There’s nothing more rewarding than helping students follow their dreams of pursuing higher education, on their way to personal and professional fulfillment. And this year, Pride Foundation has given nine Idahoans the opportunity to attain their goals with a combined $36,850 in scholarships, a total nearly triple the award amount for Idaho students in 2011.
The scholarships are part of a total $400,000 awarded this year to 94 LGBTQ and straight ally scholars in Pride Foundation’s five-state region of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Washington – the highest scholarship annual award total to date. A complete list and bios of this year’s scholars can be found here. Idaho scholars are listed below.
Three committees of 13 volunteers from Idaho helped read applications and interview scholars this year, a process that all involved agree was an inspiring experience from start to finish.
“The applicants themselves were inspiring to me – their perseverance, their excitement about their personal futures and their contributions to equality,” said Joanna Madden of Boise. “The committee itself was the product of obvious care in its formation, made up of thoughtful, professionally and personally diverse people.
“What I was energized and impressed with is the large assortment of applicants who seem to have overcome terrible personal challenges, and now are committed to the betterment of social justice, focusing on the LGBTQ community,” echoed Keith Ekness of Coeur d’Alene. “I feel honored to have been able to be involved and contribute in a way to the lives of these students, and I hope, the future leaders in Idaho in the pursuit of equality for all people.”
“We get to learn about folks at their best and come to understand how they want to create change in their communities,” said Donna Wade, a longtime Pride Foundation scholarship committee volunteer from Boise. “To know that our scholarship might make a small impact on that is humbling.
“Without a doubt the thing that surprised me most was how amazingly talented, and ambitious the folks we were interviewing were,” said Chris Cooke, a first-time committee volunteer from Boise. “My hope would be to keep the youth involved and hope to utilize all the energy and talent they bring with them to benefit the community as a whole. I can’t wait to see what more these individuals have to offer and where they are going in life.”
“I derive an immense sense of satisfaction to know that in some small way I can help fulfill the dreams and desires of phenomenal and passionate young leaders who will facilitate cultural change for future generations within our marginalized communities,” said Boisean Emilie Jackson-Edney, another longtime scholarship committee volunteer and new Pride Foundation board member. “The life stories shared by the scholarship finalists are both heart-wrenching and at the same time uplifting.”
“I was most inspired by the attitudes of the applicants – the chin-up, I-can-overcome-any-challenge attitudes,” summed up Stephanie Thomas of Boise. “They made me feel like I could, too. Hope is alive and well in the Northwest.”
Pride Foundation’s scholarships program began in 1993. Since then, nearly $3 million has been awarded to 1,200 students. Scholarships support LGBTQ and straight ally students who have shown leadership to advance the LGBTQ community. The scholarships are intended to support various programs: 2-year degrees, 4-year degrees, vocational programs and graduate studies, to students of all ages.
This year’s Idaho scholarship recipients include:
Marisol Cervantes was raised in Boise and will be attending the College of Idaho in Caldwell in the fall. She plans to major in biology with a minor in art. Marisol is the current president of the Borah High School Gay-Straight Alliance and the co-founder of Idaho’s Queer and Allied Students organization. She is also the Youth Liaison for the Idaho Safe Schools Coalition.
Sheree Haggan is from Twin Falls and is attending school in Pueblo, Colo. She has been involved in several organizations such as Miracle Corners of the World and New Century Scholars. She has received honors from several colleges, nonprofit organizations, and was named a hometown hero by her city’s Chamber of Commerce. She is majoring in communications and hopes to use the skills she develops in school and other organizations to become a motivational speaker and conference coordinator for various activist groups.
Kendra Lotstein is currently a first-year law student at the University of Idaho College of Law. She plans to continue pursuing her legal degree with an emphasis in Native American law next year in Moscow. Academically, Kendra is ranked among the top 10 students of her class of 120 students and plans to continue illustrating the excellence she and fellow queer law students bring to the legal profession. In the future, Kendra hopes to utilize her legal skills to further advance the rights of queer individuals in the Inland and Pacific Northwest.
Josh Parrish will be beginning his sophomore year at American University in the fall. He is a double major in political science and international relations with a focus on French language. He has interned at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C. and will be working with the American Civil Liberties Union this summer. At AU, he is heavily involved with the GLBTA Resource Center and the School of Public Affairs Leadership Program.
Alexandrea Salinas wasborn and raised in Idaho and has lived there all 26 years of her life. Currently, she is enrolled as a non-traditional student at College of Idaho in Caldwell. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing with a minor in Latin American studies. Upon completion of the program, she hopes to enter into law school or pursue a master’s degree in literary studies. If able to get into a law program she would like to pursue civil rights law with the intention of furthering the rights of the LGBTQ community in Idaho.
Jackie Sandmeyer grew up in Boise and is currently a student at the University of Idaho in Moscow. She is majoring in sociology with an emphasis on inequalities and globalization. She has worked at the University of Idaho LGBTQA Office for the past three years, gaining experience in activism and gender equity. Her passion is in research and activism, and she is currently working on getting scholarly work published on gender and queer theory.
Josh Taylor graduated from Timberline High School in Boise. Since entering the Cornish College of the Arts program three years ago, he’s undergone a wealth of personal exploration and development in the pursuit to explore the capabilities of visual art. Currently studying design at Cornish, his interests lie in art history, publishing design and identity development.
Mistie Tolman was born and raised in Boise. She graduated from Meridian High School in 1995 and is attending Boise State University majoring in political science. She has a deep understanding of the costs of relationships when someone comes out in a religious household in Idaho, and her experiences have inspired her to change the environment in Idaho for its LGBTQ folks. She has been the treasurer and spokesperson for Add the Words, an all-volunteer organization working to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act.
Mario Venegas was born in Mexico and lived in Nyssa, Ore. for seven years. He has been in the United States for 12 years. He now lives in Boise and attends Boise State University, majoring in sociology. Next year he will be attending BSU to finish his bachelor’s degree and apply for graduate school where his studies will culminate in a PhD in Sociology. He is currently working on emotional development, lingering insecurities, and reconciling his ethnic identity with his sexual orientation through his activism and writing.
Steve Martin is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Idaho. Email Steve.