Current Winners

2020 Scholarship Winners

Tiffany Te Maari
Christchurch, New Zealand

A Coda of Māori descent, Tiffany Te Maari grew up strongly connected to the culture of indigenous peoples to New Zealand, while her father, who was born hearing and became deaf at 18 months after contracting meningitis, had limited access. His parents did not have the resources needed to learn sign language, leaving communication the biggest barrier to access to his culture and heritage.

A new push seeks to change that, reconnecting deaf individuals of Māori descent with their culture through the development and creation of Māori Sign Language—a separate language connected to the spoken native language of Te Reo Māori, rather than the English-derived New Zealand Sign Language. It is largely on the part of Te Maari’s father, whom she said has long advocated on behalf of deaf Māori and is the inspiration for her own studies in Te Reo Māori.

“A part of the reason this development has occurred is because my father has been an instrumental advocate for Deaf Māori and pressing for the native group to be recognized as a separate group with their own unique requirements that are needed for them to learn, achieve and succeed and excel in life,” Te Maari wrote in her scholarship application.

“Being inspired by my father’s parents who obtained their degrees in Māori Indigenous Studies in their seventies before they passed away, I have decided to commit myself to studying Te Reo Māori to become fluent so I can better support and walk alongside my father in his dedicated life-long mission.”

Upon completion of her coursework, Te Maari will be one of few individuals in New Zealand fluent in all three official languages: English, Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language. She hopes to use this fluency to assist in the development of Māori Sign Language and further support the wider deaf community in New Zealand.

Her background shows commitment to bridging gaps many Codas face.

Over the last few years, Te Maari has worked in education, teaching New Zealand Sign Language classes and helping to design Māori-focused adult education courses. She was formerly a police officer and worked with the Māori Land Court to research and pursue litigation to preserve historical land.

“This attempt to learn a new language fluently not only for herself, but to better equip her to support a much larger cause is an exact reflection of her character and determination to help others,” a colleague wrote in a letter of recommendation. “With a deep compassion and understanding of disabilities and all walks of life, Tiffany has an exceptional ability to be empathetic toward others and shows this by way of constantly volunteering her time to meaningful and purposeful causes.”

The Millie Brother CODA Scholarship funds will assist her in returning to school full-time as an adult. Opening her application essay, Te Maari stated, “Through my father, I am of Māori descent and belong strongly to this culture that we live and breathe here in New Zealand.”

In closing it, she added, “I believe from a symbolic spiritual perspective that where my grandparents could not support my father I am able to bridge an inter-generational sense of healing through my relationship with my father and offer my support as his child; a Child of a Deaf Adult.”

Nicolas San Miguel
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Nicolas San Miguel’s passion for space comes from his father, who once dreamed of becoming an astronaut and spent many evenings describing space explorations to his son, outlining the stories that the moon and different constellations lay out in the sky.

It was those stories that propelled San Miguel through to his final year studying aerospace engineering, with a research focus on satellite mechanics, at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. That wasn’t the only way his father influenced his life path.

When he was young, San Miguel said he often mispronounced words he learned to speak through his deaf father, which led to bullying and a feeling of otherness at school—compounded by his bi-cultural heritage and efforts to celebrate his Hispanic roots while trying to assimilate to his American surroundings.

Communication became an insecurity and a weakness of his—but not at home, where he used sign language to communicate with his dad.

He came face-to-face with the power of discrimination yet again when he encountered police tackling his father from behind, in his own backyard, drawing their weapons when he didn’t hear or respond to their inquiry about a neighboring house alarm.

“The world is mucky and pitted, but I learned not to listen,” San Miguel wrote in his scholarship application. Instead, he looked for better causes to hold his attention. He volunteered at a camp with kids for disabilities, taught English courses at night school, and worked at after-school programs designed for Hispanic children. In college, he continued that work, also volunteering at different “makerspace” programs to encourage enthusiasm in engineering and space design.

That drive to create a better world has continued professionally and academically as well. He developed his own hot sauce company, Fahrenheit 406, and took part as a student researcher in two university projects. He also completed internships at Sandia National Laboratories and the Space Propulsion Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A professor ranked San Miguel as one of her top four students in 25 years of teaching, noting his ability to excel within some of the university’s toughest courses by taking on the work with careful consideration and thought, rather than just memorization.

“Most importantly, in my opinion, is that he uses this intuitive grasp not only for his own intellectual advancement, but he also helps other students who are struggling with the concepts,” the professor wrote in a letter of recommendation.

The Millie Brother CODA Scholarship reduces the burden of higher education expenses for San Miguel’s family at a time when it is needed most. His father lost his job soon after a bladder cancer diagnosis a few years ago and has struggled to secure full-time work since. His mother’s small business was impacted by manufacturing loss, tariffs, and international product quarantines due to COVID-19, further reducing the family’s income as they also prepare to send two other children off to college within the next two years.

