17 Students Awarded PEGs to Fund Their Education in 2016-17
By Maureen Kalil
The Phoenix Education Grant, or PEG, program, which was established 15 years ago, has helped dozens of burn survivors fund undergraduate and graduate education, as well as trade school. In 2013, AlloSource, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of skin, bone, and soft tissue allografts, pledged a $250,000 donation to the PEG program, to be made over 10 years. That generous contribution and countless other donations have made it possible to award grants to 17 students this year.
“I am finally getting my chance to become what I have dreamed of,” says PEG recipient Tyler Esbenshade, who has dreamed of a career working on cars since he was a child.” The student at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College looks forward to working in an industry that will always be needed, and also be able to help people by servicing their vehicles, while pursuing his passion. “There is nothing better than that,” he explains. Tyler who was injured at age 18, says, “I have been able to resume life and contribute to my society because I never let the injury take me down. I got back up, brushed myself off, and continued to live on.”
Cashari Norwood may have just started her freshman year of college, but she already is looking past the degree she plans to earn in political science, to law school, a career as an attorney, and ultimately a seat in the U.S Congress. “All my life I've been extremely drawn to and interested in politics. As my knowledge about politics grew, I realized that I wanted to be a lawyer and help innocent people stay out of prisons.” The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student says, “The news inspires me every day and motivates me to continue on the path that I've laid out for myself.”
Lauren Grigg also entered college as a freshman this fall. The Clemson University student, who has a passion for children with disabilities, is majoring in special education. However, Lauren would ultimately like to work as a pediatric occupational therapist. She says her experience as a burn survivor instilled a desire to pay forward the love and support she received when being treated. The PEG recipient, who spent the months prior to her freshman year in high school being treated for her burn injury, credits her “amazing occupational therapist” with inspiring her career choice.
“Nursing is what I have been called to do,” says Brianna Bolinger, who began her studies at Western Michigan University this year. Brianna got a head start on preparing for her dream career by her earning certification as a nursing assistant. She recently completed an internship at the very hospital at which she was treated, reaffirming her passion for the field. When her assignment was over, she couldn’t imagine not returning to the hospital that has provided her with nothing but respect and grace, says Brianna. She is confident she will one day return there as a nurse, making the “temporary detachment” tolerable.
“Ever since I was young,” says Alonzo Yanes, “I was captivated by the wonder of animation and the excitement of breathing life into flat drawings.” This fall the PEG scholar enrolled in the the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Alonzo says that since his burn injury in high school, he has worked hard to resume his life to its fullest potential. After earning a bachelor of fine arts, Alonzo hopes to work as a professional animator, creating films and television shows to inspire and entertain others. “Growing up watching animated films, I’ve come to understand the powerful effect animation has on people of all ages, and I want to entertain people by telling engaging stories with my movies that will hopefully transform lives.”
Robert VanderZwaag recalls that as a child he found commercials more engaging to watch than television shows and was captivated by the typography in print ads and billboards. So when he decided to pursue a career change, Robert says graphic design seemed like a logical choice--it is what he had always been truly passionate about. The PEG recipient began his senior year at the Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this summer. Robert, who was burned as a 1-year-old, says he has felt like an “observer” all of his life, taking every life situation and studying it. That gift of observation, he believes, will be particularly useful in his chosen field, enabling him to readily identify what may appeal to the target audience. Robert also hopes that he can use his work as a designer to further his advocacy for a world of equality that is free from physical discrimination.
Katherine Bostic entered her third year at University of Georgia this fall. “My first and second year at UGA [for which she also received PEGs] have been incredible, and I can’t wait for the third,” reports Katherine. The communications sciences and disorders major wants a career as speech and language pathologist. Katherine explains that her journey since her burn injury at age 5 has certainly not been easy, but credits the countless doctors, plastic surgeons, nurses, and therapists with helping her become all she could be. Now she is preparing to help patients facing similar challenges. “My aspiration,” explains Katherine, “is to help and serve others, while using my own story to inspire and ignite a passion for overcoming what may seem impossible.”
Cara Handtmann’s college career was interrupted by her burn injury. She had to withdraw from classes, delayed her graduation, left an internship, and was unable to accept two job offers in her field. But Cara has resumed her studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, where she is pursuing a BA/MA in criminal justice, with a concentration in investigative techniques. “Although it has taken me longer than planned” says Cara, who is gradually finishing her remaining classes, “I have been actively taking the steps needed to complete my education and contribute to society.” The PEG recipient, who expects to graduate in February, hopes her training will lead to a career in federal law enforcement.
