Robert Burns Scholarship

Each year, the SAS gives a $500 scholarship to a college-bound High School Senior or a student who is already enrolled in a college. Applicants, who come from the local area, must demonstrate an interest in or connection to: Scottish ancestry, history, culture, art or music.

We ask that applicants be from the Southern tier of New York State. Thank you.

2014 Winner:

The 2014 Robert Burns' Scholarship went to Juliet Downie of Painted Post. In her application, she included a picture of herself, tartan clad, giving a report on Scotland. Her essay was delightful!


I have always been interested in studying and appreciating other cultures, and have often tried to learn more about the history and traditional customs of various nations. In particular, I feel a strong tie to Scotland and its culture, and I enjoy immersing myself in the Scottish tradition.

My fascination with Scotland began in third grade, when I researched Scotland and its culture for a school project. I knew that I had Scottish ancestry on my father’s side; my father often boasted about his Scottish heritage. I enjoyed learning about kilts and tartan patterns, and about bagpipes and other hallmarks of Scottish culture. For the presentation at school, I proudly wore my own tartan skirt in an effort to dress the part of a Scottish lassie. I was charmed by the historical appeal of Scotland and its folk traditions.

A few years later, my mother undertook a large genealogy project in which she researched my ancestors many generations back. Through her research and the contributions of other family members, I became much more knowledgeable about my Scottish heritage. I learned that I have a direct line back to Scotland through my paternal side. My great-great-great grandfather, John Downie, emigrated from Scotland to Bovina, New York, in 1858 with his first wife and son. His family came from Coatbridge, near Glasgow, where John was originally a boatman but then retrained to become a shoemaker before immigrating to the United States. The Downies were members of the Lindsay clan.

 I also discovered that I have a physical connection to my Scottish roots; my family has inherited my paternal great-great-great-grandfather John Downie’s wooden chest, a large trunk used to transport his belongings. It was used by later generations to store tools and other possessions. This chest made the journey in 1858 from Scotland to New York onboard the ship City of New York, and it now resides in my living room. It serves as a constant reminder of my Scottish heritage, and of the resilience and steadfastness of the Scots. Like its original owner and Scottish culture at large, this chest has weathered hardships and stood the test of time.

My father is proud of his Scottish heritage, and several years ago, he received the book Howthe Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman as a Christmas present. He relished it and I, too, have flipped through its pages, enjoying the historical detail and information about everything that the Scots have accomplished, from feats that are widely known to more obscure accomplishments.

Today I still become attentive and excited whenever I hear or see something about Scotland in my history textbooks or on the news. As a senior in high school, I am looking forward to the opportunities that college may bring to study abroad at a foreign university. In particular, I am greatly interested in traveling to and studying in Scotland. I can envision myself living amid the centuries-old buildings of Edinburgh or Glasgow, hearing church bells toll in magnificent cathedrals, and becoming steeped in Scottish culture. Until the opportunity arises, I will have to satisfy my interest in Scotland by listening to Fiona Ritchie’s weekly radio program The Thistle and the Shamrock, broadcast on NPR from her studio in rural Scotland. The program showcases Celtic music, both old and new, from Scotland and areas with strong Scottish roots. Listening to the diverse mix of Celtic styles and musical traditions momentarily transports me to the foothills of the Scottish Highlands and reminds me that while Scotland has a rich and storied history and celebrated traditions, it also has a firm place in the modern world. I would like to explore that place, but for now, I must appreciate Scotland from afar.
--Juliet Downie

2013 Winner:

Jenna Cunningham

The Society’s Robert Burns Scholarship was given to Jenna Cunningham, a recent graduate of West Genesee High School in Camillus, New York. Jenna is the granddaughter of our first Chief, George Cunningham, and his wife Barbara. She will attend the University of Buffalo in the fall to study math and music.


My Scottish heritage has always proven a strong part of who I am. My grandpa, George Cunningham, was born in Scotland and moved to America in his late twenties, and was president of the Scottish American Society.

