Tribal Nations. I think of sovereignty as reflecting our inherent rights as people—our right to speak our languages, inhabit and have access to our homelands, and to retain our Indigenous ways of living. Because the missions of TCUs are grounded in providing access to traditional knowledge, practices, and values, their programs strengthen sovereignty.

We can also think of sovereignty in terms of self-determination, providing Native people with access to choices, visibility, and control over our own decisions and resources. Tribally chartered institutions, like most TCUs, are established under the authority of tribes to establish their own education systems as acts of self-determination.

American Indian College Fund student ambassadors and scholars. © 2022.

Both students who attend TCUs and the communities these students serve benefit in both symbolic and practical ways from their institutions’ commitment to sovereignty and self-determination. Nearly all TCUs are place-based and are located on or near tribal homelands. Our very locations reclaim lands. The education TCUs provide is restorative, helping Native students to overcome the troubling, often harmful educational effects of boarding schools. Our commitment to revitalizing cultures and languages, fostering extended family relationships, and building economies means Tribal Nations can be healthier and more prosperous. I have always appreciated that one of the most valuable characteristics of TCUs is the community they serve—comprised of the people and the land as a primary source of knowledge.

A few years ago, the College Fund, in collaboration with the Gallup Purdue Index and with funding from the Lumina Foundation, surveyed TCU alumni. Those of us who work with TCUs were not surprised that the survey revealed TCU graduates were two times more likely than their peers to thrive when it came to elements of well-being, such as feeling motivated, enjoying their work (purpose), feeling supported and loved (social), having financial security (financial), having a sense of belonging and relationships (community), and enjoying good health (physical). These survey results affirm that TCUs matter in ways that are critical to self-determination and sovereignty.

Students attending mainstream, often predominately white institutions must also have the attention and support that TCU students receive. They are entitled to this support so they can also receive an education that helps them be healthier and more prosperous.

Students are supported through representation and visibility. When students see themselves reflected in the curriculum and in the faculty, staff, and public actions of their institutions they thrive.

The purpose of education for tribal people is both well-being and self-actualization and supporting the ability to govern ourselves, which is affirmed by many scholars and educators. This occurs more naturally at TCUs because of their programs and locations. Attaining this goal of education at a mainstream institution requires a more conscious effort—not just from the faculty and staff at the institution—but also from the students who attend them.

Native people have a right to go to school wherever they wish, and while the College Fund is deeply committed to TCUs and to the continued establishment of tribal higher education institutions, we recognize that access to an education for Native students must be more broadly supported. When we support Native students in achieving their educational dreams at all higher education institutions, we strengthen Tribal sovereignty.

As the fall semester brings many good things to Native students everywhere, please join me and the College Fund by supporting Native students and advocating for their inclusion and success. Visit the College Fund’s website, www.collegefund.org, to learn more about Native students, tribal colleges, and our work at the American Indian College Fund.


Cheryl Crazy Bull is CEO and President of the American Indian College Fund.

Mentoring Pays Dividends – a Mentor Reflects on Connecting

I am a retired “people” person who is very active with church work, children, grandchildren, photography, tennis, investments, and travel. I have been a lifelong learner and am still learning. I consider education one of the keys to success in life and the ability to help young people reach their potential as a great opportunity and privilege. In 2010 a tennis friend of mine mentioned Take Stock in Children. I asked for more information and he told me how much he enjoyed the mentoring, the successes he had in helping students prepare for college and the friends he had made. He then said, Take Stock In Children needed volunteers to be mentors for local high school students.

After learning about the great work Take Stock does in Palm Beach County and in every county all over Florida helping high potential, low income students get the resources they need to graduate from high school and go on to college, I decided to become a mentor.

My first mentee in 2010 was Jason Kerr. I was very nervous before our first meeting. Would I be able to help? Would I be able to connect, develop rapport and inspire Jason to do his best? Of course I had taken TSIC training, read their mentoring program materials for goal setting, establishing accountability, and maintaining respect. I also had met TSIC leadership and was impressed with their experience and quality. But …. would I be able to turn their plans into progress for a millennial several generations out of my era?

