This July, 2017 Heather Simmons was presented with the Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship at the National Federation of the Blind’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida. Heather graduated in May of this year as the Outstanding Senior of the Department of English.
From over 600 scholarship applications submitted by legally blind college students across the country, spanning all levels and fields of study, the scholarship committee chose 30 finalists, including Heather. The NFB invited all of the finalists to the national convention and paid for air travel, hotel accommodations, and meals.
This year, the NFB awarded 30 distinct awards, each attached to a different amount of scholarship money. Although each finalist was guaranteed an award, the scholarship committee got to know each of the finalists during the convention week to match each finalist with the most appropriate scholarship.
Heather’s scholarship, worth $3,000, is named in memory of Larry Streeter, a teacher who worked with blind children and valued the educational opportunities existing inside and outside of the classroom.
Each finalist was also awarded $1,000 and a Chromebook from Google, a Brailled plaque and an additional $1,000 from Dr. Ray Kurzweil, a creator of many technologies for the blind, and free access to the KNFB Reader, a smartphone app that reads text to the user.
In addition to these generous gifts, the finalists also gained valuable experiences at the convention. Each day, Heather was paired with a mentor from a different field who helped her navigate the convention, introduced her to colleagues, and answered career-related questions.
Heather took full advantage of the convention, attending workshops for topics as varied as ballroom dancing and self-advocacy in higher education. She also learned about the resolutions that the NFB will present to legislators to help improve the everyday lives of blind people, such as making touch-screen appliances accessible and increasing the availability of Braille materials for students. The convention also featured presentations by a variety of speakers, including the US Secretary of Labor, several senators and representatives, a blind man who had successfully run across the United States, and blind individuals who have appeared on Master Chef and The Voice.
With this adventure behind her, and with increased knowledge and self-confidence, Heather is preparing to enter the Master’s program in English at CSU Stanislaus.