Scholarships

The National Federation of the Blind believes in investing in the future by supporting the college education of deserving legally blind students.  Our state and national scholarship programs are the most generous in the country.

Student accepts scholarship award

When a student applies for a national scholarship, this allows the applicant the possibility of winning a state scholarship. Simply stated, complete one application and have the possibility of winning two scholarships, national and or state. To learn more about the NFB National Scholarship and to download an application form, please visit www.nfb.org/scholarships.

Students receive scholarships

Please also read:

National Convention Reflections From National Scholarship Winners Deanna Greco & Laura Etori

The following is reprinted from the Fall 2016 issue of The Sounding Board. The 2016 NFB National Scholarship winners from New Jersey reflect on their experiences at the national convention.

Deanna Greco

DEANNA GRECO just started her freshman year at The Catholic University of America. She is a biology premedical student. Here is her story:

Imagine a place where there are 2,500 people using white canes and guide dogs, a place where the sighted person in the room is in the minority. A place where you feel accepted, loved and supported. I found this place at the National Federation of the Blind’s National Convention. I was fortunate enough to be one of the NFB’s 2016 Scholarship Winners.

My past year has been similar to that of other students who are in the process of transitioning from high school to college. By January 2016, I was exhausted from writing countless college application essays, going to college interviews and working on maintaining my grade point average (4.5 GPA). Just like everyone else, I realized that college would be expensive, and therefore, I decided to apply for scholarships. While looking online, I came across the NFB’s scholarship program. From the time I was diagnosed with cone rod dystrophy at age 8, my mother always encouraged me to join the NFB. We attended a few meetings with the New Jersey chapter, but I never had the desire to be an active member. I didn’t think that I needed the NFB. I honestly did not consider myself a part of the blind community. However, I decided that since I liked a challenge, I would apply for the NFB scholarship.

In early May, I received a call from one of the scholarship committee members informing me that I was a scholarship finalist. During this conversation, I learned that I would be required to go to the NFB National Convention, and this filled me with both excitement and nervousness.

I wasn’t anxious about meeting new people; I enjoy that. However, I never traveled out of state. The idea of getting on a plane and finding transportation to the hotel intimidated me. However, there are some things in life you have to do, and I knew that independent travel was one of those things. When I stepped into the hotel lobby, I became filled with a sense of accomplishment and relief. As I stood there, taking it all in, I heard the tap tap tap of hundreds of white canes. At first, this was extremely overwhelming. Yet, when I returned home a week later, it was strange not hearing all those canes. Looking back, I know that winning the scholarship was a blessing in disguise because it led me to this outstanding group of people.

Convention was a blast! From the moment I entered the hotel, to the second I left, I was participating in exhilarating activities. Regardless of whether I was at General Session or out to lunch with one of my mentors, I was having a delightful time. I knew that successful blind people existed, but I never witnessed such a large gathering of blind people in my life. The members of the NFB are determined, intelligent and, most importantly, compassionate. Before convention, I was unaware of the inequality that the blind community faces in all aspects of life. The fact that people are getting paid less simply because they are blind, or having their children taken away because close-minded individuals say, “How could blind people raise children?” is absurd. These issues need to be eradicated, and there is no doubt in my mind that the NFB will do exactly that.

This fall, I will be starting at The Catholic University of America as a biology premedical student. Having low vision, I know that I will encounter hurdles caused by my lack of vision in laboratory settings. Prior to convention, I did not know any blind people employed in the science fields that I could turn to when I face sight-related difficulties. This changed when I attended the Science and Engineering Division meeting at the National Convention. At this gathering, I met several blind people involved in fields such as chemistry and biology. I gained priceless knowledge about the accommodations that could help me achieve success at Catholic University. I also formed friendships that will last a lifetime. I do not use the word friendship lightly. There is a reason I did not use the word “networking.” The reason is that the people I met at convention are not business contacts, but rather they are family members that I know will always have my back.

Before I knew it, it was the last night of convention. I was sitting at the banquet surrounded by my new family. Between listening to President Riccobono’s compelling speech and laughing with the members of the New Jersey affiliate at my table, the four-hour banquet flew by. As the night came to a close, it was time for the scholarship ceremony. All of the scholarship winners received a beautiful print/braille plaque, a certificate for a KNFB Reader App, and a $1,000 grant from Dr. Kurzweil. We also received a ChromeBook and $1,000 from Google, and a certificate for an accessible science tool known as Talking Lab Quest from Independence Science. In addition to the generous awards listed above, each winner received varying scholarship awards. I received a $3,000 scholarship. I sincerely appreciate every award that I received that night. Yet, I would not be doing any justice to myself or the NFB if I did not share which award is closest to my heart. The special award that I cherish is my Federation family. So regardless of whether you are a blind individual looking for blind friends or a sighted parent searching for information on how to get the necessary accommodations for your blind child, join the NFB. I assure you that the National Federation of the Blind will embrace you with open arms, you will not be disappointed, nor will you ever feel alone.

