After Mary Podjasek’s daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she and a group of other parents of children with diabetes created the Diabetes Scholars Foundation to help families who are similarly affected. The foundation was first created to provide need-based scholarships for families to attend diabetes education conferences. One year after its creation, the foundation also started providing college scholarships for students. It has since given away over $1 million.
“In a lot of areas of life, diabetes can be a disadvantage, and we wanted this one small area of life to be an advantage for them,” said Podjasek, who serves as the foundation’s executive director and president.
Last year, there were 2,600 applicants for scholarship funds. Each year, there is money available for some 65 to 75 students, so the application process is very competitive. The foundation judges applicants based on grades, extracurricular activities, volunteering and advocacy work, essays, and letters of recommendation. Typically, awards go out in May.
Podjasek speaks with passion as she discusses the number of students who apply and their inspiring stories. She shares a particular story about a scholarship winner who already has done work in diabetes research before graduating from high school.
“When he was 12 years old, he was diagnosed with diabetes and decided he wanted to do research on CGMs and insulin pumps,” she said. He worked with a Stanford endocrinologist and “started doing some research and was asked to present his findings at an endocrinologist conference in South Korea. And he is just 17! Now, he’s at John Hopkins studying biomedical engineering.”
Podjasek says that these stories are not uncommon. She finds so many of the students applying are special, and she wishes she had the funds to award a scholarship to every qualified applicant.
“I probably could’ve given out 300 scholarships last year,” she said.
The foundation’s other scholarship program offers need-based funds to families for children to attend diabetes conferences. The program has brought over 3,000 people to these conferences where they can learn about the latest treatments and technology.
Podjasek recalls a time when a single mother of three called less than a week before a conference for a scholarship. The mother knew it was a longshot to ask for a scholarship at the last minute, but she said her teenage boy had just been diagnosed with Type 1 and was very angry about being different from his peers. The foundation made it possible for the family to go to the conference, and Podjasek says that within an hour of being at the conference, the teen’s mom came up to her in tears of happiness, saying he was already hanging out with other teens with Type 1 and was considering pump therapy. This sense of belonging is a valuable part of the conference experience, Podjasek says.
“They get to a conference and everybody’s testing their blood sugar, everyone’s wearing a pump – they feel normal,” she said.
To learn more about the Diabetes Scholars Foundation, go to http://diabetesscholars.org/.
Editor’s Note – 3/28/2016 – This story has been corrected, as an earlier version misstated the number of applicants. Also, the program has provided 3,000 scholarships for conferences throughout its history, not just last year.
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