One of the first things I learned about Jason as we began to get to know one another was he was a huge Miami Heat fan. He was a collector of Nike tennis shoes and actually did a little online business buying and selling them at unbelievable prices. The biggest shock to me was when he told me – and he was a sophomore – that he had never cracked a book and his GPA was 2.2.

I told him about growing up in the hills of Tennessee in a house without running water or electricity, about building my self-image and confidence by studying hard and graduating valedictorian of my senior class of 136. That led to a work study scholarship to the University of Tennessee, and I dropped out after three years to join the Marine Corps. While in service I got married, and my wife and I had our first daughter. I told him everybody thought that was the end of my college career but it wasn’t. We struggled, but I went back to UT and won a Bachelor’s in Engineering and then a master’s at UF. I told Jason progress in life seldom comes in a straight line. Never give up!

In order to develop even more rapport with Jason, I began watching the Heat regularly. Each week we would discuss all the stats and prospects for the playoffs. My wife began watching too! Although she has never shown any passion for sports, she soon became a Heat fan. She is now rabid about “her” Heat, and we now watch every game. She knows all the competing teams, players, and stats far better than I.

I encouraged Jason to start studying at least an hour a night. We talked about time management and how much time could be wasted without a plan and discipline. I told him the story of my kids going to summer school and taking classes that would allow them to take AP classes or have time for extracurricular activities like band, the school paper or drama. He got an after school job at LIDS. He decided to study Nursing at Palm Beach State College. His grades started coming up. He graduated with a 2.9 GPA.

After graduation Jason enrolled in Nursing at PBSC and took a job at the Cheesecake Factory. We still get together 2-3 times a year. Jason started out as a busboy. He is a fast learner, good worker, outgoing and energetic. Before long he was given the opportunity to be a baker and learned to make all the specialty desserts. He works thirty hours a week and goes to school although at a reduced course load. The first time we met him last year for lunch he was all excited. He had bought himself a new Volkswagen. The next time last year when Jason met my wife and I for lunch he surprised us again. He brought his new girlfriend. She was cute, friendly and ambitious and also a student at PBSC. My wife and I were really impressed with how my young mentee was growing up.

A few days after Thanksgiving I got a text from Jason inviting me to lunch. He wanted to discuss investments. I was happy. I love to talk about investments and the stock market. I know what you’re thinking. The stock market is no place for a young guy starting out. But Jason had figured out that bank deposits, CDs and money market accounts paid nothing and wanted an introduction to investing. Jason had also switched to a Business Accounting major and would get his AA degree in the spring. I asked him about his girlfriend, and he said she had dumped him. Why? Because he wasn’t getting through college fast enough!

But the good news is Jason has moved up to bartender at work and learned how to make all the drinks. Like I said, success rarely comes in a straight line: he was working about 30 hours a week, not making much progress in his business program when a friend told him about Palm Beach State’s Automotive Service Technology Career Certificate Program. Jason jumped at the opportunity to take the certificate course and work at a dealership at the same time. He began to excel at the technical course work and loved the hands on part. At the dealership, they started him out doing oil changes and there was a lot of sitting around while they kept the experienced techs busy. He wasn’t too happy until he finished at PBSC and moved to another dealership and began removing and installing entire engines on warranty. He was now growing in confidence and making a decent living.

As time moved on Jason stayed busy, found a new girlfriend, fell in love, started a family and began thinking about the next step up in his career. He had his eye on a service advisor position. This would be a full-time job working with the customers and best of all it comes with a salary and benefits which a family man needs. Family man indeed! Jason and Gabby welcomed Olivia into their home in October 2021.

I contacted Jason recently.to get an update. He sounded so excited. He changed dealerships several months ago and got his service advisor position and “Olivia is getting so big!” This sounds like success to me but something tells me Jason isn’t done yet.

By the way as I write this my wife is waiting for me to come watch the Heat with her. In the meantime this 82-year-old is very happy with his 30-year-old friend who is proving that even today one can still achieve the American dream.

Mentoring is a key component of the success of every participant in the Take Stock in Children Palm Beach County Program, a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. Each year more than 350 mentors participate in the program. If you would like to contribute as a mentor, please contact Kimberly Briard at KBriard@takestockpalmbeach.org.


