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Scholarship Winners

2022 Scholarship Recipient: Meggie R.

About Meggie:

My name is Meggie Royer and I am a second year Master of Social Work student at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. I will be graduating in December of 2022 and hope to eventually pursue a career in substance use counseling. For the past several years I have worked in the domestic violence field supporting survivors. I love making mixed media art and writing poetry, and I also run a literary and arts journal for abuse survivors in my spare time.

Reaction Statement:

Thank you so much for this generous opportunity. I am extremely grateful for the funding assistance, which will help support my desire to advance my education to obtain my Master of Social Work degree. I have a passion for supporting marginalized communities, particularly abuse survivors, and being able to attend school for my Master of Social Work degree was a dream come true. I am working hard to support my education, and this scholarship is so helpful to that effort. Thank you!

Meggie’s Winning Essay:

Essay Prompt: How are you driven to innovate? How do you plan to influence progress in your community or in any space, on any level? Or, how you have already affected positive change with your ideas or actions?

As an incoming college student in 2013, I was looking forward to having the time of my life learning and forming new social connections. Instead, my life almost ended multiple times. After barely beginning to acclimate to my unfamiliar environment, I experienced intimate partner sexual violence, and my mental health rapidly deteriorated. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and major clinical depression, and went from never having touched a drop of alcohol in my life to being diagnosed with a severe substance use disorder. Though I was somehow able to remain on top of my coursework, I dealt with several near-fatal overdoses stemming from my use of substances to cope with the trauma. Each of them landed me in the emergency room.

After one night three years later during which my parents finally told me about all the phone calls they had received from emergency room social workers that kept them up at night, I began volunteering at a domestic violence shelter to work with other survivors. During my time at the shelter, I provided several hundred domestic violence presentations to over sixteen thousand community members, including people active in churches, clinics, schools, mental health, law enforcement, and social services. At the end of every presentation, at least one person would approach me privately to discuss their own relationship and ask for help.

Additionally, while at the shelter, I served as a hospital-based advocate for one and a half years providing crisis advocacy to survivors receiving emergency medical care and/or inpatient mental health services. I still remember many of the patients I worked with, including one woman who was terrified of leaving her abusive partner. She declined my offer to help her find shelter, financial assistance, and safety planning, and instead simply asked if she could tell me her story. At the end she cried and told me no one else had ever listened to her before.

I have also founded and run my own literary and arts journal dedicated to empowering abuse survivors. Titled Persephone’s Daughters, the journal, which is majority survivor-run, has published the artwork and writing of several hundred abuse survivors of all gender identities since 2015. For many survivors, our journal is the first place their work or story has ever been published. One woman published a poem in our journal about her friend’s domestic violence homicide death and told us that it had taken forty years for her to write the story, and Persephone’s Daughters felt like the right home for it. As a writer myself, hearing these things from survivors and their loved ones fills me with gratitude and only reinforces my passion to continue this work in my community.

Two years after graduating college, I transitioned from the shelter and the hospital advocacy program to a role at Minnesota’s statewide domestic violence coalition and have remained sober since graduation. At the coalition, I have for the past two years engaged in prevention initiatives aimed at challenging systems and institutions, promoting social change, and representing survivors. I also work with my colleagues to issue statewide recommendations on preventing domestic violence homicides in our communities. This opportunity has allowed me to impact survivors statewide, expanding beyond my local community.

Today, I am enrolled at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. As an intimate partner violence survivor in long-term recovery working on behalf of other survivors, I am driven to pursue my Master of Social Work degree so that I can eventually provide mental health and substance use treatment services to survivors of abuse. Upon obtaining my Full Licensure, I hope to practice in a hospital setting providing substance use and mental health services to patients who have experienced sexual and/or domestic violence. I am passionate about the concept of practicing within a hospital setting for patients who, like me once, are at “rock bottom,” and offering the same gentle empathy shown to me by the hospital social workers years ago after my overdoses.

My community service and passion allow me to help build a better, brighter future in which domestic and sexual violence are not only actively discouraged, but prevented. In 2013, I never could have envisioned what was in store for me, and nearly dying was certainly not on my radar. While I would not wish my experiences on anyone else, I am grateful for the path they have led me down. As a result of these experiences, I now have a unique opportunity to support other survivors and their families. If I can help even one survivor pursue post-traumatic growth instead of turning to substances like I did, this journey has been well worth it.

