Check Out Our 2020 Scholarship Winners!

Did you know that every year our company, Honors Graduation, gives away $50,000 in scholarship money to graduating high school seniors to use towards college tuition? They are able to fund this by cord sales each year.

If you are a graduating 2021 high school senior you can qualify for this scholarship as well! Read all about our scholarship here.

Also, if you’re looking for some uplifting stories to read about, check out our past scholarship winners. You can see work from when this scholarship originally started up until this year’s 2020 winners. From providing masks to low income students, to a safe platform for special needs students to connect online, these high school seniors have set the bar high! It is an honor that we can help them in a way to continue their education into college and watch as they continue to do more for our communities by building a better future.

How have you personally designed a better future for your community? Is there a high school senior you can share this scholarship with?

Past Scholarship Winner: Austin Fitzgerald

Today’s Feature Friday post is a little different. We will be interviewing our past scholarship winner, Austin Fitzgerald. Austin won our scholarship in 2018 when she put together the Mindstrings Violin tutoring program. You can see her original video she submitted here. 

Austin has been at the University of Chicago for two years now. She has kept in contact with MindStrings and has been working on a way to become qualified for the program to accept donations. 

Since then, she has also become involved with a program on her campus called South Side Free Music Program. Her role is a violin teacher offering free lessons to the youth on the south side of Chicago. She is using this resource to hopefully have MindStrings expand to Chicago where she is located, however, COVID-19 threw off her plan. While Zoom and other online video call platforms may be an option, the majority of the students she would teach do not have this accessibility in their homes. This is something she is still working on. 

Another way Austin has found to serve with her music ability while at school is by playing the violin to cancer patients at UChicago’s hospital. This is part of her MindStrings outreach program and she is working on recruiting others to do this with her. 

Austin is double majoring in Pre-Medical and Anthropology with a biology minor, she has been busy in her studying! She is the current Co-President of the African and Caribbean Student Association at the University of Chicago. On top of this, she has been exploring her interests in childhood development and social mobility through her job as a research assistant at the Thirty Million Words Center for Early Learning + Public Health. Way to go Austin! 

We are extremely proud of Austin and all of her accomplishments at college, especially during this difficult time where the pandemic has halted some of her plans. 

If you would like to learn more about our scholarship and see how you can apply, check out our scholarship webpage. 

Announcing A 2020 Scholarship Winner: Hilton Stallworth

This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2020 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2020 program, click here”. 

Hilton Stallworth applied to our scholarship this last spring and we were incredibly impressed with his project. Hilton was enrolled in the magnet program at Enloe High school to be exposed to more rigorous classes and educational activities. Shortly after starting, he noticed that he was one of the few black students enrolled in these classes. The majority of his black peers were only enrolled in the standard public school classes. As he went into high school, there was an increased amount of students enrolled in the school, there was still a small number of black students pursuing advanced level classes. This being detrimental to both the students in the standard classes who aren’t performing highly, as well as the few in the advanced classes sometimes feeling discouraged and ostracized as if they didn’t belong there. 

This inspired Hilton to partner with the Black Student Union and create the “All the Stars Initiative” to close the academic achievement gap within Enloe High School by both increasing black student enrollment in advanced classes as well as increasing the performance in the classes in which the students are enrolled. The initiative has three pillars; Outreach, support, and incentive. Naturally, it starts with outreach and being able to get in touch with as many Enloe black students as possible and inform them of the program and opportunities available. Second comes support in which students would sign a pledge to the program, but also to each other stating they would support one another’s academic ventures through structured tutoring and encouragement. Finally, there is incentive which gives students short term goals to continue to fuel their drive for higher education and excellence. 

Hilton hopes that the program will gain the traction and recognition it needs to attract black families to the school due to stellar initiative. The other hope he has is that the program will become successful enough that other schools in the area will be inspired to implement their own version of the initiative, eventually turning All The Stars into a movement amongst the black community. Hilton is hopeful that people will see the true value in a program like this to continue to foster and invest their time in it so that it can positively affect the lives of the resident black students. 

Now that Hilton has graduated Enloe High School, he will be attending NC State University. Since he is attending college locally, he will be able to remain in close contact with the new leaders of the initiative and the Black Student Union. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his plans to visit the students every few weeks came to a halt as they are all now doing virtual lessons. One thing he is doing, however, is attempting to work with the students at Enloe to figure out a way to have similar empowerment amongst the black students in a virtual format. Outside of high school, Hilton plans to actively encourage his black classmates in college to pursue academic excellence, as well as give back to their community. 

0-Gap Masks: 2020 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2020 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2021 program, click here”. 

