Opening Night and the Projects Program at Convention of International never fail to inspire. Over 2,000 P.E.O.s, friends, family and guests gathered in the convention hall in Pittsburgh last night to recognize our leadership and celebrate the accomplishments of just a handful of women who have benefited from P.E.O. loans, grants, scholarships and Cottey College.

Second Vice President Alix Smith presided over the Projects Program, providing a brief history of each project and Cottey College and introducing each board chair and the president of Cottey as they, in turn, introduced each speaker.

P.E.O. Educational Loan Fund Recipient Dr. Keanna Gross

Recommended in 2018 for the P.E.O. Educational Loan Fund by Chapter F, Massachusetts, Keanna Gross earned her Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree from the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas in May 2020. Keanna’s passion is the neurological settings…diagnoses such as Parkinson’s, brain injury and spinal cord injury, or strokes and finding new paths of function for patients and caregivers. Keanna chose clinical rotation sites with the intention of experiencing new-to-her patient settings, but also to experience healthcare in different regions of the country. She spoke about how opinions of healthcare are vastly different in each corner of the country—from New Jersey, to California, Arizona, the Midwest and Florida. Keanna said, “The ELF loan provided me the opportunity to just be a student absorbing information and improving my clinical skills, while on rotations, because my tuition for my final year was covered. I am incredibly grateful for the ELF loan and where it has taken my career.”

Cottey College Alumna Marikah Fard-Allah

Malikah Fard-Allah graduated from Cottey College in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English language and literature and a minor in writing and rhetoric. After graduation, she was accepted into the Teach for America Program, which launched her teaching career. She also went on to earn a master’s in education from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and taught in Kansas City for several years before transitioning to Startland Education – a community-building non-profit – where she is working now as a Youth Programming Assistant.
Malikah credits her experience at Cottey for her confidence, leadership and empathy. As a first generation college student, there was a 33% chance Malikah wouldn’t complete her first year; however, she said, “through the support of my Cottey village – my peers, my professors, Cottey faculty & staff, and of course the unwavering support of the P.E.O.s – I persevered in order to become the woman I am today. There’s just something about a nation-wide organization of women supporting your college that makes you feel unstoppable.”

International Peace Scholarship Fund Recipient Farnaz Naeemikia

Growing up in Iran as a girl in a male-dominated country, Farnaz Naeeemikia learned early that life is not easy, but that the key to success is patience and resilience. She holds an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Iran, a master’s degree in applied physics and a second master’s degree in biology. Farnaz is now an IPS renewal recipient, pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering at Pennsylvania State University where she is in the top one percent of her class. She is determined to contribute significantly to the field of cancer research, with a focus on developing more effective immunotherapy for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a devastating form of cancer affecting children. Farnaz said, “The International Peace Scholarship) has been a transformative force, shaping my education and guiding my future goals. Beyond the financial assistance, the connections I have made with P.E.O. members have had a profound impact on my life. The mentorship, guidance, and support I have received from the P.E.O. community have been instrumental in shaping my personal and professional growth…Together, we can build a world where opportunities are boundless, where every woman can pursue her dreams fearlessly, and where equality is not just a dream but a reality.”

P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education Recipient Amy Allmon

Amy Allmon is a gifted musician, motivational speaker, author, certified massage therapist, a lover of people and a P.E.O. sister in Chapter AY in McPherson, Kansas. Amy received a $1,300 PCE grant in 2019. She recalled, “There was a time five years ago, that my career path had led me to a crossroads. I could either be content with my current level of education, or I could make a short-term sacrifice to obtain the highest level of accreditation in the field of massage therapy. I chose the option that would provide me the foundation to reach a greater number of people with the gift of healing, and the P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education grant helped pay for a portion of that education.”
Amy is on a mission to spread healing and to pay forward the gift of education that she received. She told a story of meeting a woman named Angelica working long shifts in housekeeping at her hotel while attending Kansas State Convention. Angelica said she was taking on extra shifts for the money as she was going back to college to get her degree in HR management. Amy immediately gave her the elevator speech that P.E.O. existed to help people just like her. Angelica went on to receive a $3,000 Program for Continuing Education grant earlier this year and has graduated with her degree, allowing her the opportunity to be a bigger blessing to all those around her.

P.E.O. Scholar Awards Recipient Dr. Brianna Morgan

Brianna Morgan is a Geriatric and Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of nursing experience caring for older adults living with serious illnesses including dementia, cancer, and severe brain injury. Dr. Morgan has two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and (with P.E.O.’s help) a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science – all from the University of Pennsylvania. Bri is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University Grossman School of Medicine where she is exploring strengths-based assessment and intervention in persons with mild cognitive impairment and dementia. She also works as a Geriatric and Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner at New York University Langone Health. Bri just earned her fourth post-secondary degree, a PhD in Nursing Science from the University of Pennsylvania, she attributes her love of education to her grandmother, Helen Myers, a P.E.O. (Chapter Eternal)
In her doctoral work, Bri focused on the concept of inner strength, one’s internal process of moving through challenging circumstances. Specifically, she sought to characterize the experiences of inner strength in persons newly diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) . Her team discovered a method called “poetic analysis,” which involves taking the words spoken by people with MCI and their care partners and turning them into poems that exemplify themes represented in their interviews. Bri says, “The P.E.O. Scholars Award allowed me to flexibly design a rigorous research study and support my growing family during a time when everything seemed impossible. For that, I am forever grateful.”

STAR Scholarship Recipient Katherine (Katie) O’Connell

Katie O’Connell was sponsored for the STAR Scholarship by Chapter TR, Oceanside, California. Katie grew up living out of a suitcase as her mom moved their family frequently to escape an abusive situation. They couch surfed and bounced around, staying where they could. Finally, when Katie was 15, they found a small place to call their own. That same year, Katie began her research internship at a UC San Diego biology lab that deepened her love for science. She tested the effects of water quality on zebrafish, analyzed the diversity of tree populations along the West Coast, and studied how the brains of male and female fruitflies respond differently to stress. Her research on ADHD diagnosis and medication rates in American children was published in Nature’s Scientific Reports. College, once only a dream, is now a reality for 19-year-old Katie. She attends Bowdoin College, a private liberal arts school in Maine, where she plans to major in biology. Katie’s interactions with the elderly and disabled spark her passion to help others; she aspires to become a medical doctor. Katie said, “May we all continue to inspire each other to reach greater heights and transform lives through the power of education, kindness, and generosity.”