On this episode of the ACB Advocacy Update, Claire and Clark discuss the looming application deadline for the 2020 ACB scholarships. First, they speak with ACB Scholarship Committee co-Chair, Denise Colley, about the important role these scholarships play in furthering the ACB mission, and the new scholarship partnership between ACB and the American Foundation for the Blind. Then, they speak with Sasha Somuah about how receiving an ACB scholarship has positively impacted her life and personal advocacy. To learn more about the ACB scholarships, including how to apply by the Friday, Feb. 14, deadline, visit: www.acb.org/scholarships.
Intro: You're listening to the ACB Advocacy Update.
Claire Stanley: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of ACB Advocacy Update. This is Claire Stanley, the Advocacy and Outreach Specialist here at ACB. Sitting next to me is...
Clark Rachfal: Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind. Thanks to everyone who is listening over ACB Radio as well as those who are listening and downloading via their favorite podcast player. To learn more about ACB as well as our topic at hand today, ACB scholarships, check out the ACB website at www.acb.org. Claire, that was just a lot of ACBs.
Claire Stanley: That was a lot of ACBs. I also liked the way you said that. That was very like radio broadcaster voice. Very nice.
Clark Rachfal: It's my internal Joel Snyder.
Claire Stanley: I like it, shout out to Joel Snyder from ADP. Great. Well we're really excited to talk about the scholarship program. The scholarship program is near and dear to my heart cause it's actually how I first got involved with ACB many moons ago. So we have one of the members of our ACB scholarship committee here to talk a little bit about what that process looks like, what the committee on our end does and how they go through the process just from soup to nuts so to speak. So do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit first just who you are, where you're from, all that fun stuff, and then we can dive in and talk more about the scholarship committee and what the process looks like.
Denise Colley: Sure. Well, my name is Denise Colley and I live in Lacey, Washington and I am the co-chair of the ACB scholarship committee. I chair the committee with Rebecca Bridges. I have been chair, this is my third year. And prior to that I was a subcommittee chair for several years and actually got on the scholarship committee initially in 2002. It was my dream at some point to be able to be on the scholarship committee. I remember watching them at convention and thinking, this is something I'd really like to do.
Claire Stanley: That's great. So let's start from the beginning. I know we see here in the national office you know, the, the process starts where we see the announcements go out about encouraging people to apply, but obviously it starts earlier than that. So when do you guys even start the process of putting together the announcement reaching out to people to advertise kind of what, what's the point?
Denise Colley: We usually start that process in August or September.
Claire Stanley: So right after convention really.
Denise Colley: Yeah, we really do because they, the scholarships go up on November 1st. And so there are things we need to do prior to bringing it up. So we start out by looking at the application and making any corrections to it and any adjustments to it. And then we take a look at all of the various places that we want to notify that we have a scholarship available. And there's probably a good 40 or 50 of those that we send emails to along with a copy of the application informing them that, the applications or the scholarships are available again this year. And what they are and seeking, asking them to please let their participants or people involved in their program know about the scholarship program. So that all starts even, you know, way before. And then we're ready to go by November 1st when the scholarship application goes live up on all of the ACB channels. And then they have, the applicants have until February. This year it's February the 14th to apply. So February the 14th, this year it will be the deadline for applying for scholarships.
Clark Rachfal: Yes. And newsflash, the scholarship applications are live. Folks still have, by the time this airs a a week from Friday to complete those applications and submit them. You can find out more information at www.acb.org/scholarships and Denise, when folks view the scholarship applications, what sort of scholarships will they see? How are they broken down? What's available?
Denise Colley: Well, we have for several years we have had scholarships in, when we first started out we, we had four categories. We had our vocational scholarships, our entering freshman scholarships, our undergraduate scholarships and our graduate scholarships. And this year we have changed the process and made the scholarships more major oriented and studies oriented. So we have scholarships that fall under our specialized studies and our state scholarships. We have our scholarships that are social work and rehabilitation teaching scholarships. We have business and accounting and then we have engineering, computers, and technologies. And we have two scholarships that are statewide scholarships. One is our William Corey scholarship where the individual must be a resident of Pennsylvania. That's the only requirement. And we have our ACB of Oregon scholarship, which is also our state scholarship. Then we have two or three scholarships where the student must be studying in the field of special education, or law, or teaching. We have a couple of scholarships that are based on just sort of general studies. We have five what are called Floyd Qualls Memorial scholarships and they're just general merit scholarships. And then our large scholarships are, we have three Ross N. Pangere Scholarships and those students must be studying in the fields of business administration, computer technology, computer science or engineering. So we have several categories that we look at in terms of our scholarships.
