Meet A Few of the 2015 Scholarship Recipients: Bryan Duarte, Ali Engraf, Tamika Williams, Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and Michael Ausbun

From the Editor: With the 75th Anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind National Convention two weeks behind us now, it is time to reflect upon the experiences gained during our week in Orlando, Florida. To recognize achievement by blind scholars, the National Federation of the Blind annually offers blind college students in the United States and Puerto Rico the opportunity to win one of thirty merit-based, national-level scholarships ranging in value of $3,000 to $12,000. All scholarships awarded are based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. In this blog post, we hear from five fabulous scholarship recipients, all of whom reside in different regions of the United States and originating from diverse backgrounds. During National Convention, it is consistently stated that our scholarship winners develop leadership skills, lasting relationships, and most significantly, realize the opportunity for blind people to live the lives they want!

Bryan Duarte

Arizona, Software Engineer

My name is Bryan Duarte and I am honored and blessed to have been a part of the 2015 scholarship class for the National Federation of the Blind. As a scholarship finalist I was the recipient of much more than just a scholarship. The mentorship I received from NFB leaders and professionals provided me with amazing opportunities to learn about how the NFB has impacted their lives and also how they have found success throughout their educational and professional careers. Even though my fellow scholarship finalists were impressed upon that our time at convention would be an ongoing competition for the top scholarship, in my heart I had already won. Rather than focusing on competing for the top scholarship, I decided to invest in the things which would last, relationships with my fellow scholars. I organized social events such as a pizza party which would give us the opportunity to interact with each other while having fun and enjoying every college students’ favorite food, pizza! Since the convention, the scholarship class of 2015 has remained in constant communication and has proven to be a tremendous resource for each of us. To summarize my experience as a national scholarship recipient I will say this, the experiences I had, the knowledge I gained, and the scholarships I won could never amount to the relationships I made with my fellow scholars and other NFB family. Thank your scholarship committee for your mentorship, thank you NFB leaders for your support, and a special thank you to Mrs. Patti Chang for her patients, advocacy, and dedicated work on our behalf!

Ali Engraf

North Dakota, Human Services

Receiving a scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind has taught me to expect the unexpected. After being informed I had been selected as a finalist, I started interacting with fellow scholarship winners. Amazed at how incredible each scholar was and having the privilege of traveling to Orlando to attend NFB’s annual convention, it was easy to tell the atmosphere would be very different from that of Fargo, North Dakota, where I currently attend graduate school at the University of Mary. During this week, my expectations were, once again, exceeded. Meeting so many diverse individuals, who play various roles in the organization, set the stage for endless networking. Being in the company of an influential mentor from the scholarship committee each day proved to be ideal for participation in the convention by exponentially enhancing my level of understanding. Time was well spent speaking to various groups about my vocational goals, exploring the exhibit hall full of state fundraisers and new products from vendors, and attending meetings of various divisions within the organization. I gained an altered perspective of what blindness really is, a wealth of information on many legislative issues pertaining to blind individuals, and an infinite amount of new friends from all over the nation. One specific, significant thing I never would have imagined is being a part of breaking a Guinness World Record. Umbrella raised high, chanting “NFB” with almost 2,500 individuals, there was no doubt in my mind that I was meant to be in this group of proactive, empowering change makers. I remain extremely grateful for this experience, which continues to inspire me to live the life I want beyond any expectations.

Tamika Williams

Alabama, Blind Services

As we (the National Federation of the Blind) marked our diamond anniversary, we also marked our 50th scholarship class. I, along with 29 others, had the pleasure of being a recipient of one of these significant awards. My experience as a class of 2015 NFB scholarship winner was exceptional. If I had to only choose one part of my experience during this convention to share it would be the fact that I was introduced to so many influential individuals. Although I have had the chance to attend many national conventions, this one was different. This one offered me the opportunity to meet many leaders of the NFB of whom I never encountered before. As I nervously contemplated that week that I will have all of them as mentors, I continuously thought of possible questions that they may expect me to know the answers to. After probing my brain for so long, I received a call from one of my mentors reminding me to just be myself. I took that advice and ran with it. Never the less, my experience with my mentors or should I say my friends was far less complicated than I was trying to make of it. Instead of the hundreds of oppressive questions that I had thought of; there were more easy going questions such as “What do you do on your spare time?” or “How is Mobile, Alabama as a place to visit?” or “Is there anything you like to attend from the agenda?” After a few days past, I was no longer afraid. I discovered that these mentors were just like you and I.

The experience at this 75th Diamond anniversary revealed to me the true meaning of what the acronym “NFB” means.

N: Noble - Having or showing fine qualities, principles, or ideas.
F: Focused - Having the mind fixed on something.
B: Benevolent - Having the desire to help others.

For these very reasons, the work of NFB will always be at the head of my agenda. With love, hope, and determination we will “live the life we want”.

Nefertiti Matos Olivares

New York, Teaching/Helping Profession

As a National Scholarship finalist in 2003, I was given the gift of the Federation philosophy. Twelve years later, I was given the gift of reinvestment. Being named a tenBroek Fellow (on the 75th anniversary of such an empowering and powerful organization no less) is an honor I share with but a distinguished few, and I feel privileged to have yet again formed part of a diverse and vibrant class of scholars. The mentorship I received from a number of Federation leaders was truly transformative and will serve me well as I work to achieve my personal goals and further the aims of this worthy cause. Make no mistake, the money and perks by way of prizes are sweet, but the meaningful connections, networking opportunities, lasting friendships and sense of community are priceless. Thanks to this scholarship and the Federation Family's belief in me, I am one step closer to living the life I want! Winston Churchill said, "Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts." We have a right to rejoice in our successes, and a duty to learn from our failures, but above all else, we must continue building and stoking the Federation fire!

Michael Ausbun

(Nevada, Foundational Professor)

Seven months ago, I joined the Federation thinking my stay would be short. At the time, I believed the typical roomers that our movement was "militant," "fear mongering," and "irrational." After being active in my state’s student division, being selected as one of the 2015 scholarship recipients, and attending the national convention, I am delighted to say those who spread those rumors are irrational fear mongers. Our movement has shown me that “We can live the lives we want," while maintaining a modest, yet welcoming, disposition. Through the attendance of several division meetings, the resolution and policy discussion, and having the opportunity to observe several wonderfully stimulating presentations, I came to a realization. Our organization is a tight knit family, which believes in the mission I do. Thus, I am delighted to say, thank you Federation Family for investing in me. Now it is my turn to give back as I serve the students in my role as a national board member of the National Association of Blind Students, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind.

In closing, I would like to discuss my favorite moment of the 2015 convention. It took thorough contemplation, due to the totality of the event’s magnificent nature. Everyone was passionate, compassionate and welcoming; the events were all magical and filled with enlightening information; but my favorite moment followed the conclusion of the banquet speech. Now where the entire federation broke out into cheers of “NFB,” “Doctor Maurer,” and “President Riccobono!” I came to the final realization that I found my home. It struck straight to the heart, and reaffirmed my previous realization–there is no place I would rather be.