Bill Brohawn is a mentor with the Take Stock in Children program.

Interpreting Medicine: Deaf Student Shadows Doctors in Italy

Johnson Scholarship Foundation provides support for Gallaudet University’s summer internship programs that enable students to study abroad. Nthabeleng MacDonald, an undergraduate at Gallaudet, wrote the following account of her summer with the Doctors in Italy Fellowship program for JSF’s Giving Matters blog. 

In May 2022, I went to Rome, Italy, for my shadowing fellowship with the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program for two weeks. The Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program is a medical shadowing program for students interested in pursuing a career in medicine or on a path to becoming a medical doctor. The program enables students to learn about healthcare and the typical day in the life of medical professionals by shadowing English-speaking physicians across a variety of specialties, including surgery, medicine, orthopedics, cardiology, oncology pediatrics, emergency medicine, and beyond.

The shadowing aspect of the program was an incredible experience for me. It was an eye-opening experience. I believe that I was the first deaf fellow to participate in this international program. Before coming to Italy, I had a fixed mindset that I would face many communication barriers as a Deaf fellow in the program. I was prepared for that. I expected that the Italian doctors wouldn’t want to interact with me or believe in me because I am Deaf. I was also prepared for that. I decided to come to Italy anyway.  It turned out that I was wrong. The doctors there were 100% supportive and believed in me. I had the opportunity to observe and talk with so many doctors about their specialties. They walked me through every surgical procedure and patient case to make sure I understood everything that was happening in the operating room/exam room. I have so much respect for the doctors there, and I felt respected in return during my time there. My interpreters were top-notch. They worked very hard to make sure I understood everything. They even did their medical research to make sure the medical interpretation was accurate. I couldn’t have done this without them and Gallaudet University.

I was really surprised to see the way I carried myself so well and became fearless and confident in my passion for medicine throughout the program. I shadowed a variety of specialties, including vascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, general surgery, anesthesiology, ENT, biomedical engineering, etc. The patients I saw, the doctor-patient relationships, and what doctors do are some of the reasons why I want to become a doctor. I learned a lot in just two weeks!

There are not many deaf doctors in the world right now, and I want to fill that gap on top of the several important reasons for wanting to become a doctor myself. As of right now, I want to become a neuropsychiatrist, specializing in child and adolescent neurology and psychiatry.

Besides being a fellow in the program, I had the opportunity to roam around Rome in the afternoons. I ate great Italian food and tried their famous gelato! I also got to go on an excursion with the other fellows and visited the beautiful Tivoli, an hour away from Rome.

I am very excited to see where medicine takes me next as I continue my journey to becoming a doctor. I am now in my final year of undergrad. After graduation I plan to take a gap year before attending medical school. During my gap year, I hope to work as a post-baccalaureate fellow in a program within my desired fields. This is only the beginning.

Gallaudet students should travel and live abroad because it will give them a broader perspective on the world and help them step out of their comfort zone. Immerse yourself in a new culture and always keep an open mind. You never know what you will learn about yourself, your surroundings, and your passion(s) abroad! Thank you Doctors in Italy and Gallaudet University for this wonderful opportunity I will never forget!


Nthabeleng MacDonald is an undergraduate at Gallaudet University.

 

Teens With Hearing Loss Come Together for Leadership Opportunities

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) welcomed another 40 teens with hearing loss to its 26th annual Leadership Opportunities for Teens (LOFT) program this summer. Youth Program Counselors all graduated from the LOFT program and pay it forward by guiding the experience for the teens who follow them.

AG Bell was gratified to renew its in-person LOFT program which had been offered virtually for two years. Forty teens traveled to Washington D.C. to the campus of Georgetown University, just two blocks from AG Bell’s headquarters at the historic Volta Bureau. Youth programs are vital to helping teens discover they are not alone in their challenges, as many teens report never having met another person with hearing loss before participating in LOFT. Through this program, they discover “someone just like me” who understands their hearing loss and can share experiences and successes that help build support and self-confidence.