Clark Rachfal: Yeah, that's such a great spread. You know, we, we always hear the tropes or the stereotypes that people with disabilities. Oh, you're going to go into social work. Well, sure. Some people might, but it's always encouraging to hear that the scholarships are available for folks who want to enter into business or the STEM fields. Or law like Ms. Stanley, Esquire sitting next to me. There's, there was a pretty interesting announcement, a press release this week concerning the scholarships, the American Council of the Blind and the American foundation for the blind. Can you talk with us a little bit about that?
Denise Colley: Yes. This is very exciting to us. ACB has worked very closely with the American foundation for the blind for a lot of years in a number of areas. And this year they have come to us and asked us, they have several scholarships that they have administered and they came to ACB and asked us to enter into partnership with them so that we would take those scholarships and we would select the winners and we would review the applications and we would actually administer their scholarships. And they had several scholarships they asked us to do this with. And so what we have done is we've taken those scholarships and in a lot of cases looked at how many of those have the same kinds of eligibility criteria in terms of courses of study as ours and combine them. And then we do have a few of theirs that were, that are very unique to what they do. And to their qualifications. We've combined them. And so what that has allowed us to do in those cases is to give larger scholarships. And so right now we have a couple of $2,000 scholarships and a couple of $2,500 scholarships, which will remain as they are because they're, you know, they're pretty unique in terms of what they require. But we've managed to take most of our scholarships and increase them to $3000 $3500, $4,000, $4,500. And we still have our three Ross N. Pangere scholarships, which a couple of years ago he increased and they are $7,500 scholarships. And one I also forgot to mention earlier is we also have a scholarship for those individuals who are working full-time, but like going to school part-time. And so they have to be working at least 32 hours and attending school and going to school and working in fields that are you know, specific fields that they're working into. So it also allows us to give a scholarship to a student who is employed those but is also trying to go to school and you know either improve what they're doing or finish up their degree or advance their degrees so it can advance their employment opportunities. We're just really excited about this partnership with the American Foundation of the Blind and we think it's going to be a good partnership.
Claire Stanley: I was going to say I agree with that. What a great opportunity to partner with AFB, to have, you know, a little bit higher scholarships because we all know school just keeps getting more and more expensive. I went to a public university and even there the price just shot up. So what a great opportunity to work with that relationship we have with AFB and to be able to do that. That's great.
Clark Rachfal: And Denise as the committee is reviewing the scholarship applications. What are some of the things that stand out to you or the committee and when will the scholarships be decided?
Denise Colley: Well, while reviewing the scholarship applications we have essentially four criteria that we look at in terms of our scoring criteria. We look at such things as their fields of study. What are they studying? You know, what are they going into? We look at their involvement in community activities and their involvement, you know, what they're doing out in their community and how they're participating in what they're doing on campus or they just, you know, studying and not doing anything else. Or are they, are they stepping out and, and, and getting some involvement in their community. We look at have they done any advocacy kinds of things? What, what are they doing in terms of advocacy? Have they had any particular opportunities where they've had to advocate for themselves and, you know, how did they go about doing that? And then we look at... I just forgot what the last category was. [laughter]
Clark Rachfal: Not a problem. Denise, as we are here talking about the ACB scholarships. I'm sure as many of our wisteners, listeners are aware because I can talk this morning.
Claire Stanley: Wisteners! [laughter]
Clark Rachfal: Yeah. The old wisteners... The ACB mission is to increase the security and independence of people who are applying as well as increase economic opportunity and quality of life. What sort of role do you see the scholarship program playing in furthering the ACB mission?
