18 Scholars Benefit From Phoenix Education Grants for 2013-14 Academic Year

By Maureen Kalil


A special thanks to AlloSource, one of the nation's largest nonprofit providers of skin, bone, and soft tissue allografts, for their recent pledge of a $250,000 donation over 10 years to the PEG program. This generous support will allow the Phoenix Society to award more scholarships each year, helping more burn survivors achieve their educational dreams. 


Due to the generosity of our donors, a record number of 18 burn survivors are furthering their education this year with the help of a Phoenix Education Grant, or PEG. The PEG Committee, which consists of former PEG recipients, PEG donors, and Phoenix Society board members, reviews applications each summer and awards grants ranging from $500 to $3,000 for the upcoming school year. 



Among this year’s recipients is a prior PEG awardee, Alexi Pyles, who is applying her PEG to the cost of continuing her studies at Bethany College, in Bethany, West Virginia, where she has declared a major in pre- physical therapy. Alexi, who is from North Hollywood, California, ultimately plans to earn a graduate degree in physical therapy or kinesiology, and give back to the community that has supported her by volunteering with youth sports, as well as programs that support young burn survivors. Alexi is active in campus athletics, breaking school records in swimming, and running cross country.



Rachel Anderson, a freshman at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, also plans to pursue a career in physical therapy. In addition to a strong academic record in high school, she excelled as an athlete in both high school lacrosse and cross country, serving as captain of both teams. That experience, she believes, provided her with strong leadership skills that will help her succeed in life. Rachel, who is from Stevens, Pennsylvania, says her goal is “to be a role model and show others that nothing can stop you.”



Like Alexi and Rachel, Logan Andres was inspired by his experience as a burn survivor in his choice of career. “As someone who has been there before, it just seems right to help others through the experience,” says Logan of his goal of becoming a psychologist. Logan is currently majoring in psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, after which he plans to attend graduate school and, ultimately, work on a burn unit.



The fact that she will be in college at the same time as her twin has made the PEG particularly helpful to Chelsea Crawford and her family, of Montgomery, New York. Chelsea began her classes at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York, this fall, where she is working toward fulfilling her lifelong dream of becoming a neonatal nurse.



Like Chelsea, Timothy Hatton of West Newton, Massachusetts, reports that his PEG will lighten the load of a family that will have 2 children attending college at the same time and, like Chelsea, he will use his grant to pursue a long-held dream of becoming a nurse. Timothy began work on a bachelor of science in registered nursing at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, this fall. He wants to eventually work at the burn center where he returned for surgeries throughout his childhood. The nurses there who loved, nurtured, and cared for their patients were the inspiration for his career choice.



Connor McKemey is yet another PEG recipient who is grateful for a grant that will lighten the financial burden on a family who will have 2 children in college this year (and 3 in 2014-2015), and still faces outstanding medical bills from his injury. The Tega Cay, South Carolina, resident headed to High Point University in High Point, North Carolina, this fall. Prior to Connor’s burn injury, he was quarterback of his football team, starting center of his basketball team, and an all-star lacrosse player. Although he was able to return to the high school lacrosse field, his injuries prohibit him from competing on a collegiate level. But Connor is delighted that at High Point he will have the opportunity to stay involved in athletics through its undergraduate coaching program.



Jacob Raygor describes welding as his passion and this year he began a 2-year program at Ozarks Technical College to earn an associate’s degree in Welding Technology. Because of Jacob’s high-grade point average in high school and participation in community service, he was eligible for Missouri’s A+ Scholarship Program, which covers tuition for 2 years of postsecondary education. But like many students, Jacob has found that the expenses of college far exceed tuition. So the PEG Jacob received will help cover books, equipment, and certification exams required for his field of study. 



John Sellem of Elk Grove, California, enrolled in Cosumnes River College in Sacramento as a part-time student this fall. After experiencing a serious injury while still in high school that left him hospitalized for a year, John became focused on school and sees attending college as a huge milestone. He plans to graduate with a degree in the psychology of adjustment and wants to eventually return as a staff member to the hospital that treated him. There he would like to show young burn survivors that they can face and overcome the challenges in their lives. 



Alexandra Heyer will graduate from the University of Wisconsin—River Falls, this spring with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business with an emphasis in dairy science. Alexandra grew up and still works on her family’s 40-cow dairy farm. She describes agriculture as a huge part of her life and her passion. 