Teens participated in various activities that promote team building, leadership, and self-advocacy including an improv session led by DC Improv. Teens connected with speakers including I. King Jordan, Disability Programs Consultant for the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, and John Stanton, AG Bell Board Member and a U.S. attorney with the Department of Justice who helped facilitate the admission of a group of deaf and hard of hearing attorneys into the Supreme Court of the United States. Teens spent time at the Volta Bureau, constructed by Alexander Graham Bell in 1893, and had the opportunity to see national monuments and visit the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Activities like these add to the teens’ shared experiences and challenge them to navigate and advocate in small groups.

Through anonymous post-surveys, teens who attended LOFT provided testimonials of their experiences in the program. Here are a few of their testimonials:

“The most significant thing I learned from LOFT is what it really means to have a true community to share knowledge and wisdom and topics outside of our hearing loss and to feel seen with other people with hearing loss.”

“I’ve learned that there are many different ways to be a leader. Advocating for myself leads to many different opportunities.”

“LOFT was the most empowering program I’ve been a part of, especially in relation to my hearing loss. Meeting others like me obviously made me feel less isolated, but it also made me more confident. I’m lucky I’m still in touch with the people from my LOFT session since we’re able to talk to each other about struggles most other people wouldn’t understand. I am eternally grateful to have been offered a spot in this program.”

LOFT programming would not be possible without the generosity of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and other sponsors. For more information and to apply to attend LOFT, please visit AGBellLOFT.com or email LOFT@agbell.org.


Farrah Matlock is Youth Programs Coordinator at AG Bell.

Grant Makes International Experiences Possible for Students with Disabilities

Mount Allison University is a liberal arts school in rural Atlantic Canada that is consistently ranked as offering our country’s best undergraduate education. What I’m most proud of is that the University has a long tradition of supporting students with disabilities and a strong commitment to innovating how education can be more accessible. I work in this area everyday as the Director of Accessibility and Student Wellness. As a part of this role, I manage the Meighen Centre, which is the University’s centre for supporting students with disabilities.

This year, Mount Allison launched a brand-new international opportunity. Fifteen students and two staff travelled to Utrecht, Netherlands, for a  a two-week, for-credit field school led by the Department of Psychology. Of the 15 students, 10 identified as having a disability. Thanks to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, I was able to travel with this group to support their individual learning and accessibility needs, ensuring students from a traditionally disadvantaged group had access to this unique educational opportunity and were able to fully participate.

After the experience, I asked students their reflections about the trip. One of the most notable responses from a participant was that they thought it was important for others to know that at Mount Allison students with accessibility needs can and will be accommodated even when taking our classrooms abroad. This is something I am so proud our University is committed to doing.

For many of the participating students, it was their first time travelling abroad. One of those students was Nathan McIver, who shared that the entire trip — from the application process and travel itself to the connections he made and continues to stay in touch with — was an experience that built his confidence and was life changing.

“It shaped me as a person,” says Nathan. “I’m so grateful for the whole opportunity and the people I met. I just hope more students get an opportunity like this.” Nathan shared that among his favourite experiences were a kayak trip through the canals of Utrecht, visiting restaurants and cafes owned by local farmers, and making excursions to other nearby cities and countries. A member of Nathan’s family had also perished on a battlefield in the Netherlands during the Second World War, and he had the opportunity to visit the site.

Nathan expressed appreciation for the help with notetaking when attending large classes at Utrecht University and shared that the faculty leading the trip and classes were very open and allowed students new to international travel and study to ask questions whenever they were unsure.

Funding from donors and government make this and similar field schools possible. Other upcoming field schools include a Religious Studies course in Kyoto, Japan, and a Biology Course on the Galapagos Islands. Our Department of Psychology will also be offering another field school in the Netherlands next year. Thanks to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Meighen Centre support staff will be able to accompany students and provide accessibility supports. We are deeply appreciative to the Foundation for helping our students achieve their educational and personal goals, plan brighter futures, and make a difference in the world.


Matt Maston is the Director of Accessibility and Student Wellness at Mount Allison University.