2021 Scholarship Recipient: Grace S.

About Grace:

Hi, my name is Grace Schuler and I am from Gaithersburg, Maryland, but now reside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with my older brother, Van. I am currently a sophomore hospitality management student at Drexel University and hope to graduate with a BS in hospitality management with a focus in event planning in 2024. In addition to attending classes, I enjoy being a part of school clubs, doing volunteer work, singing/listening to music, spending time with my family and friends, and adventuring around Philly to find the best foods!

Reaction Statement:

Thank you so much for awarding me with your scholarship! I am grateful for the time your scholarship will give me to focus on learning and continuing with my volunteer efforts. It is also a relief to have some academic financial support as the pandemic has hit the hospitality industry, and my event planning position, especially hard. Although I have been working since I was 14, and will continue to do so throughout college, it will be scholarships such as this one that will allow me to complete my education. Once again, thank you for the vote of confidence and the scholarship! 

Grace’s Winning Essay:

Essay Prompt: How are you driven to innovate? How do you plan to influence progress in your community or in any space, on any level? Or, how you have already affected positive change with your ideas or actions?

“To whom much is given, much is expected” is the adage I live by. I appreciate the gifts I have been given and feel a responsibility to use them for the good — in the positions I hold now and those I hope to hold in the future. I have been working part-time since I was 14 years old and also supporting my community through my volunteer activities. I believe my involvement through my volunteer efforts brings people together while supporting those in need. While I have had many great experiences because of my involvement, there is one activity I am most proud of that I created and developed myself.

This is my story…

Growing up, I was shy and didn’t like talking in public. There were many times I wanted to speak up, but I wasn’t always comfortable making my point in a crowd.

By middle school, I was participating in groups that required me to speak publicly and it was very uncomfortable. It was then I decided that if I had to be a public speaker, I would do whatever it took to become a good, if not great, one.

I did my homework on presentation best practices and started accepting requests to speak at everything from my middle school graduation to serving as a church lector in front of 500 people regularly. I spoke about the work of a local food pantry. I entered a high school public speaking competition and won a scholarship. In short, through hard work and determination, I conquered my fear – and realized based on all I had learned that I could help others conquer theirs as well.

I decided I wanted to teach ‘tweens and early teens to conquer their public speaking fears at a young age, so I created the free training program for low-income middle school students five years ago called “Speak Out for ‘Tweens!”

Speak Out for ‘Tweens!” combines a kick-off presentation with a six-month after-school public speaking club that culminates in an end-of-year speech competition. The goal is for all participants to walk away more confident, more articulate and enjoy, not fear, public speaking. A secondary goal is to help students with a financial need earn speech scholarships to the school of their choice.

I led “Speak Out for ‘Tweens!” for four years while I was in high school, devoting 600+ hours and training more than 100+ middle-school participants, seven of whom earned tuition scholarships. “Speak Out for ‘Tweens!” was promoted on schools’ websites, newsletters and in the local media. Word of the event reached more than 100,000 people during my time leading it. The magazine and newspaper articles and five-minute video links here summarize the work I have done to make “Speak Out for ‘Tweens!” successful: https://youtu.be/se0JSkG4k-Mand March 2017(page 35) and https://bethesdamagazine.com/bethesda-magazine/march-april-2019/top-teens/5/

Upon starting college last fall, I decided to offer “Speak Out!” to adults to help them overcome their public speaking fears too. I redesigned my curriculum to fit into a compressed time frame and now offer it to my college peers through groups such as the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality and Drexel Women in Business, as well as professional organizations such as Rotary International. Much like my program for ‘tweens, the requests keep coming – even during the pandemic so I have revised my program to teach online.

My goal after college is to start my own event planning company. I’m motivated by the idea of developing events that resolve hard issues through creative solutions that work. Events like Live Aid, Special Olympics and The Susan Komen Race for the Cure are just a few examples of how special events have the power to change the world.

I don’t know that I’m more deserving than others, but I do have a financial need that I hadn’t anticipated before April 11, 2017. That was when my older brother was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. A college-recruited athlete, he was a month away from high school graduation and now had a 50% chance of surviving brain surgery.

