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Our $1,000 Scholarship 2015 Recipients!


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

We are thrilled to announce the winners of our $1,000 scholarships! A big congratulations to Candace Banks, Ben Blanchard, Kerri Dickey, Gennadiy Gurariy, and Nicole Niebler!

Kerri Dickey is our winner of $1,000 scholarship from the Humanists of Sarasota Bay, Florida. She is a graduate student at the University of South Florida who previously received her Bachelor of Science in Earth Science, Meteorology, Geography from the University of Northern Iowa.  She has been working for the last three years in Orange County, FL with Parks and Recreation at a nature preserve where she has taught 60+ environmental and science based programs to people of all ages. She then decided she wanted to return to school in order in higher education. She hopes to study perceptions of natural disasters and response times associated with them as her masters thesis, and will potentially continue on to get her Ph.D. in GIS and Geography so that she can map high risk areas during hurricanes where people might not have evacuated.

While in undergrad at the University of Northern Iowa, Kerri was involved with UNIFI, one of the Secular Student Alliance's most active affiliates. During her time in UNIFI, Kerri worked with many philanthropies, other student organizations, and the local Pride groups. She also did volunteer work at shelters, food banks, and the local humane society while she was in school.

Candace Banks
is a graduate student at Louisiana State University, and was one of the $500 winners from our inaugural 2014 scholarships! She grew up in a strict, fundamentalist Christian family with her father firmly in control of the household. Not being 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.

Ben Blanchard has been involved in the secular movement in one way or another since 2011. He is
 a returned Pathfinder (now the Humanist Service Corps), and a former leader of the Secular Student Alliance at St. Cloud State University. While involved with the SSA at St. Could State, Ben helped found the student-run conference, SkepTech. He has spoken at several conferences, both on leadership topics, and on his experience getting involved with international service. Ben is also active with the Minnesota Atheists and volunteers as an escort with Planned Parenthood. He is working with the Nonprofit Leadership program at MNSU to be more inclusive of secular people, as it currently has a religious bias. Toward the end of the year, Ben plans on officially beginning his own NPO, Out And About, to promote service work by Out queer people in discriminatory areas.

Gennadiy Gurariy 
is currently a graduate student studying cognitive brain science at the University of Nevada, Reno. He currently does research in visual perception as well as visual working memory using brain-imaging technology. He immigrated to America at a young age and was raised by a single mother. Gennadiy has been heavily involved in the Secular Student Alliance at UNR, where he has helped organize the group's weekly discussion meetings, and was instrumental in organizing their first speaker event, in which Dan Barker spoke to a group of over 200 people on campus. Since this first event, Gennadiy and the SSA at UNR have brought five more speakers, hosted a debate, and Gennadiy helped write the first secular invocation for the Sparks City Council

Nicole Niebler is studying dietetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is involved as the first female President of the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison. Following graduating with her Bachelor's degree, she intends to find an internship and become a Registered Dietitian, with her ultimate goal being to open a program for people with disordered eating. Before she attended UW-Madison, she was involved with the SSA at UW-Eau Claire, where she and other leaders helped organize a positive protest in response to campus preachers. Since transferring to UW-Madison, she has worked with AHA by helping organizing the 4th Freethought Festival and is currently organizing the 5th one. 

Congratulations to all of our 2015 recipients! To read about our $2,500 scholarship winners, go here!

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