Sarah Lee and Angela Rhee are our first international students to apply to our scholarship. They come from South Korea and have made a huge impression on the team at Honors Graduation. During this unprecedented time in our world, Sarah and Angela wanted to help their community the best they could. When schools in South Korea were reopened after being shut down due to COVID-19, masks were strictly required to be worn for all students. Unfortunately, not all students had access to a mask and therefore, couldn’t attend school.

Together, they set out to develop the 0-gap mask initiative. A program to deliver masks that maximize facial fit to healthcare workers, low-income families, and people in high risk groups for COVID-19. The 0-gap masks are antiviral and conform precisely to the users’ face. They also developed a beard version which utilizes an additional layer that seals all gaps. Both serve to maximize facial fit to prevent pollutant/bacterial leakage. As many high quality masks remain unaffordable to low-income families, their main goal is to distribute free masks to underprivileged families and senior citizens. 

After donating masks to the Da-ll charity organization and receiving positive feedback earlier this year, Sarah and Angela realized that regardless of the number of individuals, their initiative helped low-income families and individuals in their local community. The impact they feel they have made feels much bigger than they realized, especially at a time when masks are in such high need. They also feel that their initiative helped people to understand the importance of facial fit and not just the filtering abilities of the masks they choose to wear. 

Longterm, Sarah and Angela hope to obtain a provisional patent and connect with the UN Development Programme to distribute 0-gap masks to underprivileged students, outdoor workers, and individuals with facial hair and facial disfigurements. Targeting countries like Bangladesh, India and China they hope to expand efforts to the most severely populated regions around the world. Using the funds they currently have, they plan to purchase mask filters, breathable fabric and a programmable sewing machine to continue producing masks. 

They have plans to bring their respective universities since that would allow them to reach a wider pool of resources and connections. Sarah will be attending The University of Chicago, while Angela will be attending Northwestern University. Both universities have an opportunity for them to further their initiative. At Northwestern, there is a center for research innovation which would help them in further developing the 0-gap mask prototype. The University of Chicago hosts a competition called The College New Venture Challenge, which would help them obtain more funds. 

Announcing The 2020 Top Scholarship Winner!

This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2020 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2020 program, click here”. 

The top recipient for our scholarship this year is Caitlin Gill from Plano, Texas where she graduated from Plano West Senior High School.  At the beginning of her Freshman year of high school, Caitlin became ill and was diagnosed with two chronic conditions. She experienced delays in her speech, reading and writing, and overall daily living activities. Caitlin was drawn to the special needs community at her school after she was made fun of for reading slow and not completing her work as quickly as other students, both results of her chronic health conditions. She started to notice that the kids in the special needs community were often overlooked and gained compassion for them. She became committed to improving the lives of those with special needs and giving them the resources to lead happy, independent, and fulfilling lives. 

Students all across the world faced a different challenge during the spring of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our communities, ultimately sending everyone home. Many kids who weren’t able to attend school suffered during this and was something Caitlin took note of. The friends she made in the special needs community especially, rely on the day to day interaction with their peers. Her desire to continue to help them drove her to start F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E.(which stands for Friendship. Lifestyle. Exercise. Special. People. Acceptance. Compassion. Experience.). 

F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. is a virtual program where Caitlin leads daily exercises with her special needs friends over a zoom call. The main goal of this program is to provide friendship and inclusion, while also promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. When immersing herself in the special needs community, she was able to identify the different needs of each student. Some peers needed more encouragement, while others desired opportunities to feel needed. Despite these differing challenges, she realized that what they all need is at least one peer to look past their disabilities and embrace them with love and friendship. Through F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. she is able to be that peer for them. She advocates for their needs and encourages them to work towards their aspirations and recognize their own potential. Caitlin’s biggest hope for the program is that each of her peers walks away with a friend. Someone they can depend on to be kind and accepting. Caitlin has noticed a positive change within many of her peers. At school, she noticed they were tired, overwhelmed, and didn’t interact with each other. Within the first two weeks of the zoom workouts, they were expressing themselves more and had achieved overall happiness within themselves and with life. 

Caitlin will be attending Texas Woman’s University in the fall of 2020. With staying local to her community, she will be able to continue growing the F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. program while attending school. She would eventually like to hold in-person activities once it is safe to do so. While this is a program she started at her home, she has close relationships with teachers at Plano West and hopes to be able to implement F.L.EX.S.P.A.C.E. in a school setting. 

You can see her website at https://www.specialwordsforspecialpeople.com/

My Own Design A Better Future Project

Recently I’ve been put on the board for our Design A Better Future scholarship. The whole scholarship has nothing to do with grades, GPA, or academics at all. It’s based on a student serving in their community some way, seeing a path they can take to make it a better place. 