 

Representation on the Big Screen: Deaf Actors Portray Deaf Characters

This is a story about representation. It’s a story about normalizing and equity and inclusion and how all those elements can come together on the big screen in a feel-good story featuring kids who happen to be deaf.

The movie is “Rally Caps,” a coming-of-age story set on a backdrop of a Little League Baseball diamond. It features children who are deaf playing the parts of the characters who are deaf. Both characters use hearing technology to access sound, just like students attending Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech (Clarke), a grantee partner of JSF.

Caroline Oberweger, Director of  Foundation Relations at Clarke, and a cochlear implant user, got an up-close view of the film. Caroline, her husband Alex, and their children, Natalie and Sam, were all extras in the movie. She shares her experience below. The article below was shared with permission from Clarke.

How did you become extras on the set of Rally Caps?
Rally Caps was filmed at my children’s sleepaway camp. When I read that the film was about a young boy who is deaf and uses a cochlear implant, I immediately jumped at the chance to be a part of this story, even if just in a small way.

What is your hearing loss diagnosis and what technology do you use to access sound?
I was diagnosed with a moderate-severe sensorineural hearing loss at the age of 10. I wore hearing aids for three decades until my hearing loss progressed to profound in my late thirties. I got my first cochlear implant 10 years ago at age 38, and the second two years later.

As a person with hearing loss using listening and spoken language (LSL), do you feel represented in the media?
I have been seeing an increasing number of stories about hearing aids and cochlear implants (CIs) in the news the past few years, and that’s terrific. But as a CI user, I’ve yet to see myself represented in film and television. I’m really thrilled that Rally Caps will be showcasing a character who hears and speaks with the help of a cochlear implant. I think there is still an assumption among the public at large that people who are deaf communicate solely through American Sign Language. Rally Caps counters that perception.

What are you most looking forward to about seeing this film?
I’m proud that the film centers around a boy who is deaf and uses a cochlear implant, as I’ve never seen an actor, or character, with a CI on film. I’ve read the book that the movie is based on and found it very touching; the theme of overcoming obstacles and embracing being different is one that resonates with me very personally. Of course, seeing my children on film — at their very own summer camp, no less! — will be thrilling as well.

Read more about Rally Caps in Clarke Speaks Up.


Caroline Oberweger is Director of Foundation Relations at Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.

 

 

JSF Grant Supports Alaska Native STEM Students

Dedicated to fostering academic opportunity and excellence for students across Alaska, the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) is reshaping education for students in kindergarten all the way through to the Ph.D level. A grant partnership between ANSEP and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation will support these academic opportunities over the next three years through the Acceleration Academy, Summer Bridge, and University Success components.

Serving as an exemplary education model for students across the nation, the Acceleration Academy is improving the lives of high school students and their families by providing access to quality education, reducing costs for families and government, and eliminating chronic remediation. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation grant supports 20 students each year in this component, allowing them to graduate from high school with over 100 college credits that count towards BS degree programs and go from eighth grade to a BS degree in just five years.

Not only do the ANSEP Acceleration Academy students have an 80% completion rate of university courses, they are also among the top students in the nation and 95% advance one level or more in math or science each semester.

ANSEP’s Summer Bridge opportunity gives high school graduates the opportunity to gain first-hand experience as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or business field professional through a paid summer internship. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation is supporting 10 students each year, which will prepare the students academically, professionally and socially for college and careers. This summer, 20 students – most of whom have been involved with ANSEP precollege components for years – are participating in internships available across Alaska. These recent high school graduates are getting experience doing everything from studying walrus habitats and behaviors to researching permafrost and biodiversity in the field.

The ANSEP University Success component supports college students by providing them with a community on campus, small-group study sessions, professional mentorship, research projects, internships, housing, scholarships and student activities. Over 75% of ANSEP University students who have participated have graduated or are currently enrolled and go on to work in leadership positions in Alaska’s workforce. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation grant provides college students with the community and resources they need to not only succeed academically and socially, but to also freely and comfortably embrace their heritage in the presence of like-minded individuals.

