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Point scholars excel in, out of classroom
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2012-07-18

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Among this year's 29 undergraduate and graduate students receiving Point Foundation Scholarships, five have local connections: Angela Filley, Tyler Kissinger, Alyssa Mandula, Pete Subkoviak and Kayla Wingert.

They were chosen out of nearly 2,000 scholarship applicants, and join the 47 Point Scholars currently receiving financial assistance and programming support from the foundation for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Filley—who grew up in West Lafayette, Ind.—will be studying financial engineering with a minor in sustainable energy beginning this fall at Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in New York City. Although Filley was accepted by her family and close friends when she came out of the closet, she said she was disappointed by the way that her community and school responded to her sexual orientation. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Filley decided to implement the "ThinkB4YouSpeak" campaign at her high school and was active in launching her high school's gay-straight alliance.

Eager to begin working towards her future career goals, Filley has been doing research at Purdue University on a comparative analysis of cap and trade policies. Through this research, Filley was introduced to the challenge of energy security. This has inspired Filley's strong commitment to develop and implement sustainable energy resources. She also worked at the Birck Nanotechnology Center in a lab that develops regenerative solar cells. Currently, Filley is working in an agricultural and biological engineering lab that deals with water quality.

Science is just one of many other passions that Filley has pursued. In the business arena, Filley was involved in her high school's business organizations and has served as state president of the Indiana Future Business Leaders of America. Politics is also an important part of Filley's life. To feed that passion, she plans on working to challenge anti-LGBTQ policies.

In order to fulfill her future goals, Filley began researching scholarship opportunities to offset the cost of college. While searching the web, Filley came across Point's website. Reading more about the organization, Filley said she found that the organization's mission was applicable to her situation. The mentor program excited Filley the most, she explained, since she has only had one out adult to look up to where she grew up. After some initial fears about being out and how that would affect her future career plans, Filley decided that visibility was the best option so she went ahead and submitted her application.

On finding out that she was chosen as a Point Scholar, Filley said, "It was surreal. It was pretty funny actually because the best part was that even if I hadn't been named a Point Scholar I wouldn't have been disappointed because after meeting all the finalists in San Francisco and hearing all the other amazing stories, I thought everyone deserved their accolades and then some. I didn't even have an inkling of who would be chosen, and I definitely did not envy the Point regents and board members' job. So hearing that I had been selected to be a scholar meant a lot to me. It is very difficult to describe the joy I felt knowing that not only would I be receiving a scholarship, but would now be a part of a community so inextricably tied together by a passion for the pursuit of equality."

Kissinger—who hails from a suburban town outside Winston-Salem, N.C.—will major in physics and mathematics with a focus on astrophysics and network mathematics beginning this fall at the University of Chicago (U. of C.) with the hope of becoming a university professor. During his early teen years, Kissinger focused on academics to avoid confrontation about issues surrounding his sexuality. To escape an environment in which he had to mask a part of himself, Kissinger transferred to the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics—a public, residential high school located in Durham, N.C.

Thriving in his new high school environment, Kissinger pursued a number of academic and personal interests including serving as the co-president of his school's Spectrum Gay-Straight Alliance and as an activist fighting against the anti-gay North Carolina marriage amendment (which ultimately passed). Kissinger's school honored him with the "Golden Cupola" award for his leadership, citizenship and community service.

Kissinger told Windy City Times that he plans on continuing to work on political causes to help the oppressed and those without a voice.

Knowing that he wanted to study at the U. of C., Kissinger applied for a Point Scholarship since he needed additional money—he will also be receiving grants and federal loans—to offset the high cost of attending the school. He heard about the scholarship from Kyle Vey, a previous scholar winner at his high school, and remarked that he fell in love with the organization during the selection process.

Reacting to the news that he was selected as a Point Scholar, Kissinger said, "I got the phone call while I was eating dinner in the cafeteria at school. As soon as I saw the area code on my phone, I knew what the call was about. I went outside—heart pounding—and was fortunate enough to get the good news I was hoping for.

"I was almost in tears; it was raining outside, and I could barely breathe. I felt so secure, knowing that this organization was willing to invest in my future and would help me accomplish my dreams. More than anything, I felt so incredibly honored to be a part of such a talented, successful and passionate group of people that makes up the Point Foundation."

Mandula—who was born and raised in Bloomington, Ill.—is currently double-majoring in peace justice and conflict studies and philosophy with a minor in LGBTQ studies at DePaul University. Although she grew up in a conservative town, Mandula started her high school's gay-straight alliance and ran the Central Illinois Safe School Alliance. Mandula's has also worked as a national ambassador for GLSEN, served on the Youth Advisory Council for The Trevor Project and served as a peer educator for Planned Parenthood.