Laura Etori

LAURA ETORI is attending Rutgers University and pursuing degrees in both actuarial science and finance. Here is her story:

I love swimming, cooking and baking. I love my family; they are my biggest fans. I love being happy and most of all, I love the Lord and I am grateful to Him for everything in my life.

I am a Kenyan currently living and studying in New Jersey. I lost my sight four years ago due to a secondary effect of idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

I came to New Jersey for school. On the day of my arrival, someone stepped on my white cane and broke it. Soon after, at my aunt’s house, my cousin and I immediately investigated where to get a white cane. The first thing that popped up was “get a free white cane from the NFB.” Well, who doesn’t like free things, so I ordered one. My cane arrived soon, and I was back in business. A week later I received voicemail from NFBNJ Northeast Chapter member Alwin Glasgow asking how I liked the cane. In a later call, he told me all about NFB. Having read about NFB years ago, I always wondered if such an organization could be real. Alwin told me that, if needed, he would help me the best he could. We continued to correspond, and this past March I attended my first Northeast Chapter meeting. Then I applied for the scholarship, beating the deadline by a few days, and soon found myself in Florida for the convention.

From the age of 12, I have always wanted to become an actuary, leading people to ask whether I loved math. Well, it’s not about loving math; it’s about having passion for what I love and for what I want to become. And, yes I love math. It’s all about commitment and having a vision.

Then I had a familiar feeling, like the one I had when I lost my sight, the same feeling I had when I left Kenya, and the same feeling I got when I realized I was a national scholarship finalist: Uncertainty, along with determination that there is something I am meant to do. On July 6, the convention was over, and all I could remember was the last night’s ringing speech by President Riccobono about fear. The voice in my head told me, “Fear will hold you back.” So I thought of the many things I had feared and how much I feared uncertainty, which was ironic since my life was filled with uncertainties. Four years ago I had not planned to be in Florida at that day and time; I certainly had never thought I would ever be blind. But now that life had developed that way, it surely was the best thing to ever happen to me.

Walking into the convention resort proved a big eye-opener. Where in the world would I ever have had the chance to be welcomed by the noise of a swarm of bees. Oh boy! Was I in for a surprise. It wasn’t actually bees, but rather the noise of thousands of white canes rolling or tapping the tiled floor of the hotel. I felt a bit flustered. This was my first time I had been around so many blind and visually impaired people, and I had mixed feelings.

As for orientation to the hotel, let’s just say that experience is the best teacher. I read and re-read the text description of the hotel and nothing stuck in my mind. I eventually learned my way around. I met so many people from different walks of life and with different stories. The other scholarship finalists were so impressive. They were happy and classy people. They had done and were doing really amazing things. I was most grateful for my mentors. From Sharon Maneki I learned that one must have a plan of action: “You cannot just be flowing with what everyone is doing; have your own goals and have a plan of action.” Ever Lee Hairston taught me how to be a believer: “If you decide to do or get something, believe in yourself and go for it.” John Halverson counseled that with time we accrue experience and get good at what we do; we only have to persist and be consistent. Cassie McKinney taught me the virtue of humility. At the Imagination Fund table, I watched her listen to and assist every single person who came to her, even if they just wanted to talk. She was happy and graceful throughout. Cindy Bennett taught me to always be at the top of my game: “Be your best and be the best. Know what you need to know and know even a little bit more and never fear to look good and fabulous; just be humble about it and keep it real.” Finally, Brian Miller taught me it’s never bad to know something extra. It’s good to be a diversified person and to improve yourself with different kinds of knowledge and to stay happy.

I thought about all these things and pondered how to use these insights to encourage change in people’s lives. Honestly, I felt a bit panicky, but I remembered that fear will stop me. I decided to rethink the concept of bravery. I realized it meant accepting people’s differences and individual challenges. Historically, I had felt like I did not want to experience anything different and that I had experienced enough. Now I realized I needed to grow in order to effect change and to have an impact on people’s lives. I do not know how I will help others; I guess that is one of my many challenges to figure out as I determine what I am really good at and how best to help others develop their own positive changes.

Now, each time I meet someone and am asked, “How did you find convention?” I talk about the importance of continuing to learn, because I believe that was the whole point of my attending the NFB 2016 convention. I hope we can all embrace change and let ourselves feel the shifting and evolving of our mindsets and lives.

NFB 2017 Scholarship Program

The National Federation of the Blind’s Scholarship Committee is accepting scholarship applications from November 1, 2016, to March 31, 2017. This annual program offers thirty scholarships worth from $3,000 to $12,000 to eligible students, from high school seniors beginning their freshman year in the fall semester of 2017, up through graduate students working on their PhD degrees. These merit scholarships are based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. In addition to the money, each winner will receive assistance to attend the 2017 NFB annual convention in Orlando, Florida, held during the second week of July, providing an excellent opportunity for high-level networking with active blind persons in many different professions and occupations. Go to www.nfb.org/scholarships for complete rules and requirements.