My family has always taken pride in our Scottish heritage. Each year, we go to the Scottish Games. At this festival, we hear bagpipe music, eat Scottish food such as meat pies, look at Scottish artwork, and watch the traditional Scottish games. I have also had the opportunity to participate in the Robert Burns dinner. I ate traditional Scottish food such as haggis, and was exposed to the poems of Robert Burns, a truly talented poet. Furthermore, I had the privilege of singing “I Belong to Glasgow” with my sister and father at the dinner.

Although I have had many great Scottish related experiences, nothing surpasses the experience I had during one summer. The summer before my sophomore year, I was privileged enough to go to England and Scotland to visit relatives and explore these countries with my family. We were able to drive all around the country, starting in Edinburgh, going up north to Inverness, next to Oban, and then traveling back down to Glasgow. The farther north we traveled, the stronger the Scottish brogue.

During our travels, I experienced many of the foods and traditions of these countries, many of which I was already familiar with because of my grandpa. We ate Scottish meat pies, bridies, haggis, and homemade scones. Every morning, we were treated to an “English Breakfast,” which consisted of beans, black pudding, bangers (sausage), eggs, tea, toast, and marmalade.

We were also lucky enough to visit the Culloden Battlefield. Scotland’s history is filled with battles and wars, fought in an attempt to gain their independence from England. My visit to Culloden Battlefield made me think of all the hardships my ancestors had to endure.

The highlight of my trip was when I visited my Scottish relatives. I was able to learn about their different viewpoints. Many of my relatives are socialists, and were curious about what we thought of President Bush. We also talked with them about their government and their healthcare system. In talking to them, I learned of some of the drawbacks of having universal healthcare, as well as some of the benefits.

I will be majoring in music in college and would love to study Celtic music. I also compose music, and have just begun a piece that has a Celtic influence. I am considering starting a Scottish Heritage club in college to celebrate my heritage with other people my age. Furthermore, one of my dreams is to attend Carnegie Mellon University. They have a very strong Scottish heritage there and celebrate it avidly. I am considering joining the Kiltie band and participate in other Scottish activities.

Traveling overseas and exploring England and Scotland broadened the way I think about the world. I was surprised to find that there were more similarities than differences between the different cultures. This experience has stimulated a desire in me to learn even more about Scottish heritage. I am truly grateful for being immersed in Scottish culture.

2012 Winner

2012s winner is Piper Chester, a recent graduate of Alfred-Almond Central School, who will attend Rochester Institute of Technology. The scholarship this year is given in memory of Shirley Sutherland MacIntyre, Phillis MacDonell and Jean MacKenzie, all long-time SAS members. Although applications are solicited early in the year, they are welcome at any time and are available from Trustee Gil Ferris. Click here to contact Gil.





Bruce Stewart Memorial Scholarship

2014 Winner:


The 2014 Bruce Stewart Memorial Scholarship was given to Tristan Ponader of Beaver Dams. He is from Clan Stewart so this is most appropriate. The committee loved that he ended his essay with "Lang may yer lum reek!"


Scotland holds special interest to me. First, I knew that I had Scottish ancestry. Through my father’s mother, I am a member of the Wilson sept, under Clan Gunn, and through my mother’s father, I have a Scottish great grandmother who actually taught at the University of Edinburgh! Unfortunately, her name has been lost to time, but we believe that she was of the Stewart Clan. Second, my interest was sparked by a visit to the United Kingdom. As a member of the West High Viking Marching Band, I performed in the London New Year’s Day Parade in 2011. While I was there I saw a real highland pipe band. I always liked hearing the bagpipes in parades, but for some reason I was especially fascinated in London. Upon my return home, I began looking into Scottish culture.

I started off looking up my family history in Scotland. My grandmother has done a bit of research of her side of the family, and from her I learned about the Gunn Clan. This clan is from the Caithness area of Scotland, and is descended from the Norse chieftain Gunni, who settled there in the late 1100’s. The Caithness is the northmost part of the Scotland mainland, an area with vast rolling hills, farmlands, and conifer forests.