Mary wrote about how she unknowingly conducted her own Design A Better Future (DBF) project in her community so it got me thinking, is there something I am already doing, or can do to participate in this as well? After some time, I realized I have been working on my own project in my hometown. 

From the framework of our scholarship: 

Look, Listen, and Learn: 

This summer my kids have been enrolled in Infant Swim Resource (ISR) swim lessons at Utah Swim Acadamey in Provo. It’s life saving swim lessons that first teach kids to save their life if unexpectedly found in water alone, then teach the strokes and work to get out of the pool unassisted. After posting about it on my social media, I had multiple friends in my hometown of Idaho Falls ask how and where they can access these lessons for their kids. Unfortunately after some research, there wasn’t any options. 

So, I set out to change that. 

Ask Tons Of Questions:

  • Why aren’t they available in the area? 
  • What steps do I need to take to make them accessible? 
  • Where is most of the need? 
  • What would it cost to build a pool? Rent a pool? 
  • How much does a heating element in a pool cost and does it extend our window for teaching swim lessons? By How much? 
  • Who are my allies in this? 
  • How do I learn how to teach these lessons? 
  • Who can I hire to help me teach so that we can access more kids? 
  • How can we maximize the number of kids we teach while still starting small and reasonable? 
  • How do we spread the word? 
  • And so many more….. 

Understand The Process Or Problem: 

The problem is the lack of swim lessons in general the area, with the complete absence of ISR lessons. Why? I believe it’s linked with the lack of pools in the area, given the cooler climate. 

The process is taking research upon research. Reading articles and ordering some new books to read. How To Teach Your Baby To Swim by Douglas Doman and Teaching Your Baby To Swim by Françoise Barbira Freedman. More ways I am learning is by observing my children’s current swim lessons and seeing how something like this is run. 

Navigate Ideas:

During this phase I realized that living four hours away from the location I want to make this happen would be difficult for it to work out to run lessons from far away. I called in more resources and had my sister, who lives in the area, join in with me on this. 

This is my daughter at 2 years old, five lessons in. Can you hear my gasp because I was so excited?!

Create A Prototype: 

We brought swim lessons to the area! Our swim instructor committed to teaching for two weeks in the Idaho Falls/ Ammon area. We worked really hard to market, find useable pools, and organize schedules. And after two weeks we had about 35 kids floating and swimming! 

Highlight and Fix: 

From our initial launch, we are working on navigating a smoother way to schedule parents, have access to our own pool, and an easier way to get the word out about these lessons. We asked parents for feedback or what they would like to see happen. 

One common comment was a solid platform for communication with parents. We were answering questions and posting information about the swimming lessons by sometimes posting on my Instagram, sometimes posting on the swim instructors and various texts/ calls from both our phone numbers. Because of this, we are working at creating social media platforms just for this purpose and a website we can refer everyone to. 

Launch To An Audience: 

Because swim lessons will be happening outdoors and summer is coming to a close, we are nativating each of these steps over the next few months so that we can launch next spring to the Idaho Falls area! We are excited to bring such an important and life-saving service to an area that is lacking. I can’t wait to see where this project will go! 

Our instructor and my daughter after a successful two weeks teaching ISR lessons in Idaho Falls

Have You Heard About Our Scholarship?

Hello! McKenzie here with some news! Not only can I say I am an educational blogger, but I am now a scholarship chairperson! Honors Graduation does a very generous scholarship every year, they hand out five $10,000 scholarships to high school seniors attending college the next school year. You can read more about the scholarship here. 

I’ve always wanted to be part of a scholarship organization in some way since college. I was fortunate to receive many scholarships, both large and small amounts, throughout my four years and have felt inclined in some way to provide this for other college students. I know first hand the excitement and relief that comes with the award of scholarship money. When presented with the opportunity to be on the scholarship board for Honors Graduation I was thrilled, to say the least! 

The scholarship outline is to design a better future. Students create a project in their community that better it in some way. This is the second reason I love being here for this! One of my strengths is to look around at a situation and think, “How can I improve this?” When I was in high school I worked in the Sears shoe department where I was constantly moving shelves, reorganizing, and making the process more efficient for all, my supervisor loved it! 

As I’ve been researching this scholarship and reading about every past winner, I had a light bulb moment that I am unknowingly conducting my own design a better future project that I am excited to share with you soon. Stay tuned! And until then, check out our scholarship and see how you, or a high school senior you know, can win $10,000! 

Cover photo by Lacey Ross Photography