Denise Colley: You know, I feel really privileged to get to be on with this committee because your, the students are, I mean, this is our first opportunity within ACB to be able to reach out to these students and introduce them to ACB, and what ACB does and try to, you know, bring them into the fold. So we, so to speak if, you know, if we can talk them into wanting to join ACB and become a part. We want to introduce ACB to them and what ACB has to offer and especially connecting them with our special interest affiliates in the areas that they're studying in for sure. Because it's our first opportunity. These students are absolutely amazing. We have students who are, you know, right out of college and then we have students who later in life have gone back to school and are getting a degree. And we just feel like this is a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to say here, not only do we want to help you go to school and help you get your degree, but we want to help you as a blind person realize your potential. And so we really encourage them to participate in the convention and convention activities. We work with them from the time they get selected until the time the convention starts to connect them with their state affiliate, their special interest affiliates. Getting them introduced to the programs and letting them come and see other blind people. They may not have had any interaction with blind people. And so they get that opportunity. And then I always encourage them to go to the exhibit hall because I say that's a blind person's shopping mall. I mean you could, you can do just about anything in the exhibit hall and we just get them excited about coming, our feedback has been on numerous occasions, you know, I just, we didn't even know you were out there. This is just one of the greatest opportunities. It's really opened my eyes and helped me see what blind people really can do out there and watching other blind people be independent and in the kinds of jobs they're in. It's just an incredible opportunity.
Claire Stanley: Yeah. I think another great outcome too, based on what you said is a scholarship winners also get plugged into ACB Students and I know that's a great resource as well, to meet other students in the same boat and there's a listserv they can communicate with each other, you know, share ideas or solutions when they're struggling with things and taking classes or what have you. So it's a great, great place to be plugged in.
Denise Colley: Yeah. All students get one year free membership into ACB as a part of ACB students, so they become a member of that affiliate. It's been amazing to see how many students have become a part of that affiliate and then have ended up becoming officers in that affiliate, which is really, you know, been exciting. And you know, we've had scholarship winners who have gone on to be very active participants in ACB. I think especially of our own Sarah Conrad, who I always like to use her as an example because I remember interviewing her or very first year in college and she came to convention and not only did she come to convention, but she went on the walk and she did some other things while that convention. And since then she's gotten involved in ACB students, was president of ACB students. She you know, is now on the ACB board. She's chaired other committees. So it, you know, we, there's a real reward for ACB too in watching these students come and be a part. And I love it when, you know, their eyes get open and they say, wow, I didn't know a blind person could do that or I didn't know a blind person could be in that job. And, and it's really fun and we have a dinner for them, the first night at convention. It's really fun to sit there and just listen to them, meet each other and talk to each other and share ideas and share about technology that they're using and the issues around studying and taking courses and trying to balance all of that with internships and you know, work studies and all the other things you have to do to be able to help pay for you to go to school. And so it's really fun just to watch them and listen to them talking to each other and sharing ideas and sharing resources and offering help to each other. It's, it's just a very unique experience.
Claire Stanley: Definitely. Yeah.
Clark Rachfal: And like we said earlier, there is still time to apply for the scholarships and if there are any folks out there and you know students, or you are a student, or an aspiring student and you'd like to apply and you're like me, you've been procrastinating. And so there is still time but you're running out of time to procrastinate because the deadline is a week from Friday. That's February 14th. More information is available at acb.org/scholarships. And Denise, any parting thoughts before we speak to one of our recent scholarship awardees and hear how the scholarship has impacted her academics and her life?
Denise Colley: Well, just to say again, it's just that the deadline is February 14th. We will be reviewing all of the applications and scoring them and determining who we specifically want to interview for the various scholarships. We're going out from about 16 to least 20, if not more scholarships that will be giving out. Once we've reviewed all the applications students will be called to do a telephone interview, a 15 to 20 minute interview with members of the scholarship committee and then decisions about who will be receiving the scholarships will occur probably the first part of April. And then we will be letting the winners know and starting to make arrangements for them to come to convention.
Claire Stanley: Great. Thank you so much. And we definitely encourage all our listeners who again, are students, grad students, potential students, please apply. Great. Well thank you so much Denise. I know I've learned a lot and we appreciate you coming to speak with us and hold on everybody who's listening. Next we're going to come and speak with one of our former scholarship recipients. So hear directly from somebody who's benefited from the program.
Claire Stanley: Hey everybody. So welcome back to the next portion of our podcast. You just heard from our great scholarship expertise and now we're actually going to jump in and talk to a scholarship recipient. So kind of the other side. First you have to decide who's going to win and then we have the actual recipients who are great. So we are honored to have one of our former recipients, Sasha here to talk to us. So we're just going to ask her a few questions here about what her past experience has been like what's come of it and all that fun stuff. So Sasha, do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself? Tell us where you're from, where you go to school, what you're studying, all that kind of stuff.
