Watermark Scholars Program For Women In STEM: Meet Our Winners

August 25, 2021 Mary Anne Connolly

Last week, we announced the winners of the the Watermark Scholars program – Elayne Blancas, a senior in computer engineering at New York University and Elizabeth Landers, a fourth-year medical student at Oklahoma State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. Both are set to graduate in 2022.

Launched in 2020, the Watermark Scholars program was designed to provide much-needed financial support to women pursuing an education or career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math). 

Elayne Blancas, a child of immigrants and first-generation college student, was inspired by her cousin, David Navarro, diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at age 2. By age 10, she designed and created practical devices made from household appliances that David could use, including a redesigned PlayStation controller to fit his hands. At 16, she founded The David Project, a social group offering safe environments to cultivate personal growth for handicapped youth.

In 2014, David lay helpless as he waited 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive; he was put on life support. Inspired by this, Elayne submitted a design for a medical relief drone and won a Thiel Grant, founded by renowned start-up investor Peter Thiel. She won $100,000 to support her idea, but it required her to drop out of school. As a first-time college student in her family, it was a deal-breaker. 

“Earning this scholarship is a testament that with determination, discipline, and dedication anything is possible, including the dream of a first-generation child of immigrants to be the first in her family to graduate as an engineer.” She plans to graduate from New York University in 2022. 

Elizabeth Landers grew up in poverty in rural Oklahoma and dreamt of becoming a doctor. A child of a single mother of three, she admits to failing miserably at staying out of trouble. After her father died, she dropped out of school and ran away at 15 with an abusive boyfriend. Three years later, she left the situation and got her GED. 

Then she learned she was pregnant. Her family doctor, Dr. Victoria Pardue, provided unwavering support and became Elizabeth’s role model. As soon as her daughter could get into Head Start, Elizabeth started Southeastern Oklahoma State University by completing remedial high school courses, all while working three jobs, maintaining a 4.0 GPA and raising her daughter alone. 

“Defying all the odds,” she earned acceptance to OSU’s College of Medicine. Landers’ dream is to become an OB/GYN.

“Moreover, I want to practice in a rural area and serve as an example for other disaffected youth,” she said. “I want to help people defy odds as I did.” 
 
The scholarship will allow her to apply to more residencies across the country, become an outstanding physician, and return to practice in her home state of Oklahoma. She said, “Application fees and travel expenses are often troublesome as a fourth-year medical student. The Watermark Scholarship has opened up more doors for me to pursue my dream of becoming a physician!”
 
We can’t wait to see what these women will do, and we are honored to be part of their journey. To learn more about the Watermark Scholars Program, visit this page: watermarkinsights.com/watermark-scholars/

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