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Announcing the Recipients of the 2018 NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship

by | Aug 28, 2018 | Press Release

August 20, 2018

CONTACT: Zach Baldwin | 202-521-4310

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is proud to offer the NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship thanks to the generous support of NBCUniversal.

In 2018 the NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship provided eight (8) scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities who are interested in pursuing a career in the communications, media, or entertainment industry. Each recipient received $5,625 to help cover the cost of education at their current college or university.

This scholarship has been named in honor of Tony Coelho, a former United States Representative from California and the primary author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The 2018 scholarship recipients are highlighted below:

Lara Ameen

Chapman University

Lara Ameen is a screenwriter, genre fiction writer, disability activist, and PhD student in Education with an emphasis in Disability Studies at Chapman University. She received a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley in Film Studies with a minor in Disability Studies. She has given lectures and presented on panels with prominent actors, writers, and showrunners about disability representation in the media at American University, Chapman University, CalArts, CSUN, and UCLA. Her scripts have placed in Screencraft’s Bahamas Screenwriters Residency Program, the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and the Fresh Voices Screenplay Competition. Passionate about intersectional disability representation, she writes TV drama pilots, short film scripts, and paranormal fantasy novellas about queer disabled characters who save the world. In the future, she hopes to publish a series of fantasy novels and become a showrunner for a successful supernatural/sci-fi/fantasy TV drama series that features a diverse cast of disabled characters portrayed by disabled actors.


Téa Blumer

North Carolina State University

Téa Blumer is an artist, designer, and mental health advocate majoring in Art + Design and minoring in Graphic Design. In 2018, her compassion, integrity, and devotion to volunteerism led her to be named the Most Outstanding Overall Woman at her university, in addition to receiving the 2018 Outstanding Student Volunteer Award. She strives to build allied communities like the Adopted Students Union that she co-founded in her freshman year. As a member of several marginalized groups, including being disabled, adopted, Asian-American, and female, she has an opportunity to understand and empathize within various communities. Her mission is to connect with these groups and share their stories with the world. Through storytelling, she believes that increasing positive exposure of the disabled community will increase empathy and promote open-mindedness within the world.


Bridget Fornaro

California State University, Northridge

Bridget Fornaro is a 23-year-old journalism/public relations major at California State University, Northridge. She is a part of the National Millennial Community and her school’s chapter of PRSSA, and has worked at CSUN’s Marketing & Communications Department as a student writer. Fornaro also has interned with Warner Music Group, CBS, and FOX Television. She is on track to graduate in May 2019.


Ashley J. Hicks

The American Conservatory Theater

Ashley J. Hicks is excited and humbled by the opportunity to be one of the eight recipients of this award. After spending the last eight years creating art in Chicago, she decided that it was time to take her artistic journey to the next level by pursuing her MFA in performance. In addition to acting, Ashley is also a playwright and solo performance artist. In 2016, she wrote and performed in a solo show called Beautifully Broken, which highlights the challenges she faces as an artist with Albinism. Ashley is committed to helping create work that gives underrepresented and misrepresented individuals, particularly those of the disabled community, a voice within the entertainment community. She looks forward to the next phase of her artistic evolution through the rigorous training at American Conservatory Theater.


Gabriela López Dena

Parsons, The New School

Gabriela holds a degree in architecture from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. In 2012 she founded DENA, a transdisciplinary studio in which she began her experimentation with architecture, art, and film. Currently she is pursuing a master´s degree at Parsons in New York City where she is also a Graduate Student Fellow for Art & Social Justice at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics. She is interested in socially engaged art practices that challenge traditional boundaries. Her current academic work lies at the intersection of feminism with spatial politics and the production of space.


Sena Pottackal

New York University

Sena Pottackal is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Public Relations (PR) and Corporate Communication at New York University (NYU). Pottackal earned an associate degree in General Communications from Camden County College, and then graduated summa cum laude from Rowan University with a major in PR and double minors in Advertising and Communication Studies. As a volunteer at Rowan’s student-run PR firm, Pottackal served a nonprofit and consequently realized an opportunity to catalyze positive social change through PR. She uses traditional and social media to encourage the inclusion and empowerment of individuals with disabilities. During this past academic year, Pottackal completed the NYU Social Sector Leadership Diversity Fellowship; represented students with disabilities at NYU as a student senator at-large; and lobbied for disability rights with the National Federation of the Blind on Capitol Hill. Following graduation, Pottackal plans to run for office and continue advocating for disability rights. Pottackal’s communication-related aspirations include working with L’Oréal to create an ad campaign celebrating the beauty of disabled individuals; providing PR for a nonprofit that serves the disability community; and starting a benefit corporation which will provide PR services and allocate a portion of its profits to fund scholarships for students with disabilities.


Laurel Schwartz

Columbia University

Laurel Schwartz is passionately driven to tell the stories that change the world. In the last decade, she has worked for ad and PR agencies, politicians, nonprofits, television stations, and communications offices to help companies tell their stories in multimedia and online spaces. While her strongest passion is video production, she sees great promise in the digital media space. In the advertising world, she has helped Fortune 500 companies such as McDonald’s, Marshall’s, and Allstate tell their stories. Now she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Social Entrepreneurship and Social Policy at Columbia University where she is merging her multimedia skills with her social advocacy passions. Laurel has been making content about her life with Crohn’s disease since she was a young teen. What started as a childhood hobby came full-circle when her self-produced and directed documentary, Running Breathless, made its festival debut and won the Founders’ Award at ReelAbilities NYC 2018. Additionally, her newest project about adolescent development is currently in production. Laurel truly believes that representation can change the world and that the media we consume tells us who and how we can be by setting the limits and expectations. When we start to tell more stories by and about people with disabilities we begin to expand the horizon of what is possible. Laurel is deeply honored to be recognized by NBCUniversal and AAPD.


Sarah Zimmer

Emerson College

Sarah Zimmer will be a first-year graduate student this fall at Emerson College pursuing an MA in Theatre Education for Community Engagement. Sarah attended Dickinson College and received a BA in History and Theatre Arts. During her undergraduate career, she was involved in several projects merging the arts and community engagement, notably her work addressing campus mental health resources and discussion around the musical Next to Normal, in which she also performed. Since her move to Boston, Sarah has worked at various teen and youth performing arts programs such as the Boch Center and The Chestnut Hill Summer Camp. Sarah has interned at Urbanity Dance as an education and community engagement intern, strengthening their Movement Mends program bringing access to dance to underserved communities, and will intern at Boston Lyric Opera in the fall. Sarah strives to merge arts and activism, both in creative pursuits and active engagement, to open up discussion, address the stigmatization of those with mental illness and inadequate systemic resources, and tell their stories.


“AAPD is proud to recognize and support these eight students with disabilities as they pursue careers in media, communications, and entertainment,” said Helena Berger, President and CEO of AAPD. “Disability representation – whether in the newsroom, through fiction, or via other forms of media — is critical to increased understanding of the authentic, lived experiences of people with disabilities.”

Learn more about the scholarship and this year’s recipients at www.aapd.com/scholarship.


The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As a national cross-disability rights organization, AAPD advocates for full civil rights for the over 56 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. Learn more at www.aapd.com.