Jacob Tabora sustained a burn injury while serving in the U.S. Marines and decided to further his education after being medically retired from the service. “My life did not end after being injured thankfully. To me, it was a new beginning,” explains Jacob, “a new beginning that I intend to take full advantage of to help others.” The criminal justice major at the University of Texas at San Antonio aspires to bring what he describes as “much needed reform” to the criminal justice system. Jacob will spend his last semester this fall in the highly competitive Archer Fellowship Program in Washington, DC. Looking forward to an internship with an organization that lobbies for criminal justice reform, in a Congressional office, or at the White House, Jacob says, “The opportunities in Washington, DC, are endless.”
Like Jacob, Todd Nelson, who served 20 years in the U.S. Army, was injured while on a deployment. Following his military retirement, Todd entered the corporate world, but soon recognized that in order to advance he would have to differentiate himself in a way that was recognized by the civilian culture--earning a graduate degree. The two-time PEG recipient is now on track to complete an executive MBA program in 2017 at University of Texas at San Antonio. Todd believes that the additional education will allow him to fully utilize many of the skills he had developed during his military service.
Marissa Bane applied her 2 previous PEG awards to undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Health, Health Policy and Management. This fall Marissa began a graduate program in health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University, which she hopes will prepare her for a career in burn care management. She plans to use her expertise to address the disparities in burn care throughout the world. “I would like to help facilitate relationships between advanced and developing burn clinics to give under-resourced units the support and training they need,” explains Marissa.
Constance Morrison’s chosen field has also been motivated by the disparities she has seen in healthcare. Conny, who received her undergraduate degree from Amherst College, says she hope to be part of systemic-level change to improve the American healthcare system so that it better meets the needs of all patients and their families, especially those who are excluded from or underserved by the current system. The 2016 PEG recipient entered the University of North Carolina School of Medicine this fall, where she plans to earn a master’s degree in public health or public policy, as well as a medical degree. Conny hopes to “contribute to society and the burn survivor community as a compassionate patient- and family-centered physician.”
Dina Peone, who also benefited from PEG during her undergraduate education, will apply this year’s grant to the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in English. With her graduate degree, Dina says, she hopes to optimize her chances of being published. Dina has also has embraced the idea that she was born to teach, something she discovered while working as a teaching assistant at the university. It’s another opportunity that her advanced degree will enable her to pursue.
Jose Rivas’ family brought him to the United States from El Salvador when he was 9 years old by to seek better care for the burn injuries he had sustained years earlier. “The geographical change was tough,” recalls Jose, “as was the psychological toll each surgery had on my mind and body.” However, the move not only allowed him to receive the treatment he needed but also provided him with the opportunity for a quality education. The 2016 PEG scholar, who also received Phoenix Education Grants as an undergraduate student, says, “One of the proudest achievements of my life was graduating from high school and attending college. This moment was eclipsed when I graduated from the University of Colorado.” Jose who works as a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles area now has the opportunity to go one step further and fulfill his dream of becoming a physics teacher. He is working on a master’s of education degree and teaching credentials from Grand Canyon University.
Wushuang Yang similarly traveled as a child to the United States for treatment of her burn injury. Out of hope and desperation, explains the PEG scholar, her family gave temporary guardianship to a nonprofit organization and sent her to the U.S. for medical care. She arrived as an 11-year-old and has spent much of the last 8 years here undergoing surgeries. Wushuang now aspires to a career in medicine, saying she wants to do everything in her power to provide others with the same wonderful care that she has received. “The first step is post-secondary education,” says Wushuang. “Without a college degree, a goal is nothing but a pretty dream,” This fall she enrolled as a freshman at Marion University in Indianapolis, Indiana and is closer to making her dream a reality.
It was after more than 25 surgeries in her home country of India that Prerna Ghandi traveled to the United States as a teenager in search of advanced medical treatment. She continued her high school education while undergoing surgeries and last spring enrolled as a freshman in the University of Cincinnati. With an education in international business and marketing, Prerna believes she will be able to use her skills not only to sell products but to establish a nonprofit organization to help other girls worldwide who have been the victim of an acid attack.
If you would like to support future PEG scholars by contributing to the endowment that has been established, you can call the Society office at 800-888-2876 or donate online at http://www.phoenix-society.org. (Be sure to indicate that your donation is for “PEG.”)
If you are a burn survivor who is pursuing post-secondary education (college, university, graduate, or trade school), keep in mind that the PEG application for next year will be posted on the Phoenix Society website in early 2017. The deadline for submission is July 1.