From my uncle I learned about my distant grandmother of the Stewart Clan. The Stewart Clan is from the southern part of Scotland, in the Teviotdale and Lauderdale districts. This clan is descended from French nobles who acquired land in the British Islas after the Norman Invasion of 1066. The clan got its name because an early member, Robert Fladd, was appointed Steward of Scotland under King David the First in the early 1100’s. The name Steward got corrupted to Stewart over the years.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Scottish culture is the system of identification of clans through clan kilts and tartans. I discovered a guidebook to the various clans that had belonged to my grandmother, which was really interesting. I read the book, and learned about my sept and clan, as well as other clans. In fact, I amuse myself by identifying the various tartan patterns in shirts and other clothing I see people wearing. However, to fully understand the story behind the tartans and clans I had to learn Scottish history. I bought a book on the country, from which I learned Scottish history, as well as more about the culture. I also decided that I want a kilt. I think wearing a kilt would help me connect with my heritage. I don’t own one yet, but would like to have a kilt in the Gunn Tartan once I can afford it. Besides owning a kilt, I’d also like to learn the bagpipes.

Learning about Scotland is a connection to my heritage. In modern America, history and heritage are often pushed to the side and ignored. Like many Americans, I didn’t know much about my own family history or heritage. Learning about my heritage allows me to have a link to the past. To deepen this connection to the past I have taught myself many old and nearly forgotten skills that relate to both Scottish and American history. For example, I can build and use axes, start fires, and find food in the wilderness. I am currently learning how timber framing works. It is a construction technique used in many traditional Scottish buildings. And I recently felled a pine tree with an ax and am making a bench from it, all by hand. I’d like
to go to the Scottish Games this summer and watch the traditional sports--maybe even learn how to toss a caber myself! Over all, my interest in Scotland and Scottish history has taught me something about the Scottish part of my past, the history of a unique culture, as well as useful skills.

Lang may yer lum reek!

--Tristan Ponader



2013 Winner

Sydney Farmer

The Society also oversees the selection of a recipient for the Bruce Stewart Memorial Scholarship which is presented by the family of the late beloved member of the SAS. This year, it was presented to Sydney Farmer, graduate of Hammondsport Central School. Sydney was Valedictorian of her class and will attend New York University in September, to major in global business studies.



I have known that I had some Scottish ancestry since I was young, but it was not until my Aunt Debbi began to trace our family genealogy that I really began to think about my heritage. My aunt’s research reached all the way back to the 1300’s and found that we are descendants of Malcolm Wallace, brother of Scottish hero William Wallace. As Braveheart has always been a favorite movie in our home, this piece of information really made me stop to think about what kind of people my ancestors were.

What does my Scottish heritage mean to me? I think that parts of family history can be passed down from generation to generation, not necessarily as first hand memories, but as traits and attitudes that naturally get passed down.Thinking about what kind of people we come from sheds light on why we are the way we are.

Where my ancestors lived speaks volumes about the type of people they were. Scotland’s rugged terrain is both beautiful and unforgiving. They must have really appreciated their land to want to stay in a place that can be so harsh. One can imagine a healthy respect for nature and a higher power presenting such a beautiful and challenging place to live.

Scottish history tells us about the clans that set aside their differences to fight for their freedom. The Picts and Scoti united to fight the Norse invaders. Also, freedom from English domination was a unifying cause that illustrated the Scottish need to be free.

Scottish culture is far more than men in the Highlands playing the bagpipes and wearing kilts. The importance of family unity, education, literature, and history show people of heart and substance. To have Scottish ancestors means that my family comes from people who were tough in body as well as spirit. They had a respect for their land as well as God. They were people who cherished their freedom, loved their families with all their heart, and stood tall. That explains a lot about my family.





George Cunningham Scottish Essay Award

2014 Winner

New in 2014 is the George Cunningham Scottish Essay award of $500. It was presented to Toni Olkey of Painted Post.


Back to Top


    © 2011-2017 Scottish American Society of the Southern Tier, Inc. All Rights Reserved