Past Mary Cone Barrie Recipients

2013 – 2014 Academic Year Winners

Geeti AhmadzaiGeeti Ahmadzai, 37, of Philadelphia, PA, is enrolled in a biology major at Bucks County Community College. She expects to finish her degree by fall 2014 and continue to advance her education at pharmacy school.

Enrolling in higher education has been a lifelong goal for Ahmadzai, who moved to the United States from Afghanistan in 1996. “I really wanted to get an education because it was a dream, and I didn’t have many opportunities when I was younger.”

While starting a family Ahmadzai found it difficult to pursue her education. However, once the youngest of her three children started school full-time, Ahmadzai took advantage of the opportunity to enroll in a postsecondary institution.

“This Scholarship has given me confidence that this is something I can do,” said Ahmadzai. “It proves to my kids that I can do it. And, if I can do it, being a mother of three in my situation right now, there’s no way for them not to be able to pursue their dreams.”

Saundra Vernon, 42, of Lunenburg, NS, is enrolled in a double major in psychology and anthropology at Saint Mary’s University. She expects to graduate in 2016 and wishes to further her studies by enrolling in master’s and doctorial programs. She plans to help improve the judicial system.

Before enrolling in school, Vernon worked in different careers, but none spoke to her the way she had hoped. “I decided to go back to find my passion as it was the best way to figure out what I wanted,” she said.

Vernon started out by taking part-time classes, until last year, when she decided that becoming a full-time student would allow her to pursue her goals more quickly.

“The money received from the Mary Cone Barrie Scholarship allows me to continue on my path,” said Vernon. “I can’t do what I’m doing without this assistance.”

2012 – 2013 Academic Year Winners

Moon Soe in Traditional Dress Moon Soe, age 25, is currently enrolled in the Urban Teacher Program at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota.

Originally from Burma, Soe spent 13 years in a refugee camp in Thailand where he taught as an unlicensed teacher in the camp’s secondary school. “However, I felt bad for I was not able to provide my students the best quality education because I was not well trained,” he said.

Soe plans to graduate in spring of 2013 and become a secondary school math teacher.

“Working fulltime and going to school fulltime might be a little difficult, but in order to finance my family without giving up my dream, I motivate myself everyday to have enough energy,” he said, “The scholarship not only helped me financially, but has also become part of my success story. A lot of people don’t have high hopes for themselves. I can become an example to them and show them that there are opportunities if they want to continue their education.”

Virginia Wilson, age 58, is expecting to graduate in spring of 2013 from the University of Maine with a Bachelor of Sociology.

Virginia Wilson in Kenya A true lifelong learner, Wilson went back to school 15 years ago to become a minister. In this role, she went to Kenya to do missionary work during the after-election violence of 2007-2008.

“It made me determined to go back and help people who are displaced by war or disaster,” she said. “I dared dream the impossible and was called a fool by many of my family and friends, here I was approaching my 50s and wanting to start a new career.”

Upon graduation, Wilson plans to work with the United Nations, or other relief organization.

“Receiving this scholarship is recognition for me. It means I will be able to take the classes that will enable me to graduate and I will be able to be working one year sooner with people that need me,” she said.

2011 – 2012 Academic Year Winners

Joseph PuhakJoseph Puhak, 29, is enrolled in a Bachelor of Science, criminal justice program at Western Carolina University. A detective from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, he began his studies in 2009 after he found out he and his wife were expecting their first child.

“Our finances changed drastically,” he said “I decided that higher education was the answer to attaining a better quality of life for my family.”

“Since my enrollment, my appreciation for my job, law enforcement, has hit a new level,” Puhak said. “My understanding of the law, along with its processes and procedures has afforded me more benefits in my current career.”

Puhak was promoted in March 2011 to Detective Sergeant. He is now in charge of overseeing investigations and training new Deputy Sherriff Cadets.

“I am proud of what I am achieving though my continuing education related to my career, but even prouder that I am steps closer to improving the quality of life for my family,” he said. “Once my undergraduate work is done, I plan to apply for higher state, or federal law enforcement positions. I am also studying for the Law School Admissions Test.”

Asta Becker,34, a human resources assistant in Charlotte, North Carolina, is enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce at Pfeiffer University. She plans to graduate next summer and pursue a career in international business, where she can use her knowledge of other languages.

Asta Becker“I grew up in Lithuania back when it was under communist rule,” she said. “As a student, I never felt like I was excelling at my studies. Schools forced pupils to study instead of teaching them … and I felt useless and insignificant.”

Becker moved to the United States in 2002 and enrolled in English classes in 2006 after finalizing her divorce.

“It was very scary because I hadn’t been to school for over 15 years but I didn’t see any other opportunities,” Becker said. “I was very timid, not knowing what to expect and because my English was elementary at best. As each semester finished, I grew more and more confident and my English improved significantly. Receiving better grades than I ever had, I started to truly believe in myself.”

“I always wanted more, it’s just that at the beginning I didn’t know how to get there,” she said. “I went step by step until I found out that education would let me take the path I wanted.”

2010 – 2011 Academic Year Winners

Stephanie Taylor, 46, of Newtown, PA, expects to finish her degree in business administration at Buck’s County Community College by the end of summer, 2011.

After losing her job in May 2009 and being diagnosed with cancer the following December, she has developed a new philosophy. “If you keep moving forward, you’ll have a life to look forward to,” she said, near tears. One year, five surgeries, and a battery of chemotherapy and radiation treatments later, the single mother of two said she feels back to normal and has a renewed sense of how important education is.

Charlene Clay, 32, of Mequon, WI, expects to complete her degree at Concordia University, Wisconsin this December, and is close to finishing a state-offered course in alcohol and drug counseling. Ms. Clay said kids and her dreams keep her going. “My goal is to be able to treat young girls just like me,” she said. “Girls whose moms and dads have alcohol problems. They don’t have any hopes and dreams, or at least no one to tell them they can have some.”

Education has always been important to Ms. Clay, a single mother of three. “It is the root of your life,” she explained. “If you have education, you can go places. My message to other people? You can do it! Education is big. It’s important. It just makes life easier.”

2009 – 2010 Academic Year Winners

Masoudeh Kazemiashtiani of Richmond Hill, ON is currently completing the International Midwifery Program at the Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University in Toronto. A medical practitioner from Iran, Ms. Kazemiashtiani said she strives to make a lasting contribution to her patients and the Canadian healthcare system.

Jonathan Lambert of Leverett, MA is completing his Master’s degree at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. A former professional baker, Jonathan wants to become a primary school teacher and make a difference in the lives of young children like his son.

2008 – 2009 Academic Year Winner

Margaux Wisniewski, a mother of five, has recently finished her degree at Rider University’s College of Continuing Studies in Lawrenceville, NJ. Her ultimate goal is to become a teacher so that she can better support her family and make a positive difference in the lives of her students.

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