The Point Foundation, an organization offering scholarships, mentoring, and other vital resources to students ''marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,'' has reason to celebrate: 2011 marks the foundation's 10th anniversary.
Two students with local ties are joining the celebration. Recently named among Point's 34 scholars for 2011 are Jason Nichols and Daniel O'Neill. Nichols, originally from Glenn Dale, Md., and a 2003 graduate of D.C.'s Sidwell Friends School, left the area to study both psychology and woman and gender studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Next week, the 26-year-old heads to New York to pursue a master's degree in business administration at New York University's Stern School of Business.
''This [scholarship] is extremely important, not only from a financial standpoint – an MBA education is very expensive, not to mention relocating to New York City – but the mentorships and leadership opportunities are going to be extremely important going into a business field,'' says Nichols.
Similarly, O'Neill, raised in Indiana and now in D.C. for George Washington University's joint medical doctor and master of public health degree program, says that the mentoring aspect of the scholarship may easily be as valuable as the direct financial support.
''They really seek out someone in the top of your field,'' O'Neill says, adding that while he's been fortunate to have a number of strong mentors in D.C., he'd like to be paired with someone in the San Francisco area, due to what he sees as differences on the East and West coasts in approaching HIV/AIDS, his planned area of expertise. ''My interest is in bridging the East-West divide.''
When it comes to the direct financial support, however, the Point Foundation prefers to speaking about the scholarships collectively.
''On average, our scholars get about $9,500 in direct financial support,'' says Jorge Valencia, Point executive director, adding that between direct financial support and indirect support such as trainings and transportation, the foundation has spent nearly $13 million in its decade of helping LGBT students. ''It varies from scholar to scholar, year to year.''
That's thanks to people like Dr. George Benes and his husband, Michael Mallee, who holds a doctoral degree in education, of Delaware, who began funding a Point scholar this year: O'Neill, in fact.
''If I'd had a 'me' when I was in medical school, it would've been helpful,'' says Benes, clarifying that aside from help with bills, it would've been affirming to have the support of a gay person in his field, rather than hiding in the closet in fear of a medical establishment that still considered homosexuality an illness. ''I think back to my medical school days, in the late '70s, early '80s, and your professors telling you you're sick. There were no role models.''
Fast forward to 2011 and Benes finds himself out, holding a Canadian marriage license with Mallee, and supporting an openly gay medical student whom he and Mallee hope to meet at some point.
For a full list of the Point Foundation's 2011 scholars, visit pointfoundation.org.