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship

by Patti S. Gregory-Chang
Reprinted from The Braille Monitor

From the Editor: Patti Chang is the chairman of one of the most important committees of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her committee are charged with advertising our scholarship program and choosing thirty students who evidence academic success, leadership, and a demonstrated commitment to helping others. Here is Patti’s announcement about the 2017 scholarship program:

Each July at our national convention the National Federation of the Blind gives a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. We offer thirty scholarships, and all are substantial and prestigious enough to warrant any student’s time to complete and compete. Our $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply.

I am sometimes asked what the secret is to winning an NFB scholarship. I am going to tell you the secret. First of all, applicants must meet the eligibility requirements to receive a scholarship. All applicants for these scholarships must be legally blind; must reside in one of our fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico; must be pursuing or planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall academic year; and, if chosen as a finalist, must participate in the entire NFB national convention and in all scheduled scholarship activities.

Many think the key to becoming a winner is a high grade point average. Others believe it is based on participation in extracurricular activities. Still others think it is one’s level of commitment to the NFB. While grade point average is important because it demonstrates the ability to learn and be successful academically, it is not the only attribute that influences the scholarship committee. Participation in extracurricular activities is important in portraying oneself as a well-rounded person; it is not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Committed members of the organization recognize the attributes that are important to committee members when determining who wins a scholarship.

The scholarship program is a tremendous tool for us to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are not restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is an organization dedicated to creating opportunity for all blind people. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships. When you check the lists of past winners, you will see that students of all ages and in widely differing fields have won over the years. The class of 2016 included students entering their freshman year, as well as older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. Past winners are working toward credentials for employment in diverse fields.

There is truly only one way to win an NFB scholarship: that is to apply. Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the Web at www.nfb.org/scholarships, along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The application form for 2017 is already online. It will remain up until March 31. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can ask for a print application by contacting our scholarship office at scholarships@nfb.org or by calling (410) 659-9314, ext. 2415.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, at least one letter of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with the president of the applicant’s state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors must also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams.

Unfortunately, some applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly. Applicants must ensure that all of the required information and supporting documentation have been received by our scholarship office either online by midnight EST, March 31, or by mail postmarked by March 31. Students should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letters of reference. Letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen. Students can write their essays using word-processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting it into the online application form.

In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe one’s personal goals for the future. Information about positions of leadership is especially helpful. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people, who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants for the scholarship class of 2017. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty finalists from all applications received. These thirty scholarship finalists will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1.

Finally, during the annual convention held July 10 through 15, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner. Attending and participating in the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize.

The National Federation of the Blind’s national convention is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the world each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship finalists will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they had ever imagined.

Often students apply more than one year before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if their scholarship and leadership merit another award. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows. The secret, if there is one, to winning an NFB scholarship is to read carefully the application on our website, and then provide all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31. However, I actually maintain that there is no secret. The only way to win an NFB scholarship is to apply.

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund

by Allen Harris

Reprinted from the Braille Monitor

From the Editor: Allen Harris is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and was one of the people who came up with the idea of honoring our former president and longtime leader by establishing a program to promote attendance at the national convention, where so much inspiration and learning occur. Here is Allen’s announcement about the 2017 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Program:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando, Florida, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Last year most of the sixty grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

  1. You write a letter giving your contact information, and your local NFB information, your specific amount requested, and then explain why this is a good investment for the NFB. The points to cover are listed below.
  2. You contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the president when to expect your request letter by email, and mention the deadline.
  3. You (or a friend) send your letter by email to your state president. He or she must add a president’s recommendation and then email both letters directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee. Your president must forward the two letters no later than April 15.

Your letter to Chairperson Allen Harris must cover these points:

  • Your full name, and all your telephone numbers and label them-cell phone, home, office, other person (if any).
  • Your mailing address and, if you have one, your email address.
  • Your state affiliate and state president; your chapter and chapter president, if you attend a chapter.
  • Your personal convention mentor, and provide that person’s phone number.
  • Your specific request:
    Explain how much money you need from this fund to make this trip possible for you. We suggest you consult with other members to make a rough budget for yourself. The body of your letter should answer these questions:
    • How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive; what can you share or give? You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances you hope they will take into consideration.

When will I be notified that I am a winner?

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen.

  1. Make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel the reservation. (Yes, you may arrange for roommates of your own to reduce the cost.)
  2. Register online for the entire convention, including the banquet, by May 31.
  3. Find someone in your chapter or affiliate who has been to many conventions and can answer your questions as a friend and advisor.
  4. If you do not hear from the committee by May 15, then you did not win a grant this year.

How will I receive my convention scholarship?

At convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we sent you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.

What if I have more questions?

For additional information email the chairman, Allen Harris, at kjscholarships@nfb.org or call his Baltimore, Maryland, office at (410) 659-9314, extension 2415.

Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Orlando.

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Contact Information

Joseph Ruffalo, President
254 Spruce Street
Bloomfield, NJ 07003
Phone: 973-743-0075
Email: nfbnj1@verizon.net

Coming Soon

NFB Washington Seminar
January 30 through February 2, 2017
Holiday Inn Capitol
550 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024

NFB National Convention
July 10 through 15, 2017
Rosen Shingle Creek Resort
9939 Universal Boulevard
Orlando, FL 32819