As a freshman at DePaul this past year, Mandula has continued her advocacy work with the university's LGBTQ group Spectrum. Through this work, Mandula has become more passionate about equality and plans on making a career out of fighting for educational equality for transgender and gender queer youth. Mandula also noted that her older sister Holly has been a motivating force in her life and she looks up to her sister as a mentor and friend.

Facing the prospect of massive student loans—having already accrued over $20,000 in loans after her first year in college—Mandula knew she had to get assistance since leaving DePaul was not an option. She applied for a Point Foundation scholarship, having heard about the organization through her work in LGBTQ activism.

"It was surreal," said Mandula of her Point scholarship. "Receiving the scholarship was the difference between me finishing my bachelors degree or having to drop out. It also has provided me with the comfort of knowing I have an amazing group of mentors and peers to help me make a difference in the queer community."

Subkoviak—who was born and raised in Madison, Wis.—will be pursuing a masters in public health with a focus on policy and leadership at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Although born in a female body, Subkoviak never identified as anything other than male and from the age of 3 he declared that he was a boy. Subkoviak noted that his childhood was fraught with turmoil; however, when he moved into his teen years he gained a second chance on life when he began to physically transition. Throughout the transition process, Subkoviak had the support of his family and friends.

While attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Subkoviak began teaching medical and education professionals about the transgender community. He also spent time as an intern for then-Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., while attending the university. After Subkoviak graduated he moved to Chicago and worked for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago for the last six years. With his degree, Subkoviak hopes to address the systemic failures of the health care system at both the state and federal level through his public health work.

Along with his other advocacy work, Subkoviak has partnered with a local charity to create an innovative transgender employment program that they plan on implementing over the next year and if it is successful it will be the first dual housing and employment program for the transgender community.

Subkoviak's decision to apply for a Point Foundation Scholarship stemmed from his desire to gain personal and professional development outside of the academic realm as well as what the foundation provides in the way of the financial support.

"When I got the news that I had been chosen as a Point Scholar, I just felt incredibly humbled, affirmed, and invigorated to redouble my efforts and meet my academic and professional aspirations," said Subkoviak. "It's tremendously important to feel supported while making your way in the world as an LGBT student, so that in and of itself is a wonderful gift which Point provides to so many."

Wingert—who grew up in suburban Western Springs, Ill.—will be majoring in sports/entertainment/event management at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I. Coming out as a lesbian at the age of 16 to supportive parents, Wingert has fought to promote anti-bullying efforts and garner support for the LGBTQ community in her predominately conservative neighborhood and within her Catholic high school.

Although the administrators at her high school turned Wingert down when she wanted to start an LGBTQ support group and her request to hold an LGBTQ anti-bullying week, she successfully ran two workshops for students on the topics of tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people. Wingert was also asked by the school administration to host a mandatory workshop for the school's staff and faculty about incorporating LGBTQ students into the classroom environment. After graduating from college, Wingert said she wants to work as an event coordinator for a non-profit organization that benefits and serves the LGBTQ community.

Wingert decided to send in her application after finding it online through the Trevor Project. She said that her parents lacked the means to send her to college due to financial difficulties brought on by her father's unemployment status. Wingert said this scholarship opportunity gave her hope that there were supportive people who knew she had potential and wanted to see her succeed.

"When I first received the news from Point that I was named a scholar, I was completely humbled," she said. "I am so grateful that the Point Foundation saw my potential and acknowledged my hard work by deciding to support me in my continuing education."

This year's crop of winners is, according to the foundation, the most racially diverse scholar class in its history, with 45 percent of the new scholars identifying as other than white. Women make up 41 percent of the scholars this year, compared to the 32 percent in the 2011 class. Rural-area recipients account for 39 percent of the new scholars, and 28 percent of the new scholars are the first generation in their families to go to college.

In order to receive the scholarship—which averages about $15,000 per year for each student—students agree to give back to the LGBTQ community by participating in an individual community service project each year. Each scholar is paired with a mentor and participates in leadership development and training in civic engagement. After graduation, Point Scholars are connected with professional contacts around the country to assist them as they make the transition into the workplace.

Point Foundation Executive Director/CEO Jorge Valencia said, "Point Foundation owes much of its success to the support of Chicagoans. Some of our first board members came from the Chicago area, as do two of our current national board members, and Point has a Chicago Board of Trustees. We've held our annual Scholar and Alumni Leadership Conference here four times, and we are incredibly grateful for the continued generosity of businesses in Illinois.

"Point is proud to have a growing number of current scholars and alumni who have Chicago roots and connections; the city is an integral part of their academic and professional achievement. We're looking forward to seeing many of the scholars and alumni at our Aug. 8 Chicago Cornerstone Society reception."

For more information on the Aug. 8 Chicago Cornerstone Society reception, visit www.pointfoundation.org/page.aspx and www.pointfoundation.org .


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