Sasha Soma: Yeah, of course. And thank you for having me. Hi guys. My name is Sasha Soma and I'm currently a junior at the George Washington university. I'm studying business marketing and event management with a minor in communication. And I am just looking to learn a little bit more about advocacy and just public relations of course.
Claire Stanley: That's great. And just as a fun plug, you have a sister who's also been an ACB scholarship recipient, is that right?
Sasha Soma: Yes. So I actually started kind of working with ACB a little bit before, but it was just a great experience to be able to like show her the ropes. She's my older sister, so it was definitely a fun experience to be showing her the ropes for the first time. And yeah, it was really nice to be able to go to the awards ceremony with her and just be there together. It's something that we both have kind of been through in our life and it's definitely been a challenge for us, but we made it into a positive as not just individuals, but as a family. So that's been very nice.
Clark Rachfal: Sasha, how did you learn about, how did you and your sister learn about ACB as well as the ACB scholarship opportunities?
Sasha Soma: Yeah, of course. So I specifically learned about ACB as a whole when I was a junior, I believe in high school. I was just starting that whole process of college and I didn't really know where I wanted to go, what was too far. And obviously I'm from Connecticut, so DC was definitely a jump for me. And just wanting to hear about like other students' experiences, experiences as being a little far from home as a student with a visual impairment. ACB was just such an amazing outlet for me just to talk to others and just to learn and also just to have opportunities like the scholarship where I can just be able to travel to where I go to school.
Claire Stanley: That's great. And can you tell us a little bit about your experiences first going to convention because for those of our listeners who don't know, those persons who receive a scholarship through ACB actually are brought out to our annual convention that summer. They get to attend the convention, meet others, meet both other scholarship recipients as well as everybody in anybody at the convention, they get plugged in, they get to be a member for free for a year. So do you mind telling us a little bit about your experience coming to convention? Have you made friends and connections? What did you gain?
Sasha Soma: Yeah, of course. So I just want to do a little disclaimer and say, convention is amazing.
Claire Stanley: Yay!
Sasha Soma: It was such a great experience. I had such an amazing time and just being able to like have my sister there as well made it even more amazing. I think I was like a little worried just because I had never kind of like when conventions are like in Rochester, New York and all these different places. I think there was one in Reno, Nevada. I was just a little concerned, just like going again, like I said, for college, going away from home. But I think just like being able to know that and go and be in such a great environment with so many people who on the daily go through similar situations that I do. And even if they don't, just hearing their stories and hearing their ideas and skills and tips. I know convention is really centered around advocacy and I've learned so much about that and it's been really nice to use those skills in college, especially like on a college campus. I think that's the most independent experience you'll ever have. Just because it's like the first opportunities of independence for so many students. And I think it just fostered just ability for me to speak up for myself and you know, not make it seem like in a sense of I'd never felt needy, I just felt that I was speaking on my knees and on behalf of myself. And just being able to have those skills and being able to share those skills is just an opportunity I definitely would not be able to get, I was not at convention.
Claire Stanley: That's great. Yeah. I know I, not to talk highly of myself, but I was a scholarship winner many, many years ago, you know, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and it was one of my first times of traveling by myself and going to this big convention with, you know, over a thousand blind and visually impaired people. But I remember gaining so much from it and learning a lot. So it's great to hear that you had that experience
Clark Rachfal: Sasha, how, I guess, what was the scholarship process like for you? How long did it take? Was it onerous? And let's go from there. Before I asked, I don't want to throw too many questions at you all at the same time.
Sasha Soma: Oh yeah, of course. Thanks. so for me, like I said, I was applying for the scholarship when I was, so I got kind of acclimated with ACB when I was a junior. But then as I like went to senior year and started applying for colleges, I started looking at like scholarship opportunities. ACB was one of them. So for me, I think the scholarship process was definitely very suitable. And as I was applying for colleges, I was applying for scholarships and that was very helpful for me and a sense of with recommendations and stuff. Just having to kind of find similar things and I was already kind of thinking about what I wanted to do in the future and in that kind of sense, that was definitely very accessible for me and made it a lot more efficient. And then I just would say the scholarship process was just very easy. I was interviewed, which was, I love just talking about experiences I've had and being interviewed I would say. And just being able to talk to others and also just using interviews just to learn a little bit more as well. So that was super helpful. It's not just like one person and droned on, it's a panel, which is super nice because all of those people that you meet at convention, you kind of meet on the phone so you can, you know, prepare yourself a little bit just with, I know you're saying there's a thousand people. I was definitely scared for that. And just talking to about like six of them on the phone made it so much better because when I recognize the voice it was, it was just nice. And yeah, that's what I would say. I definitely would say the process they use with the application process with, I know for, there's so many for colleges and stuff, there's so many specific things and questions, but I think ACB really focuses on asking like broader questions so you could take your application the way you want to take it, which I really love.