San Miguel said he works part-time on top of his volunteer and internship activities to offset the cost of college.

“My father instilled in me that while sometimes cards are dealt poorly and unequally, education is paramount to overcoming,” he wrote.

“While I am able to hear how clamorous the world has become, I—just like my father—still look at the night sky and imagine just how liberating it would feel to explore the deafening silence of space.”

Jeannette Robinson
Southfield, Michigan, USA

Jeannette Robinson was attending a new program to advance her career in healthcare administration when she came across a deaf student struggling to access the curriculum through a speak-to-text function used by the instructor.

Plagued with enough responsibility—raising a family while working a full-time job and continuing her studies—Robinson didn’t want the communication barrier to become another task for her to take on.

Communication is the crux of her business: she has worked for medical centers for over 15 years providing coding and billing services, tracking physician work, and clarifying payments.

As a Coda, it’s also innate to who she is.

“My conscience would not let me turn the other cheek,” Robinson wrote in her scholarship application. “I saw my parents and now my stepson in that student.” So, she offered to help clarify some information when necessary. She knew the educational components were invaluable.

Over those 15 years in her field, Robinson has continually worked through various certificate programs and two associate degrees to enhance her education in the health information management (HIM) field, all while working full-time.

A colleague called that attention to education unique. “Jeannette is the type of person who loves learning,” they wrote in a letter of recommendation. “She’s one of those rare people who works very hard and diligently, always the first to complete work. She constantly strives for excellence, wants to understand and she questions her errors in order to learn from them.”

The CODA Scholarship will assist Robinson in her endeavor to return to school again this year to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Davenport University, with the expectation of continuing to refine her skills. “As the first generation in our family born to parents who use American Sign Language as their primary language, I was taught early on the value of communication and the challenges associated with lacking it,” she wrote. “I am encouraged to continue my education in HIM because I understand the importance of attention to detail, which affects the quality and healthcare delivery to a patient.”

Amy Claridge
London, United Kingdom

Deaf education is a sore spot for Amy Claridge’s parents, who were raised in the era of oralism and ignorance around deafness in England.

Her mother, born deaf and with facial deformities, after a doctor gave her mother a “cure” for morning sickness, was shopped around to schools that punished attempts to use sign language by slapping wrists and tying hands behind childrens’ backs. Doctors and teachers did not detect her father’s deafness until he was 15, brushing off his lack of responses in class as an intellectual disability.

“My parents, full of joy, humour and love, were failed by education,” Claridge wrote in her scholarship application. “Their awful experiences in school still affect us today.”

It has also become her motivation to pursue a career as a teacher of the deaf. “Deaf education is a controversial and opinionated field, but I think the importance of choice is essential for all children and I wanted both to show my parents that times had changed and I wanted to make a difference for a new generation,” she wrote.

“There is no part of my passion for deaf education which was not moulded in some way by the collective experiences of my childhood, my relationship with my deaf parents, and their own relationships with education.”

After completing her undergraduate degree in Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol in 2013, she was met with the concept of CODA and spent several years exploring her newfound culture through KODA camps in both the US and the UK.

It was during those travels and other international trips to visit Deaf and Coda communities that Claridge said she realized a passion for deaf education. She began teaching in a school for the deaf in 2016 and has continued since, recently completing her master’s degree in Deaf Education from the University of Birmingham.

“One of my proudest moments to date has been… showing my parents around the school, displaying all the sign language on the walls and introducing them to the numerous deaf staff and deaf headteacher,” Claridge wrote. “Mum’s first reaction was to sign in shock, ‘Wait, the children are allowed to sign here? You don’t slap their hands for it?’ I am proud to have found a career in which I can explore my link to the deaf community.”

Anaemene Emmanuel Enoch
Enugu, Nigeria

The first time Anaemene Emmanuel Enoch remembers picking his hands up to interpret for his father, he was just four years old.

He remembers his father, a pastor, paying for a sign language interpreter himself so he could have a voice at various church programs and allow his own congregation, Deaf Christian Academy, to be taken seriously.

Communication access became a strong theme in Anaemene’s life. Soon after, it became his career. He has since spent the last several years interpreting for
various deaf association meetings, church programs, state events, community groups and in government capacities—including his current role at the Office of the Governor on Disability Matters in Anambra State, where he interprets at hospitals, courts and media stations.

Meanwhile, he took an interest in acting and movie production to write, film, and direct movies marketed toward deaf individuals, with local deaf actors.

And his goal is to expand that work to build greater access to all forms of media. He hopes to create a partnership with larger media outlets like CNN or BBC to provide on-screen interpretation for broadcast news in Nigeria, and to continue creating films that highlight deaf story lines and actors “so the deaf can also receive awards just like every other person does.”

“My aspiration is to use what I have as a God-given talent to improve the deaf world and to impact the lives of the deaf,” Anaemene wrote in his scholarship application.

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