North East Community Foundation announces DefIANt Scholars Program

April 22, 2021

The North East Community Foundation is proud to partner with Ian Malesiewski to create a new DefIANt scholarship designed to empower, encourage and uplift local students. Ian, a North East native and athlete who sustained a spinal cord injury in 2016, is now a quadriplegic.

Since the day of the injury in a wrestling match, Ian fought to not just survive but thrive. By calling upon that same defiant spirit and work ethic that defined him as an elite football player and wrestler, he was able to transition from a hospital bed to graduating from Cathedral Prep in the top of his class and attending college. Ian is currently in his junior year at the University of Miami, with his sights set on law school and a career advocating for disability rights.

The DefIANt Scholars Program is open to Erie County seniors, who have a physical or intellectual disability. The announcement coincided with September’s National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month. “Students with disabilities face numerous challenges when pursing a higher education,” said Ian Malesiewski. “From physically navigating the new environment, to taking notes and completing assignments, university life is different for those with disabilities.” Ian relies on technology like a special mouse that he uses with his mouth to type as well as the support of friends, family and even athletes like NFL player James Conner.

“I have a great support system,” he said. “But not everyone does.” DefIANt Scholars aims to make the transition to college less difficult. Its mission is to help aid the disabled community in an attempt to break down barriers, stereotypes and misconceptions inside and outside of the classroom.