NEW YORK, June 2, 2017—The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has awarded its 2017 scholarships to eight outstanding students who are blind or visually impaired and are pursuing their studies at institutions of higher education. These scholarships support one of AFB's most important goals: expanding access to education for students with vision loss.

The awardees are as follows:

The Delta Gamma Foundation Florence Margaret Harvey Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $1,000 to an undergraduate or graduate student in the field of rehabilitation or education of persons who are blind or visually impaired.

Samantha Smolka is studying Special Education with a focus on Visual Impairments at Northern Illinois University. During high school, Samantha was a member of the U.S. Paralympics All-American Track and Field Team, and she was the first woman with a visual impairment to compete in track and field at her university. Samantha wants to be an advocate for her future students and aims to help them to achieve their full potential.

The Rudolph Dillman Memorial Scholarship: Four scholarships of $2,500 each to undergraduates or graduates who are studying full time in the field of rehabilitation or education of persons who are blind or visually impaired.

Lindsay Ball will be studying for a second bachelor's degree in Adaptive Physical Education at The State College of New York at Brockport this fall. She earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology and Rehabilitation Services. Lindsay is a champion Alpine ski racer, has won three national titles, and earned a bronze medal in an international competition. She also earned a place on the U.S. Paralympic Team and competed in the 2014 games. Lindsay has chosen the field of adaptive physical education to provide students with visual impairments meaningful physical education that she found was lacking in her own K-12 career.

Dora Lopez is studying for her master's degree in the Rehabilitation Counselors Program at the University of Northern Colorado. She earned her bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in Human Services, also from the University of Northern Colorado. Dora graduated from the National Federation of the Blind's Colorado Center for the Blind in 2011. Dora has been active in her community and has been a mentor to a visually impaired student. She has also been active in fundraising and planning events for her local chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and has raised awareness of visual impairment among the overall community. Dora was influenced to enter the field of vocational rehabilitation by her own positive experiences with the rehabilitation system and would like to help those with disabilities achieve their goals and provide them with the confidence that she has gained from her own experience.

Thomas Brown is pursuing a bachelor's in Rehabilitation Sciences at Clarion University. Thomas earned his Eagle Scout rank from the Boy Scouts of America. He graduated from the National Federation of the Blind's Colorado Center for the Blind training program. He worked as a Resident Assistant for a summer transition program for those who are blind or visually impaired. Thomas was inspired to pursue a career in the field of rehabilitation after the experience of contributing to the success of the students at the summer transition program. He feels that by helping people with visual impairments gain confidence and achieve their goals, he will be achieving his own goals while finding pride in his work.

Ilire Goca will begin to pursue a degree in Special Education at Kutztown University this fall with the goal of becoming a Teacher of the Visually Impaired. Ilire has been active in community service work through her high school's National Honors Society and Make a Difference Club. Ilire completed the Bonner Fellowship Program, a program that combined skills training for people with visual impairments with college coursework and community service. She seeks to help her students lead successful and fulfilling lives by using her own experiences as someone with a visual impairment.

The Paul and Ellen Ruckes Scholarship: Two scholarships of $2,000 each to a full-time undergraduate or graduate student in the field of engineering or in computer, physical, or life sciences.

Gabriel Stanforth is studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Iowa. Gabriel earned the rank of Eagle Scout from the Boy Scouts of America and was named an Illinois State Scholar for his outstanding academic achievement, including a 4.3 GPA, and an overall ACT score of 33. He is an accomplished musician and contributed to the success of his high school's music program in competitions. His own experiences with biomedical technology inspired him to enter this field, and he aims to develop innovative technologies in this area to help others once he earns his degree.

Shawn Berg will be attending the University of Washington in the fall where he will be pursuing a master's degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics. Shawn earned his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Shawn's interest in mechanical systems, coupled with his success in science and mathematics, led him to his degree in Mechanical Engineering. His further interest in the combustion properties of engine cycles and energy systems helped him determine the focus of his master's studies.

The R. L. Gillette, Gladys C. Anderson, and Karen D. Carsel Memorial Scholarship: One scholarship of $3,500 given to a female undergraduate student studying music.

Karina Lago is pursuing a degree in Music Therapy at the University of the Incarnate Word. Karina is an accomplished soprano. She placed first in the advanced adult division in the regional competition of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Recently, she held a role in her university's children's opera and has a role in an upcoming performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. Karina originally wished to be a doctor, but her interest shifted to music education when she began losing her sight. When she discovered music therapy, it was a combination of music and medicine that she could see being a fulfilling lifetime career.

Please join the American Foundation for the Blind in congratulating our 2017 scholarship awardees! We wish all of them educational, professional, and personal success!