WHOA UGSP. Oh yes, and lots of sap.


Guess who just received an e-mail saying:

Congratulations! The Scientific Review Committee of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) has identified you as a UGSP Scholar for the school year starting September 2013. As a UGSP Scholar you will receive a scholarship for qualified educational and living expenses up to $20,000 for this academic year, and you will be a paid research trainee at the NIH for the UGSP Summer 2013 Program.

The UGSP is a highly competitive program … and you are one of 11 nationwide to become a UGSP Scholar. Your selection as a UGSP Scholar and the Committee’s willingness to support your scientific development speak highly of your accomplishments.

I am so excited about this.

And astonished.

Getting closer and closer to my goal to become a researcher in Social Psychology is so riveting. It wasn’t long ago that I had dropped out of high school and believed that college could never happen for me.

That changed somewhat when I turned 23, after I read a book called “Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin”. In this book, Bayard relayed his experiences with organizing the 1963 March on Washington and bringing strategic nonviolence to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet, he had been silenced, imprisoned, beaten, threatened, and forced into either retiring from important leadership positions or hiding in the shadows for being an openly gay man. Despite these obstacles, he maintained his optimism, passion, and perseverance. He continued to fight. He went to college. He wrote. He inspired. He maintained awesome.

Around that time, I had also met my now dear friend, Jude. I met hir while I was volunteering as a transgender mentor at the Utah Pride Center in the LGBQT youth program. I had learned that during hiz adolescence, ze had experienced a number of obstacles that, at one point, resulted in homelessness. And here ze was, with a masters degree working directly with LGBQT youth and the issues ze’s passionate about. I didn’t know what a masters degree was at the time, but I did know that ze now had the ability to use hiz education to have a voice in the academic discussions that directly affect LGBQT people.

I peddled over to the nearest community college campus. I wasn’t sure when classes were in session or when a “semester” started or ended. I didn’t know how to apply for financial aid or how to sign up for classes. But, I continued to show up on campus every day to ask questions that, even though felt silly to ask, resulted in finding really nice people who pointed me in the right directions.

I got my GED and took classes while working full-time. To my surprise and unlike high school, I did well in my classes. Even though my academic self-esteem was boosting bit by bit, I was still worried. I feared that, even if I had a good GPA, there would be semesters where I wouldn’t have the ability to afford text books or rent and would have to drop out.

Eventually, my fears did come true. I couldn’t afford a semester and had to drop out. And worse, as I saved up to pay what I owed on the debt, it was sold to collections and doubled.

It took almost four years to get that debt paid and my academic records unfrozen. But the very week that I got it paid off, I transferred to a 4-year institution.

While I had initially planned to be the first one in my family to get a bachelors degree, that all changed when I was encouraged to apply for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Scholar program. Bachelors? Pssht! I’m going for a PhD! The McNair program is a federally funded program for students “from disadvantaged backgrounds” to prepare them “for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.”

Honestly, I had no idea at the time *how* much this program and everyone involved in it would change my life. And how much work their summer research intensive is. For real.

But it’s been so worth it. My experiences as a McNair Scholar - with being repeatedly encouraged to never, ever self-select out and providing genuine mentorship and guidance - shattered the belief that my dreams were impossible. This is precisely why I applied for the UGSP Scholarship.

I’m so incredibly there-are-no-words-for-it grateful for all of the support I’ve received. From McNair, my mentors, my cohort, my peers, all of my wonderful friends, and my family (unfortunately, despite how much McNair contributes to supporting underprivileged students, the program’s funding has been threatened this year). Being surrounded by all of the cutest and most supportive people in the galaxy is cute overload, 24/7. I don’t think it’s good for my cardiovascular health.

Anyway, this UGSP scholarship is seriously amazing. I’m excited for the economic support and the amazing opportunity to actually work for the NIH before grad school, where I can build long-lasting relationships, gain new skills, and learn.learn.learn.

NIH 2013, here I come!


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