Partners for Youth with Disabilities partnered with GEICO for a second year to award young adults with disabilities the GEICO Changemaker Scholarship to support their educational goals. Selected scholars are undergraduate students with disabilities in their Junior or Senior year who have shown exemplary leadership experience and represent the fields of Business, Finance, Mathematics, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and/or Marketing. PYD granted 15 scholarships totaling $15,000 to students with disabilities. The winners attend colleges and universities throughout the country; their leadership, perseverance, and positive outlook exemplify the values and mission of PYD.
We are pleased to announce the 2023 GEICO Changemaker Scholarship winners.
Celeste Banaszak is an Economics major at Marquette University in her Junior year. She encourages other students with disabilities to remain hopeful. “I am so excited to represent the ASD community at Marquette and to remind others with disabilities who may face daily struggles in school early on that there is hope for you. Over the years, I have tried to help people realize what success looks like and that is different for each person. Winning this scholarship means that within my social communities (including the ASD community), I can provide those who struggle with hope for a new beginning. It is never too late for hope!”
Kelsey attends Towson University. The Senior Business major encourages other students with disabilities to find their own success. “I believe that students with learning disabilities are often overlooked and was thrilled to see that this scholarship was available for students like me. I have always been a determined student who strives to succeed in academic spaces and find that the traditional teaching styles do not always work well with my learning type. Because of this, I have had to go above and beyond to succeed and develop a set of skills to achieve my goals. Winning this scholarship has not only provided me with the financial assistance needed to support my journey, but also has given me a voice for students like me who also struggle every day but push themselves to succeed in a world that does not always cater to them. I hope to inspire those who feel unseen to continue to pursue their dreams no matter their circumstance.”
A Finance major at University of South Carolina, Junior Nick Fontanella feels his hard work has paid off. “My disabilities have made it difficult for me to be successful academically and professionally in the past, which has been a real struggle. Receiving such an amazing scholarship is a great reflection of how much hard work I have had to put in to be where I am today, and for that, I am truly grateful.”
Senior Ansel Kufta is a Mathematics and Economics major at Boston University. He views the challenges of his disability as a strength. “This scholarship signifies more than just financial support; it’s a recognition of the shared strength and compassion within our community of young adults with disabilities. I firmly believe that every person with a disability inherently embodies remarkable qualities—awareness of differences, boundless compassion, and an unwavering spirit. Through my own journey, I’ve learned to embrace challenges, perceiving them as opportunities for growth and connection. Winning this scholarship is both an honor and an affirmation that perseverance and difference define the best of our lives, not the worst.”
Courtney Ludovici uses her proactivity, determination, and positive attitude to help her succeed in her education. The Junior Business major at Lamar University noted that “winning this scholarship means that I will be that much closer to financial freedom. To having a worthwhile education, to being freed from its costs. I am forever thankful for this opportunity!”
Raven Roberts is a Junior at Morgan State University studying Strategic Communications and a strong advocate for people with disabilities. “Winning this scholarship means being recognized and celebrated for my small, yet important role as a Changemaker in my community. It makes me so happy that there are organizations who are dedicated to furthering the educations of young adults with disabilities like myself. I view myself as an activist and a learner, someone who is constantly trying to undertake others and advocate for others better than I currently am. I am empowered through the social model of disability and through my disability education and hope to continue to find ways to intertwine my studies in strategic communication with my passion for disability activism, knowledge and equity.”
Lillian Ellmore attends High Point University. She is a Junior majoring in business-related studies and encourages other students with disabilities to pursue their college dreams. “Winning the scholarship from Geico means that I can continue pursuing a communications degree in an environment where people will truly care about me while also having a significant financial burden being lifted off me! I hope that I am inspiration to other students with disabilities, trying to go to college, it’s hard, but it can be done!”