John Pennywell, also grew up on a family farm, which he says taught him the importance of fulfilling one’s responsibilities. This fall John left his Keithville, Louisiana, home to enter the Bossier City Community College paramedic program. After earning an associate’s degree, he hopes to attend the Fire Academy, and ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree in management of public utilities. 



Bibiana Mondragon, of Dallas, Texas, is currently enrolled in Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas, where she is completing her associate’s degree in social work this fall. Bibiana, who is a first- generation college student, hopes to set an example for her younger siblings that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and that hard work does pay off. She looks forward to one day helping the community in which she grew up and to reaching out to those in need as, she recalls, her family once was. 



Dina Peone of Saugerties, New York, has known she wanted to be a writer since she was 12 years old. Her brother then encouraged her to consider attending Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, saying it was an ideal place for a writer to seek an education. Despite a serious injury and lengthy hospitalization that interrupted her high school education, Dina eventually enrolled in a 2-year program at State University of New York, Ulster, where she pursued her passion for art and writing. Last year she heeded her brother’s advice and applied to Sarah Lawrence, where she transferred in January. Dina will earn a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts there, but perhaps most importantly, she says, she will able to exchange ideas with some of the best minds in the literary world, as well as connect with agents, publishers, and internships in New York City. 



Not every PEG scholar falls into the category of traditional student. While many are heading to college immediately after high school graduation, others have postponed their education. Such is the case with Dexter Durbin, who entered Mitchell Community College (MCC) in Statesville, North Carolina, only after his children had completed their own education. Dexter entered MCC planning to add a business degree to his auctioneer’s license, but soon was encouraged by faculty and fellow students to consider a teaching career. The Mooresville, North Carolina, resident is completing his studies in pre- middle grades education this fall with plans to transfer this spring to The University of North Carolina at Charlotte to earn his bachelor’s degree. Having endured more than 100 surgeries since his burn injury over 30 years ago, Dexter was awarded MCC’s James Takes Award for demonstrating incredible perseverance. On campus, he has worked to improve accessibility for students with physical challenges and established a program that provides free meals to students in need. 



Elizabeth Shannon Walters, of California, Maryland, is another student pursuing an education after raising her family. In fact, she and her youngest son are both enrolled in college this year. Elizabeth, who is pursuing a dream that goes back 15 years, earned an associate’s degree in pre-nursing from the College of Southern Maryland last spring, but she faces 4 more years of education to attain her ultimate goal of becoming an advanced practice registered nurse. Elizabeth began her work toward her bachelor of science in nursing at the University of Maryland this fall. 



In some instances, PEG recipients are using their grants to fund the graduate education necessary for their chosen career. Elaina Meier of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, who is currently a high school teacher, has dreams of a career as a licensed professional counselor, working alongside clients who have a trauma history, particularly medical trauma. As a full-time student at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she is working toward the master’s degree in clinical mental health she needs to do so. 



Jason Heard of Iowa City, Iowa, is also pursuing a graduate education with the help of a PEG. The second- year medical student at University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine is training to become a burn and plastic surgeon. He has already authored several published research papers, presented research at several medical conferences, and traveled to Africa several times to participate in burn research, education, and prevention. Ultimately he hopes to fulfill the dream of one of his mentors and build a burn prevention and burn care training center that would serve the entire continent of Africa. 



Ashley Taylor, who has already earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, is also continuing her education in graduate school in order to achieve her career goal. Ashley, of De Queen, Arkansas, is working on her master’s degree at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Combining her interest in math and her love of residence life, Ashley ultimately would like to be a faculty in residence—a professor who lives and teaches in a residence hall setting. While pursuing her math degrees, Ashley has gained valuable experience as a resident assistant and graduate hall director. 



Despite experiencing a severe burn injury that required 5 months of hospitalization in the midst of his undergraduate studies, Ben Olthoff never wavered from his goal of becoming a vet. Ben graduated from Dordt College in his hometown of Sioux Center, Iowa, in May and is applying his PEG to his graduate education at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in East Lansing, which will prepare him for a career as a food animal or research veterinarian. 


This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support News, Issue 3, 2013. Burn Support News is a quarterly publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery.  All Rights Reserved.

The Phoenix Society, Inc.® • 1835 R W Berends Dr. SW • Grand Rapids, MI 49519-4955 • 800.888.BURN • http://www.phoenix-society.org

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