The annual iLead Conference represents an opportunity for students to develop their leadership skills and interact with other emerging leaders in the community. However, for GateWay Community College students Josefina Blas and Michelle Ray, it is also an accumulation of a lifetime’s worth of overcoming hardship in order to succeed.
During the conference, held Oct. 22 at Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus, both young women were recognized as recipients of the Nina Mason Pulliam Legacy Scholarship, a scholarship program that provides financial and outreach assistance to individuals who face barriers in their pursuit of higher education learning.
“It is very exciting to have these two inspiring young women earn their place among the Nina scholars,” said Emily Bluestein-Taylor, Disability Resources and Services manager at GateWay.
“It is not only a testament to their character, their perseverance, and their drive both personally and academically, but it is also a celebration of those things.”
For both Blas and Ray, both of Phoenix, the road has not been an easy one.
Blas’ life changed in July 2008 when she was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Although the accident rendered the entire left side of her body severely weak – a condition known as “hemiplegia” – and left her blind in one eye, she has refused to let it deter her.
“I do not consider myself disabled,” said Blas, a graduate of Cesar Chavez High School. “I am different only because I do not follow the crowd.”
Indeed, Blas has carved out her own path to success; she is the vice president of GateWay’s Inter-tribal Club, the vice president of public relations for the Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Society, and she established the college’s first-ever creative writing club “Out of Ink”. With the help of the Nina scholarship, she will be able to finish her associate of arts degree in social work this fall.
“Everyone deserves one opportunity to be someone great, and this scholarship has given me that opportunity. Without Nina, I would not be attending college,” she said.
Similarly, Ray, a nursing student, has faced a multitude of challenges in her life. Diagnosed with diabetes as a young girl and mother to a four-year old child, she has worked hard to balance her physical needs with the financial demands of college and parenthood.
“I think you take it day by day and try to keep a positive attitude,” she said. “Don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed and don’t think for a second that the support is not there for you because it is.”
Find information about the Nina Mason Pulliam Legacy Scholarship Program online.
To learn more about the resources available for GateWay students with disabilities, visit Disability Resources online or contact Emily Bluestein-Taylor at (602) 286-8170.