He did survive and went through a year of extensive rehab. Much of his treatment wasn’t covered by insurance, but we believe it was essential. Unfortunately, the additional treatment cost the money my parents saved for our college educations and their retirement, so although I’ve been working since I was 14, and will continue to do so, it will be scholarships such as this one that will allow me to complete my education.

Thank you for considering me for your scholarship. It is appreciated.

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2020 Scholarship Recipient: Ezra A.

About Ezra:

Ezra has just completed her second semester as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and hopes to pursue a degree in STEM. She is currently an Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Biology. She has a 3.9 GPA and made the Dean’s list again this semester. She is also in the UNCA honors program which has opened many doors for her in terms of classes and course load. She has been accepted for the residential assistant program this year and will be overseeing the residence of a “Living Learning Community,” or LLC, that supports first-generation college students.

She is currently involved in an initiative at UNCA which aims to reduce plastic cup waste at campus coffee shops. The initiative’s first step in enacting this change is a study, conducted in collaboration with dining services, and will collect data and compare the results of new cup policies. They are using psychology to alter the way people think about their consumption. The coffee shops currently have a policy that, given a student bring a reusable cup, they get a 15- cent discount. We are changing that policy to a 15-cent upcharge when a customer does not have a reusable cup. They hope to increase reusable cup sales on campus and alter the way students view their plastic consumption. This will be a long process, but the end goal is significantly decreased plastic consumption and the implementation of policy which will create real change.

Ezra manages multiple roles very effectively: She is a student, part-time waitress, weekday volunteer at a local daycare center, weekend volunteer at a food bank, and weekend worker as a horticulturist. She is an athlete on the YMCA swim team and a cross-country runner. She works full time in the summers, but for the last three summers she still managed to attend the Fall Line South Field Institute, a summer outdoor learning experience, and this year, she was a Bartram Fellow and student-teacher at the camp. Her dream is to major in Environmental Science in college and to work in the field of environmental conservation, striving to save our planet. One day, she wants to be a voice that influences the policymakers and calls on them to consider the impact of our actions today on the world our children will inherit tomorrow.

Ezra’s Winning Essay:

Distracted driving is a major issue, taking many lives every year. It is proving to be deadly, not only for the driver but also for others impacted by the carelessness of the drivers. According to the FRA, in one out of every ten fatal crashes, the drivers were distracted.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 9% of fatal crashes in 2016 were reported as distraction-affected crashes, killing 3450 people. In 2016, there were 562 non-occupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, and others) killed in distraction-affected crashes. These numbers are alarming, to say the least, and we need to act now to raise awareness about the hazards of distracted driving.

The use of cell phones can be deadly, as it might involve all three distractions at once, where drivers’ minds are off the road and their eyes are fixed on mobile screens while hands are on the touchscreen. In 2016, there were 444 fatal crashes reported to have involved cell phone use as a distraction (14% of all fatal distraction-affected crashes), killing 486 people. So many lives could have been saved if only drivers had chosen not to use cell phones while driving.

Young Americans are increasingly becoming addicted to the use of smartphones. According to Common Sense Media, teenagers are spending an average of 9 hours a day online. Young Americans are becoming so attached to their phones that they are unable to resist the temptation to check the phone while driving. We can use the latest technology to counter our temptation to use cell phones. Apple users can use the Apple iOS 11 and Samsung users can use In-Traffic Reply, while Android users can use apps such as Cell Control Drive ID, Drivesafe.ly, and Live2Txt, to name a few. All these apps put your phone into a Do Not Disturb mode while you are driving and send an automated reply to the sender that you are driving and will contact them later. AT&T and Verizon are also offering apps to block calls and messages while driving. (Source: https://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/technology-that-can-reduce-driving-distractions-dangers-car-safety-features/)

Drivers should be more careful and put a stop to the reckless behavior of using mobile phones while driving. We can use the many apps mentioned above or can even put the mobile phone in the trunk if we can’t resist staring at its screen every few minutes. The dangers of mobile phones can’t be eliminated by using them hands-free, as they still remain a source of cognitive distraction. It only takes three seconds of distraction to cause a car crash and reading a text message puts you nine times more in danger of a crash. The real question is this: Is using a mobile phone and reading text messages more important than your life?—since you’re putting your own life at stake by indulging in such reckless behavior.