Katherine Sakeagak

JSF Scholarship recipient Katherine Sakeagak (Inupiaq) was familiar with ANSEP before ever joining the program. Her father was one of the very first ANSEP students. Sakeagak has participated in several components, including Acceleration Academy and now University Success. She first became involved with ANSEP seven years ago through the Middle School Academy and now she will be graduating in the fall of 2023 from University of Alaska Anchorage with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and Mathematics.

For Sakeagak, ANSEP has helped in a multitude of ways including making connections with peers and professionals.

“Taking college courses in high school helped me be able to connect with peers in my classes at UAA,” said Sakeagak. “I was a pretty shy person, but with all of the opportunities ANSEP has provided me, like our weekly team-building meetings with STEM professionals, faculty, staff and other students in attendance, it’s been really helpful for me to get out of my shell and make connections.”

With the support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, ANSEP and the work it does to power systemic change for Alaska Natives will continue to expand and provide students across the state with access to a quality education. This three-year, $450,000 grant will give students the opportunity to attend ANSEP’s award-winning Acceleration Academy, Summer Bridge, and University Success components and have access to academic support, internships and research opportunities that deliver intensive training for university academics and industry involvement.

To learn more about the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program, visit www.ANSEP.net.


Allison Heaslet is Social Media and Marketing Director for the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program at the University of Alaska.

Mobilized to Act: The Power of Young Adult Leaders to Bring About Change

Eye to Eye is national organization whose mission is to improve the educational experience and outcomes of every student who learns differently, including those with specific learning disabilities (LD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other similar challenges related to learning. Eye to Eye is a grantee partner of Johnson Scholarship Foundation. 

Youth voice has always been at the center of everything we do at Eye to Eye. It’s core to our values, the partnerships we make, and the programs we lead. We have a fundamental belief that not only young people but those who have lived experience are the ones who should be guiding our organization and the movement of neurodiverse individuals. That philosophy was never more alive and well than a few weeks ago in Washington DC.

In mid-June, 50 young people from around the United States came together to continue a long history of advocacy toward a more equitable and just society. Young leaders from the National Center for Learning Disabilities Young Adult Leadership Council and young leaders of Eye to Eye Mentoring and Learn Different Alliance (LD Alliance) programs gathered in community to plan, discuss, and prepare for a series of meetings and events. Over two days – June 14-15, 2022, these young leaders met with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, hosted 56 different Congressional meetings, and met with the White House Disability Liaison. They asked difficult questions and told their stories with passion and data. They represented their community with pride and knowledge. They lived up to the phrase given to us by the disability activists of the past “nothing about us without us.”

Their ask of members of Congress was to support the bi-partisan RISE Act. The RISE Act is a crucial piece of legislation that would greatly improve the lives of students with disabilities all over the country.  Namely, it would do three key things:

  1. It would require that colleges accept a student’s IEP, 504 plan, or prior evaluation as sufficient proof of their disability when seeking accommodations.
  2. It authorizes more funding for a technical assistance center, the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD), that provides students and families with information about available disability services and offers faculty training and resources on best practices to support students with disabilities.
  3. It requires colleges to report on how many students with disabilities are being served, the accommodations provided, and the outcomes of these students.

Caden, an engineering student with LD/ADHD, met with his Senator’s office (Mitch McConnell) and shared his experience attending public middle and high schools in Kentucky. He pointed out how the in access and inequity he experienced could have been eliminated with the passage and full funding of the provisions of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the RISE Act.

As he shared his experience, he said: “I wasn’t just there to share my LD/ADHD story in overcoming barriers to access education. I was there on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of LD/ADHD students across the country who have stories that are still being written.” In a similar way, another student shared that they “feel the need to help people like me that don’t feel they have a voice.”

Another student shared that her two main takeaways from the event were that individuals are much closer to initiating sizable political change than what is typically perceived and that a community of unique individuals that live similar daily experiences can come from anywhere. The collection of those voices creates a force that is very hard to ignore.

The powerful impact of LD Day of Action showed up in our students’ willingness to see their own power and strength in what they were doing, and their ability to advocate not only for themselves but on behalf of others. At Eye to Eye, we remain committed to providing these types of opportunities and resources for young people to enact change.


Marcus Soutra is Co-Founder and President of Eye to Eye