Clark Rachfal: And Sasha you mentioned helping you with your goals for the future. And certainly interview skills are things that everyone can benefit from. Whether it's scholarships, internships, job interviews, it's just a great life skill to have. How else has being a scholarship recipient helped you with your either future plans or goal setting for the future?
Sasha Soma: Of course. So like I spoke a little bit on this, about just advocacy and learning about that. I went into college. I obviously go to a very political school and I went into college thinking I wanted to do something in the government and I wanted to do something political. And then I soon found out that was just not one of my passions. But I did find out that through ACB, through school, that I did love just, I mean, as you guys could tell, speaking in general, just talking, I could talk forever, but just learning about advocating for myself and just advocating for others in a sense, which kind of started my track of wanting to do like communication and business marketing, just because I'm learning about personal branding. I'm learning about branding people and students and that's just been, I've used that in so many internship experiences. I worked with special Olympics DC for a little bit and just working with students with disabilities, I was able to, you know, let them in some cases like scream at me and tell me this is what I need because no one is going to be able to give you what you need unless you make it clear. And that's something I've learned through ACB especially.
Claire Stanley: That's great. Great. Well I know we've learned a lot from you. It's been so great to hear your experience and you know, we work here in the office and we know things are going on behind the scenes, but to actually see the outcome of it is so exciting. So thank you for speaking with us and we're really excited to hear about what comes into your future. So do you have any last minute comments you would want to tell future applicants about, you know, the process or just any advice you might want to give them?
Sasha Soma: Yeah, of course. And I did want to just say thank you so much for taking the time out of your guys' schedule to call me and just for us to be able to chat and me to be able to tell my story. I think that's something that I've always wanted to do and always experience and it's kind of another kind of reason I think advocacy is so important. You really just, I would just stress to students, to adults, to all people in ACB, not in ACB again, that you just, you have to speak up for yourself and speak on behalf of yourself. Obviously there's some situations that's a little more difficult, but I've just learned that it's such an important thing to be, be fighting for yourself and to be fighting for your needs because not to say no one else will do it, but it's so much more impactful when you're doing it on your own.
Claire Stanley: That's great. As Clark and I with advocacy in the title of both our jobs, I think both of us know that it is so important.
Sasha Soma: You guys are probably like, yes, she said it, perfect! Advocacy, that's what we live by.
Clark Rachfal: And Sasha, thank you for making the point so clear that filling out the scholarship application and submitting it by the deadline of February 14th is a form of personal advocacy.
Sasha Soma: It really is.
Clark Rachfal: You know, fighting for your needs and setting yourself up for success.
Sasha Soma: Taking it upon yourself. That's the biggest tip I would give students.
Claire Stanley: And a scholarship recipients this summer if you're chosen for the 2020 scholarships, our annual convention this summer we'll be in Schaumburg, Illinois, which is just outside of Chicago. So it'll be an exciting annual convention this summer.
Clark Rachfal: So Sasha, we're thankful that you and Verlencia are an active part of ACB and have become so through the scholarship process. And we encourage all listeners, if you know someone who is a student who you think could benefit the ACB scholarships, by all means, visit acb.org/scholarships. It is not too late. Again, the deadline is a week from Friday, February 14th.
Claire Stanley: And student is a broad term. So you can be an undergrad or grad school. You can be 18 right out of high school or 80 if you're going back to school, everybody who's a student can apply.
Clark Rachfal: So again, Sasha, thank you so much for joining us and chatting with us today.
Sasha Soma: Great.
Claire Stanley: Again, if you have any advocacy needs, feel free to shoot Clark and myself an email [email protected] and I think we can end on an awesome note. We always end by saying, keep advocating, and I think Sasha made a great, great argument for that, so keep advocating!
Outro: Thanks for listening to the ACB advocacy update. You can reach us by emailing [email protected] The ACB Advocacy Update is a production of the American Council of the Blind in Alexandria, Virginia. To learn more about ACB, visit us online www.acb.org.