We are pleased to announce this year’s recipients of our Paul Heffron Scholarships for Secular Students. A HumanistsMN team selected three students to receive the $1,250 awards after reviewing applications forwarded by the Secular Student Association (SSA), which administers the nationwide scholarship program. Named after one of our founding members, the awards are funded by HMN and two of its members, Craig Luedemann and Mary Robischon.
The following bios were provided by the SSA.
University of Minnesota
Alex, a recent high school graduate attending the University of Minnesota to pursue a degree in Psychology on a pre-medicine track, is on a journey driven by empathy, compassion, and a strong commitment to secularism. Having volunteered in a local hospital’s emergency room during the summer of 2021, Alexander witnessed firsthand the value of proper healthcare and the importance of delivering kind, empathetic, and humanistic care to all individuals. This experience motivated him to pursue a career in healthcare, with the ultimate goal of becoming a physician.
Alexander’s background in debate, where he excelled and even earned a spot at nationals, honed his argumentative skills. He applied this critical thinking to challenge the religious norms in his small, overtly religious hometown. As someone agnostic about metaphysical beliefs, he approached the dominant Christian faith in his community with skepticism, advocating for science and reason over dogma. This experience instilled in him a staunchly humanist view, grounded in empathy, compassion, scientific facts, and reason.
As an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community in a similarly religious and small town, Alexander witnessed the weaponization of the Bible against the community. Rather than outright rejecting the Bible and Abrahamic faiths, he maintained a skeptical perspective, which allowed him to critically examine religious structures in communities. Alexander’s involvement in Scouts BSA for over 12 years was marked by his efforts to create a more inclusive, secular environment.
During the summer of 2020, Alexander was in Minneapolis during the Black Lives Matter protests. He actively participated in community efforts to rebuild and provide aid to those affected, distributing essential supplies and assisting in cleanup efforts. His actions showcased his commitment to social justice and community support.
Graduate of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, St. Louis Park
In her pursuit of education, Lillian started her studies in political and environmental science at Fordham University, with a career goal of becoming an environmental lawyer. She envisions a future where she can leverage her legal expertise to make positive changes, particularly in the realm of environmental protection while continuing her volunteer work with youth education and engagement-focused organizations.
Lillian’s humanist journey has been marked by her experiences in a Catholic environment that initially left her searching for a connection to the faith. She spent her childhood attending church, seeking validation in the stories and teachings of Christianity. However, as she encountered inconsistencies and gaps in the religious narratives, she gradually embraced agnosticism. This transformation allowed her to break free from the pressure to conform and experience a sense of liberation in not knowing if a higher power controls the universe.
Her experience as nonreligious at Fordham has been good so far, but being agnostic and queer at her former school is where problems arose. There she challenged the administration by starting a queer book club and supporting the Gay-Straight Alliance, despite resistance from the school due to conflicting Catholic beliefs. Lillian is pursuing degrees in political science and law with a clear aim to fight for LGBTQ+ rights and other social justice causes from a legal standpoint. She also actively engages in LGBTQ+ history education initiatives and serves on the youth advisory board for a public health research project focused on queer youth.
Her organization, Students Stand Up, aims to empower youth to find their voices, and she serves on her city’s Environment and Sustainability Commission, advocating for environmental justice. In addition, she plans to join environmental activism efforts in New York City.
Graduate of Wayzata High School
Sidarth is a dedicated first-year student at Washington University in St. Louis, studying Political Science and Mathematics as an Ampersand Scholar. With ambitions to pursue a law degree, Sidarth’s journey has been marked by a strong commitment to public service, activism, and a secular perspective.
As an atheist, Sidarth’s secular identity has been shaped by personal experiences and a dedication to reason. He is motivated to reduce the hypocritical influence of religion in our government created on the pillars of separation between church and state. Sidarth’s journey was strengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which reinforced his reliance on science over rituals, solidifying his secular perspective. As a future policymaker, this secular outlook will guide his decisions, emphasizing evidence-based solutions and inclusivity, rather than dominating religious ideologies on the lives of others.
Sidarth’s identity as an Indian-American and the son of immigrants informs his commitment to diversity in government. He is determined to ensure that the voices of immigrants are heard in a society where outsiders are often looked down upon.
Sidarth’s ideology deeply aligns with the mission of HumanistsMN. In fact, witnessing the “Reject Christian Nationalism” billboard on the way to the State Capitol motivated him to learn more about humanism and discover ways to make an impact. He also recognizes the importance of informing others about secularism and the separation of church and state. His commitment to education equity is showcased through his participation in the AP African American Studies Pilot. Sidarth believes that accurate historical education, including the perspectives of marginalized communities, is vital in addressing discrimination and inequality. He opposes efforts to restrict racial education in Florida and actively works to ensure courses like AP African American Studies are accessible to all students, taught by teachers of diverse backgrounds.
Sidarth’s activism extends to addressing gerrymandering in congressional districts, understanding its roots, and advocating for solutions. He was appointed to a 2020 Census Complete Count Committee to raise census participation among Indian-Americans in Minnesota and is determined to research and combat gerrymandering as a means to protect the integrity of democracy.