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Our 2014 Scholarship Recipients!

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Throughout the month of September, secular student activists shared their stories with us in hopes of winning one of the SSA’s first ever Scholarships for Student Activists. We sorted through many fantastic stories of activism, with students sharing their stories of everything from interfaith and intersectional work to phenomenal stories of group running success.

Today, we are thrilled to announce our five recipients! A big congratulations to Candace Banks, Sam Erickson, Kendall Lovely, Jeremy Sanchez, and Frank Skiff on their awards! Below is a short summary of their stories: be on the lookout next week for more in-depth stories.

Thank you so much to all of the students who applied for this award: choosing only five winners was tough for everyone involved. We are excited to see this program grow in the future!

Candace Banks, winner of the $500 scholarship for former fundamentalists
Candace is a graduate student at Louisiana State University. She grew up in a strict, fundamentalist Christian household with her father firmly in control of the household. Not allowed to do things like wear nail polish, watch TV, or even have friends outside of her church kept her anxious as a child. However, after changing schools in high school, she was able to ask questions and follow their answers, and became an atheist during her first year of college. Candace identifies as a black lesbian atheist humanist, and her activism is focused on bringing secular ideas and rational thoughts to her volunteer work with the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association, her tutoring, and the outreach she does as a member of the New Orleans Queer Book Club.

Sam Erickson, winner of a $250 scholarship
Sam is the President of the Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He began questioning religion in sixth grade, and admitted it to his parents when he was thirteen despite the difficulties it caused. Sam served as an intern at the Freedom From Religion Foundation last summer. His activism goes well beyond running of one of the largest secular student groups in the country. Last spring he organized a national conference: Freethought Festival, which featured speakers like Dan Savage, Hemant Mehta, and Dan Barker. After putting up a display at the Wisconsin State Capitol last December, he was interviewed on not just local, but also national radio, and quoted in a front-page Huffington Post article. Sam is working to secure multi-year funding to ensure his group’s future success.

Kendall Lovely, winner of a $500 scholarship
Kendall was raised secular, and her parents stressed the importance of questioning institutional authorities, including religious ones, during her upbringing. After being in college for just two weeks, Kendall was recruited by the New Mexico Public Interest Research Group to help them register voters during the 2012 election, where she helped register over 1,500 voters on the University of New Mexico’s campus. Through this work she discovered the SSA group on her campus, which gave her an opportunity to engage with secular individuals. She now serves as the Events Coordinator for that group. She also works developing hands-on presentations for visitors of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, and is a founding member of her campus’ Feminist Majority Foundation group. She hopes to work with both her feminist and SSA group to engage voters this fall.

Jeremy Sanchez, winner of a $500 scholarship
Growing up, Jeremy was strongly indoctrinated in the Mormon Faith, and even served on a two year LDS mission despite his skepticism. Over a four year period, he progressively came to the conclusion that there is no god, and is now happier, living the life he wants to, honestly and openly. He founded the first medical school secular group at the University of Minnesota Medical School, after observing that a Christian medical group had been around for many years. Within a couple of days, the group had already grown to one-sixth of his class, and he is confident that through his efforts the group will continue to grow—despite secular individuals he knows won’t join the group because of the impact it might have on their future careers. Jeremy has plans to bring lecturers to the medical school, monthly Sunday brunch activities, and a commitment to at least one service project a semester, often working with the Christian medical student group to help break down barriers. He also plans to work closely with the undergraduate Secular Student Alliance on his campus.

Frank Skiff, winner of a $250 scholarship
Frank was raised Catholic, and attended church every week, but as he grew into his teenage years, science kept catching his interest and became the main backbone of his life. Last year Frank started an atheist and science clothing line that donates to secular minded charities. So far they have donated over $2,500 to organizations like Homeless Nexus, Earth Justice, and Friends for Animals Sanctuary. This has led to the company being featured on some major secular movement podcasts. He is also the secretary of the Secular Student Alliance at his school, Florida International University, where he spearheaded events like secular beach cleanups. For the remainder of the school year, he plans to reach out to spread the word on his campus about the organization, in order to unite people with similar good intentions.

Remember, you will be able to read more about each of the winners throughout the first week of November: check back to see what makes these students such fantastic secular activists!

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