School of Music students Emily Schaumberg of Streator, Ill. and Keelan Wright of Glenwood, Ill,, are among five recipients this year of NIU’s prestigious Forward, Together, Forward Scholarships for 2019.

The other recipients are Ainsley Galvez of Hoffman Estates, Ill., Kristen Koehler of Waterman, Ill., and Pablo Valencia-Garcia of Zion, Ill.

Funded by gifts from more than 1,800 individuals, the scholarships are awarded annually to students who excel in the classroom, demonstrate leadership abilities in service of others and are highly engaged on campus.

The Forward, Together Forward Scholarships were established to honor the memory of the five NIU students lost on Feb. 14, 2008: Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Dan Parmenter.

Here’s more on the 2019 scholarship recipients.

A passion for music, helping others

Music is Emily Schaumberg’s passion. Through it, she sees endless opportunities for positively impacting others.

Emily Schaumberg

A senior majoring in Music Education, with an emphasis on vocal studies, Schaumberg hopes to bring the same passion she gets from music to others. Her goal is to teach music in a rural area, similar to the one where she grew up in Streator.

“Being an educator can impact anyone’s life,” she said. “But to have the career of impacting a community is even stronger.

“I am pursuing this dream because I feel that music has an emotion that can reach people and show that they can come together and create beautiful things.”

Schaumberg felt so strongly that students should have access to music that in her hometown she was the youngest member of a group called Band-Aids, which worked to raise funds to save the job of the one and only band director in the school district.

“It was his job to keep the music program alive for both grade school and high school districts,” she said.

Her passion shines in many areas of Schaumberg’s life at NIU as well, from serving as a peer mentor and member of the OHANA team at the Asian American Resource Center, to serving as president of her sorority, Kappa Phi Lambda, which she helped expand from a colony to a full-fledged chapter.

“Every student is special, and there are also those students who allow their light to shine its brightest,” said Michelle Bringas, director of NIU’s Asian American Resource Center, who recommended Schaumberg for the scholarship.

“Emily is one of those extra-ordinary students who lives life to the fullest by caring deeply for others and puts this compassion into action. The impact of Emily’s leadership is evidenced in her Midas touch—everything she touches turns to gold. From freshman to senior year, Emily has made her mark at NIU.”

Teaching others to make music

Saxophonist Keelan Wright wants others to experience the joy of making music.

“My dream is to get my degree as a Music Education major and go teach music,” he says. “The greatest thing someone did for me was teach me to read music, and I want to do that for other students.”

Keelan Wright

In addition to his major, the senior is pursuing minors in Black Studies and Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Despite his busy academic schedule, he spends many hours doing volunteer work. During his freshman year as a Huskie Service Scholar, he performed more than 300 community service hours.

Wright continued that community-minded path throughout his NIU career, including as president of the Success and Succeed Plan (S-Plan). The program pairs upper-level African American students with incoming students in the same major to help in the transition and completion of college.

“I work at a military boarding school that I went to as a child,” he says. “This school is in the south suburbs and primarily is for students with single parents and from the inner city. I intend to try to help make their lives better by giving them the tools that can help them succeed in life.

“I think my experience as president of the S-Plan mentoring program for two years will help me better mentor and provide them with successful resources that can help them not just become better musicians but better people,” he adds.

Vernese Edghill-Walden, NIU Chief Diversity Officer, has worked with Wright as a student leader in the Center for Black Studies. She describes him as hard-working, passionate and an inspiration to others.

“Keelan is community-minded and is very talented and bright,” Edghill-Walden says. “He is laser focused on achieving his educational and professional goals of becoming a music teacher and giving back to the community that gave him so much. There is no doubt he will be a great teacher and role model for his students, colleagues and community.”

Making a difference on campus and beyond

A first-generation college student, junior Ainsley Galvez is highly focused on achieving her academic goals. But it’s her commitment to fellow students that shines above all else.

Ainsley Galvez

“Ainsley has a spirit that projects kindness and hope,” says Russell Devereaux, who serves as Galvez’s academic adviser in NIU’s College of Business.