We want to remain connected at all times, and car manufacturers are responding to customers’ demands by installing infotainment systems in the car. According to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the information and entertainment systems in many new cars can distract drivers for as long as 40-plus seconds at a time. According to the AAA, removing your eyes from the road for only two seconds doubles the risk of an accident. Navigation proved to be the most time-intensive, requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road for an average of 40 seconds. In that time, a car driving at 25 miles per hour would travel the length of four football fields, essentially driving blind. (Source: https://www.aarp.org/auto/info-2017/car-tech-gadgets-distracted-driver-fd.html)

The writing on the wall is very clear: a majority among us love those fancy systems in our cars, but they might prove to be a safety hazard. The government should regulate automobile manufacturers and ensure that such infotainment systems are intuitive, easy to use, and minimize distraction while driving. Drivers can act more responsibly, setting navigation, and entertainment options before starting to drive.

The new technology is infiltrating every walk of life and changing the way we lead our lives. Drivers need to remember all the time that the primary objective of getting behind the wheels is reaching a destination safely. Navigation is important and modern technology has revolutionized the way we navigate and search for our destination, but such tools can also become counter-productive by distracting drivers. The technology is not bad, but the way we are utilizing the technology is not the best way. We can set navigation systems and input our destination before we start driving, letting us enjoy the functionality without any danger.
Act wisely, drive safely, and live happily!

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2019 Scholarship Recipient: Owen W.

Owen will be attending the University of Central Florida this Fall and will be majoring in Film with a minor in Business. Owen’s essay and original “Mock” PSA about Texting and Driving stood-out amongst the many competitors!  Watch the effective, and hilarious PSA Below!

Owen’s Winning Essay and “Mock PSA”

I am fortunate enough to say that myself nor anyone I know has ever been affected by a case of texting and driving. That, however, does not mean that the problem isn’t relevant. Within the past 15 years, the US has seen a major increase in consumer electronics, namely smartphones. When a product such as this changes society as instantly and drastically as the smartphone has, it can take time for the law to catch up. I am aware of efforts that have been made in the past few months in Florida that make texting and driving a primary offense, but I am also critical of them. The law is too susceptible to scrutiny, as the driver is informed of their right to not hand over their phone right before they are asked to do so. An easy way out for a criminal act like this makes any punishment more of a slap on the wrist than anything of weight. It is to my understanding that this law, pertaining to the state of Florida, must be revised to reflect the severity of an issue such as this.

The approach to ending texting and driving cannot be solved solely with the law. Tech companies such as Apple are making strides to give users the option to put their phone into “Do Not Disturb” mode, where they will not receive any notifications when their phone recognizes that the user is in the car. I find this to be a great idea and is certainly a realistic step in the right direction towards curbing texting and driving incidents. But one has to also recognize that not everyone will turn on this function in their phone, and of the 15 or more friends that I’ve been in a car with over the past year, I’ve only known one of them who opted to use this “Do Not Disturb” feature. I am admittedly not one of them. So, what other steps could be taken to curb texting and driving?

Because of my background in filmmaking and my desire to carry on with this career path well into my future, I see great potential in public service announcements and other media campaigns. This is also where I hope for my application to stand above the rest because I have made a mock PSA that I find to be funny enough to appeal to a younger generation yet with enough meaning to really stick with its viewer. I will include it in this email, and I strongly encourage the reader to watch it whenever you can. To tackle a digital problem like texting and driving, you must appeal to a digital audience. This can be done with social media campaigns, billboards, and announcements such as mine. These messages will reach their intended audience, and with enough repetition should really stick with the viewers. Think anti-smoking campaigns or even campaigns for dog adoption centers. These are ads that immediately call to mind detailed images and a call to action that are nationally recognized. Branding and repetition are the keys to getting a message across as serious as this one, and I would like to think that I have made at least the smallest dent in the problem by making my video.

In summation, curbing the epidemic of texting and driving has no one-step solution. It is a combination of governing laws, technological standards, and media campaigns that will help consumers understand the expectations of having a device with such great power to compute as well as distract. Users must know the dangers of texting while driving and face consequences if they do not adhere to certain standards. Of the same token, tech companies should be encouraged to apply safety systems that assist in the problems at hand as well. I appreciate the opportunity and hope you enjoy my sample video, and hopefully, with the right attitudes from all sides of this problem, the people can work to reduce the number of accidents that occur as a result of texting and driving.

Mock PSA

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