This year, the Aqua Foundation for Women has awarded $36,000 to eleven wonderful applicants for our AFW Family of Scholarships Program. Thanks to them and to the careful selection process of our Scholarship Committee, we are proud to present our 2011-2012 AFW Scholars!

Mageda Abdulhadi

Mageda Abdulhadi is a sophomore at Florida International University where she strives to use her knowledge and skills to help the GLBTQ community that she belongs to. She has begun to accomplish this by attaining the position of President of Stonewall (FIU’s GSA) the first semester of her college career. Mageda has also discovered a love for political dilemma and is convinced that the best way to help the community she belongs to is by changing the governmental perspective on sexual orientation. Mageda, better known as “Magi,” is a stubborn young women with a fiery heart whose persistence and courage demonstrated to her fellow peers has gained her their respect and love. Those she has shown support for have given their appreciation because of how she changed their lives. Mageda looks forward to her continued work in, and support of, the GLBTQ community.

Kim Ehly

Kim Ehly’s mission is to encourage, empower, and inspire the awakening of the human spirit with her voice and actions. She has been an openly gay woman for many years now and believes that one of the best assets she can pass on to another woman is the strength to be her authentic self. Kim demonstrates this authenticity well; after many successful years in the world of acting in theatre, film, and television, she decided to pursue her Masters in Social Work. This degree will enable her to have a more active impact on the lesbian community through a private practice, as well as allowing her to take measures which will help gays/lesbians with gay marriage and adoption rights. Kim is also thrilled to be a member of the first LGBTQA task force on Florida Atlantic University’s campus. And, staying true to her first love, is also writing a stage play adaptation which strives to portray positive images of LGBT people. Kim’s goal is to elevate the lesbian community in a significant way and change the views of others, and the world around her, a little (hopefully a lot) at a time.

Julia Larson

Julia Larson first recognized the value, importance, and commitment she felt to public education while studying and student-teaching in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico. In 2005, she obtained a bachelor’s degree with honors in Elementary Education and a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language. Shortly after graduation, Julia began pursuing her lifelong dream of living and teaching in another country by obtaining a position teaching English in Seoul, South Korea where she taught for two years before accepting a new position in Miami. She welcomed the challenge of relocating to a new city and becoming a part of a predominately Spanish-speaking school and community.

She quickly adapted to her new-found community and became involved in school activities, writing and performing a song, creating an art project, and choreographing the Winter Celebration performance for her class. Because of her musical and artistic talent she was chosen to participate in the GETsmART Arts for Learning program in Miami-Dade County which provides teachers with training and resources on integrating art into the curriculum. Ultimately she was chosen to present her projects and experiences to all Miami-Dade participating teachers at the 2010 GETsmART final assembly.

Julia has also dedicated much of her time to community service, including with SAVE Dade, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Marine Mammal Conservancy, and the Camillus House. Currently, Julia is attending graduate school at Florida International University in pursuit of a Counseling Education degree and hopes to work with LGBT youth, but is committed to the education and advocacy of all children because youth are vital in promoting change.

Linda Lathroum

Linda M. Lathroum is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico where she earned a master’s Degree in Special Education. She also holds two bachelor’s degrees from Florida State University, one in Music Therapy, and the other in Music Education. She is a Board Certified Music Therapist and a doctoral student in Music Therapy at University of Miami. Linda is currently writing her dissertation on the relationship between phonological awareness (perception of sound, primarily language related) and music perception in five- and six-year-old children. The results of this research should provide a foundation for using music interventions to promote phonological awareness in pre-school and primary-aged children, particularly those who are at risk for reading disabilities. In addition to her studies, Linda is a volunteer at YES Institute. She also works as a music therapist with patients who have Parkinson’s disease and dementia, among others. Linda plays piano, violin, and guitar.

Adhar Mohamed

Adhar (Adi) Mohamed is a native Miamian and a first generation American who was raised by an Ethiopian mother and Sudanese father. Both parents being educators, Adi was influenced by them and has continuously developed a passion for education and helping others. As a child she could be seen staying after school tutoring other children and helping her mom grade papers, in addition to organizing the classroom. Her extracurricular activities included being a competitive gymnast, a dancer, a varsity cheerleader, and a thespian.

Adi graduated from high school in 1998 and enrolled at Florida International University where she graduated with B.S. in Communications/Public Relations with an area of concentration in Math Education and a Certificate in African New World Studies. She worked in public relations for several years until she planned an initiative for youth where she realized her true calling: education. She has been in that field since then and has become an expert. Adi will be graduating with a Masters in Educational Leadership and intends to start a Ph.D. program in the Spring of 2012. Adi’s plan is to explore educational services provided to Miami-Dade foster children with the goal of opening a bordering model school specifically for foster children and children at risk.

Vanessa Hernandez

Vanessa Hernandez is a bright, ambitious nursing student at Nova Southeastern University who is very enthusiastic about her chosen profession of nursing. She has many goals set out for herself to accomplish in life, including a stint as a “travel nurse,” where she will go from city to city every three months or so working in different hospitals, and she especially hopes to concentrate on low-income and needy areas. She also dreams of obtaining her MSW so that she can work more closely with populations in need, and she also plans on giving back to the LGBT community through youth counseling as well as through deeper involvement with Aqua Foundation for Women.