A University Honors Program student, Galvez is majoring in Operations Management and Information Systems, while pursuing minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Latino and Latin American Studies. She says she overcame her initial freshman anxiety by getting involved in numerous groups, from Huskie Service Scholars to the NIU Marching Band.

“Being a member of the Huskie community means learning together and growing together,” she says.

Galvez works hard to support her education while also finding time to volunteer as a peer mentor. She wants to empower other students to make them feel that they belong. She also is particularly proud of her leadership role with DREAM Action NIU, a student-run organization that advocates for undocumented students.

“There’s been a lot of people who helped me in my life, and I think it’s important to pay them back by helping others,” she says.

Her influential mentors have included her parents, along with NIU’s Devereaux, history professor Beatrix Hoffman, Angélica Mendoza with the Latino Resource Center and Sandy Lopez in Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“Ainsley is an effective, compassionate and thoughtful student leader,” Hoffman says. “She excels in her academic work and shows great intellectual curiosity. Also, she is determined to connect her career goals to her passion for improving society.”

Galvez dreams of starting her own business and becoming a successful social entrepreneur. “It’s not just about making money,” she says. “I want to make a business that helps others.”

Never giving up on her dreams

Kristen Koehler took a different path than many to end up in the education program at NIU.

She always wanted to be a teacher. She encountered hardships along the way but never gave up her dream.

Kristen Koehler

Now in her 40s, the Waterman resident is a junior majoring in Elementary Education, with a reading endorsement. And she cherishes every moment, making this experience count for herself and others.

“Life had dealt me some tough cards, and at a young age I had a choice to make. Did I want to be a victim or a survivor? I chose survivor,” she says. “I could name lots of examples, but the one that was a turning point for me was leaving my abusive marriage. I knew I had to break the cycle for my son to see hop

“But leaving wasn’t what I considered the strong part. It’s how I reacted to it in the aftermath,” Koehler adds. “Outwardly, people noticed me holding my head higher than ever before. They noticed how I became a better listener. They noticed how I surrounded myself with positive people who had goals and supported each other.”

Instructor Julie Bartelt recommended Koehler for the scholarship, saying she is a prime example of non-traditional students at NIU, and a “testament to our university’s ability to both welcome and nurture a unique, diverse student body.”

Bartelt says Koehler’s tenacity and resilience are an inspiration for both current and future NIU students who encounter life’s setbacks.

“Having some familiarity with the tragic events of February 2008, it seems most fitting that Ms. Koehler has applied for this particular scholarship,” Bartelt says. “She is a survivor of tragedy in her own life and someone who truly relishes the opportunity to be a part of the NIU community. She is someone who is determined to not only make a positive impact within the NIU community, but to carry that impact to future classrooms as she prepares to become an educator.”

Helping others navigate campus life

A first-generation college student, Pablo Valencia-Garcia wasn’t sure if he’d fit in when he transferred to NIU from a community college.

But everywhere he turned, people were handing out fliers about campus groups. He decided to give them a try.

Pablo Valencia-Garcia

“I gave it a chance, and I went to their weekly meetings,” he says. “That was probably the best choice I’ve made at NIU. I have created many networks through various student-led organizations.

“Being a member of the NIU Huskie community holds a special spot in my heart,” he adds.

Now, one year later, the senior is president of DREAM Action NIU, a student-run organization that advocates for undocumented students. He’s also a Student Association Senator, Huskie Service Scholar and more, all while majoring in Athletic Training.

“I never got the opportunity to truly experience college as a freshman,” Valencia-Garcia says. “I worked full-time and went to school full-time. I had no chance to truly experience the outside world. When I transferred into NIU, I was lost because I didn’t know anybody on campus. The NIU community has accepted me.”

Valencia-Garcia is working for his betterment through education, but his involvement in community organizations is all about helping others, says Sandy López, coordinator for undocumented student support in the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Whenever she works with students struggling with adapting to campus, she knows she can count on him to help.

“Since stepping foot on campus, Pablo has shown that he cares for others via service to his student organizations and the DeKalb community,” Lopez says.

“Pablo seems to understand that by volunteering he advances the common good of the communities from which he comes,” she adds. “I would also add that Pablo doesn’t give back—he gives and expects nothing in return.”