Computer Science major Arisa Chue is a Junior at Stanford University. Through Stanford, Arisa created a relationship with the neighboring elementary school and organized weekly STEM labs for the girls to stimulate their interest in science and technology. “My passion, specifically for the software engineering industry, is to help drive STEM careers to be more equitable, accessible, and inclusive for women. I experienced this imbalance first-hand: I began my freshman year at a STEM magnet school with only six girls in my Design & Tech class. And, I concluded my senior year with only four other girls in my mobile/web app development class. But through it all, I always had strong mentors and role models among my seniors who encouraged and inspired me.”
Emmett Lockwood is a Junior Political Science, Gender and Women’s Studies major with minors in Science and Technology Studies and Native American Indigenous Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. He is grateful for the recognition of the success of students with disabilities through the scholarship. “Nearly nineteen percent of college undergraduates live with some form of disability. Yet we are not often recognized on college campuses outside of academic and housing accommodations. Winning this scholarship allows me to have financial support and mentorship that will allow me to continue to flourish both inside the classroom and in my grassroots activism on campus. Despite the large number of college undergraduates who are disabled it often feels in academia like you are the only disabled person in a room which is why it means so much to be that that GEICO Changemaker Scholarship specifically recognizes the work of disabled students and why I am so grateful for all the work PYD does to connect and further community building for youth with disabilities.”
Senior Ellie Beck is majoring in Economics at Wellesley College. Despite internal and external obstacles, she has persevered. “I am proud to be recognized by this organization for my personal, academic, and professional success as an individual with ADHD. I am proud of my success, and I feel that this scholarship recognizes the internal obstacles I faced and continue to face in my daily life. This scholarship comforts the third grader who was grade levels behind in reading because she was too afraid to read aloud and make a mistake. It validates the gymnast who cried after every competition because she knew she could have done better. It appreciates the project leader who did most of the work for all group projects. It acknowledges the high schooler who bought 3 SAT prep books and never used them. Finally, this scholarship supports the young woman who stands at the beginning of her senior year.”
Ali Bichanga is a Junior Computer Science major at Wellesley College. Winning the scholarship has impacted her in multiple ways. “This scholarship has been a catalyst for my personal and academic growth. It has allowed me to pursue more challenging classes, relieved the financial strain that used to weigh me down, and ensured that I can continue to excel in my Computer Science major. This support has not only impacted my educational journey but has also significantly contributed to my overall well-being.”
Computer Science major Anthony Toney attends Bunker Hill Community College and is in his Junior year. The scholarship will help him realize an important goal set for himself. “I am extremely grateful for the scholarship. I am one step closer to my goals of graduating from college. I hope that someday, I can be in a place to be able to help someone like myself.”
Junior Amber Ward is a Business major at North Carolina Central University. “Winning this scholarship means that I have less of a burden on my shoulders when it comes to paying off college tuition. I am closer to feeling free from debt and having the opportunity to flourish and focus on my school work and being a successful student.”
Nico Jo is a Wellesley College Junior majoring in Economics and an advocate for people with disabilities. “Being a recipient of this scholarship means that I have the support to further my education as someone who wants to be a voice for people of marginalized identities like me. I want to pursue something within the creative business industry or education policy work to uplift marginalized voices. I have the confidence to continue to pursue my academic and career goals, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me.”
Jennifer Lee is a Junior Neuroscience major with a computer science focus attending Wellesley College who hopes to use her education to support other women with disabilities. “Receiving this scholarship has validated my experiences and struggles and has motivated me to continue pursuing a career in medicine so I can advocate and encourage more women to seek diagnosis and care for their disabilities as a physician. Although others may see it as a weakness, it has been believing in myself and powering through the struggles that have helped me in pursuing my educational journey.”
Congratulations to all the winners! We are honored to support these outstanding students and grateful to GEICO for being a champion of inclusion and supporting young people with disabilities.
The winners will meet with the DEI Manager, Community Investments & Impact at GEICO for a celebration this fall.