Vanessa has been greatly influenced by caring for her sister, who has cerebral palsy. And she also finds inspiration from her grandmother who has always been her “number one fan.” This support has been vital to Vanessa because, since she was 18, Vanessa has been supporting herself, working full-time throughout college, all while grappling with her identity as a bisexual woman. Vanessa didn’t think of herself as bisexual until her early twenties when she fell head over heels for a female co-worker, who, happily, returned her feelings. However, her parents were not so understanding and it has taken time for them to come to terms with and accept their daughter as she is. This struggle for acceptance has made obtaining Aqua’s scholarship even more meaningful because it has validated her academic achievements, her future goals, and her sexual orientation. Now that she is a Aqua Foundation Scholar she looks forward to participating more fully in the LBT community through a variety of avenues.

Shannon Ousley

Shannon Ousley was born in Germany on an Army base on July 10, 1979; the only daughter of Mrs. and Mr. Ousley. She has three older brothers who are all straight, but they have become very supportive allies to her since she came out as a lesbian. Ousley graduated high school in 1997 with a very low GPA, but always tried her hardest at everything she did. Once completing high school she went into the construction field where she spent 14 years doing hard labor. After being laid off she decided to go to college to expand her horizons and was able to achieve a 4.00 GPA in her first year of college. As she entered her Sophomore year, she was accepted into the Honors College and Phi Thett Kappa. She continues to make a positive impact on her follow classmates by leading the campus GSA into the 2011/2012 school year as President.

Bridget Pelaez

Bridget Pelaez was born on October 23, 1984 in Miami, Florida and her parents always knew she had something different about her; at age nine she was diagnosed with OCD and anxiety disorder, and was switched from a private to public school, where her “boyish” look was often ridiculed which didn’t do much to combat those issues. She feared school in general at that point, but pulled through anyway and went from not being able to attend a single day of school to being the only female wrestler in Florida. Bridget was definitely coming into her own, and coming out!

By middle school she was Student Government President, and in high school her honesty and willingness to be herself, as a lesbian, was applauded. Classmates showed their support by electing her Class President and Homecoming Queen all four years of high school. In addition to these achievements Bridget received a dual athletic and academic scholarship to St.Thomas University where she would play soccer and softball while pursuing a Sports-Psychology degree.

However, this was not to be and after her freshman year in college she cut her contract, realizing that her heart belonged elsewhere, so she became an EMT-Paramedic. Bridget also attended fire academy, excelling greatly, but met resistance because she was gay. Humbled and bruised she began working for Baptist Pediatric ER where she rediscovered her love of children, and chose to pursue a career in nursing. Within the Pediatric ER she has improved the trauma room, helped create and co-edit a Disaster Newsletter for her department, and become a Hazmat Instructor for the Baptist Health System.

Bridget has already overcome workforce discrimination, stood up for departmental changes, and taken a stand for LGBTQ rights. She lives with a “conquer evil with a thing called love” mentality, and vows she always will.

Ana Romes

Ana Romes grew up in a military family, but her parents are from Miami. She has lived in over 15 cities in the United States and in five different countries, traveling extensively throughout her life. She credits her father with her bizarre combination of humor and seriousness and her mother with her ability to make the simplest story as complicated as possible. Ana loves all things Nicaraguan, but mostly her partner, her cat, and gallo pinto.

Ana has a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Gettysburg College, PA and a Master of Fine Arts in Drama and Theatre for Youth from The University of Texas at Austin, where her focus was on Applied Drama. Her M.F.A. thesis was titled Taking Drama Montaña Adentro: Drama-based Techniques and Community Development in a Rural Nicaraguan School, and analyzed just that subject. In order to conduct this project Ana lived in a remote, countryside town, bathed with chilly water from a bucket, and climbed a mountain for over an hour every morning to arrive at the school where she taught. Now, back in the city Ana enjoys the comforts of living in Miami, but she misses the deep black sky full of stars and the people who have so little but give so much.

Ana has had many professional reincarnations over the years, including teacher, theatre artist, community development worker, political activist, health educator, and domestic violence advocate. For the three years prior to attending law school, Ana was a Victim Advocate with the City of Miami Police Department, where she worked with the families of homicide victims and victims of other violent crimes. She also worked as a Shelter Advocate at The Lodge, a shelter for domestic violence victims. Her fluency in English and Spanish aided her in these tasks, and she would love to also learn Italian and Portuguese.

If Ana ever has any free time, which is not very often, she enjoys practicing yoga, walking quickly, cooking large meals and sharing them with friends, and dancing.

Tina Sha

Tina is a rare resident in Wellington, West Palm Beach, because she has yet to touch a horse in a place which is called “The Winter Equestrian Capital of the World.” She is entering her third year at Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College and double concentrating in Political Science and Women’s Studies with hopes of one day achieving her Ph.D. in Women’s Studies. Tina’s community involvement includes recently completing an internship with Compass, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of the Palm Beaches, within their Development Office. In her leisure time, when Tina isn’t volunteering; interning; babysitting; or reading for, or going to, school, she often tries sleeping and/or eating.

The scholarship awards are up to $5,000 and are given to encourage present and future leadership for the benefit of LBT communities. Each scholarship recipient has been paired with a mentor for guidance and support as part of our AFW Mentoring Program. We wish the AFW Scholars all the best as they start this new phase in their academic pursuits.