The 2011 Award Recipients Are:
College Bound Award: Thomas Carroll
Thomas is on his way to Northwestern University’s School of Journalism in the fall. While in high school in Illinois, he was inducted into the prestigious National Honors and Cum Laude Societies. His Advanced Placement History teacher tells us, “Tommy is one of the best students I have taught in 21 years. Period. Not one of the best visually impaired students I have taught.”
Tommy also excels outside the classroom. You can find him skateboarding with professionals and running a mile in less than five minutes! But music has recently taken a front seat to sports. Tommy explains, “Though I thoroughly enjoy track, when I run, I need a guide. My desire for independence is stronger. I don’t have to depend on anyone to play music.”
Tommy is a drummer, started a rock band and performed in his school jazz program. He plans to minor in jazz studies at Northwestern so he can become a music journalist. We have no doubt that he will succeed — and look forward to reading his concert reviews in the years to come.
College Bound Award: Michelle Hackman
With a perfect 4.0 grade point average, Michelle outpaced her peers in her Great Neck, New York, high school by leaps and bounds. She was a finalist in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition; and has crammed more extra-curricular pursuits into 18 years than most people undertake in a lifetime!
She studied classical and Broadway voice performance for 10 years, and sang in the All-County Choir; was president of several school clubs; and received awards in Science, French and news writing. In her “spare time,” Michelle created a website to raise money for a Cambodian school dedicated to disadvantaged girls. She also volunteered for Reporters Without Borders — and even helps to troubleshoot accessibility issues for Facebook!
Michelle’s Advanced Placement physics teacher wrote a 6-page recommendation, detailing every aspect of her extraordinary academic performance and abstract reasoning skills. He says that Michelle can solve complex physics problems in her head in less time than sighted students can do on paper.
Michelle is on her way to Yale to double major in psychology and political science, where she envisions a career in research. Stay tuned because we’re sure that Michelle will most definitely make her mark on the world!
Undergraduate Award: German Fermin
German is a studio production major at SUNY Purchase. His academic record is studded with A+ grades in music classes, showcasing his drive to do his best, as well as his talent as a musician and songwriter.
German began college at the age of 40; while it may have taken him a while to matriculate, he took to campus life like a fish to water! One of his professors ranks him in the top 2 percent of students he has taught in 30 years, elaborating that “German brought a refreshing new slant to some fairly dusty corners of music theory and analysis.” German has taught guitar and had his own radio show; serves on the campus life committee; helps the library enhance accessibility and works for Campus Technology Services.
German tells us, “My college experience has given me dignity — and a passion for life and for helping people who may have faced the same barriers and discrimination I did before college.” With his determination, we’re sure that German will continue to open doors that were formerly closed and light the way for others!
Trinka Davis Graduate Award: Kathleen Katulak
Kate is a Masters student in Education at Columbia's Teachers College here in New York City. She’s well on her way to becoming a special education teacher for children who are visually impaired. Her transcript, too, is studded with A’s and A+’s.
After losing her sight at of age 14, Kate tells us, “It was by facing the challenges of vision loss that I discovered within myself self-determination and a drive toward success. Where some people might find despair, I found empowerment and new passions.”
One of her passions is understanding the human mind and the role that emotions play in learning. After graduating with a degree in psychology from Wright State University, she found a lab at Yale that is dedicated to that very topic. Kate participated in a study that linked emotional literacy to academic success. Inspired by the results, she’s hoping to adapt this program to study children with special needs to improve their academic performance.
Her Yale supervisor tells us, “Right out of college, Kate's contributions matched those of graduate students. She quickly showed me why she was destined to go on to grad school; and I’m thrilled that she’s continuing our research efforts at Columbia for children with vision impairments.” We all look forward to her contributions in the field!
Judy Van Nostrand Arts Award: Jeremy Harvey
Born in Taiwan with extremely limited vision and cerebral palsy, Jeremy began playing piano by ear at age two. He says, “A passion for music was born in me then, and I excelled despite not finding teachers who understood how to teach me.” Excel he did! Jeremy learned to play technically difficult piano masterpieces by ear, has composed and recorded several albums, and loves to perform to inspire others.
When Jeremy moved to Maryland, he became a star at the Maryland Conservatory of Music. His teacher says, “Jeremy is completely selfless, and inspires all those he meets more than anyone I have ever known because of his character, his work ethic and his unbelievable ability as a pianist and musician. You can hear a pin drop when he plays; the audience is so drawn in by the nuance and sound that he brings out of the piano.”
Now Jeremy is majoring in musical performance and piano at Towson University, en route to becoming a music professor himself on the university level. Jeremy says, “I have a lot to share and it’s my duty to use my gifts and talents to serve others.” We can see why his teacher described him as “completely selfless!”
Harry G. Starr Endowed Scholarship: Jenny Lyon
Jen, who is a junior at St. Joseph College studying social work, tells us that her earliest passion was also music, playing the piano at age three. She went on to write poetry at six and parlayed poems into songs at 12. She found creative outlets for her challenges then; and today, she looks to a career in social work as a means of helping others overcome their challenges.
Jen explains, “Some people view me as disabled first, then see my strengths and abilities. I see others’ strengths first until finding their challenges. Changing society's acceptance of differences inspired my desire to be a social worker.”
A professor who oversaw Jen’s field work at the Institute for the Hispanic Family, says, “Because Jen is without vision, she incorporates the true meaning of social work, advocacy and justice when she speaks out against discrimination and challenges. I have been especially impressed with her commitment to the betterment of mankind.” That’s quite an ambitious goal, but we’re confident that Jen can make a big difference!
Syde Hurdus President’s Award: Whitney Nimipattana
After graduating with a perfect 4.0 grade point average from Midwood High School in Brooklyn, Whitney is on her way to Harvard this fall. It’s the first step in pursuing her dream: To become one of the few renowned female physicists of her age.
Whitney has always looked for big challenges. In high school, she took Advanced Placement calculus and physics classes; entered New York City inter-scholastics Math League competitions; and founded her school physics club. “College,” she says, “is the place where I will now be able to gain the knowledge I need to sate my curiosities. Hopefully, I will become an astrophysicist one day and discover new galaxies; or perhaps a theoretical physicist and participate in the search for the elusive Higgs boson.” Whitney will have to tell us what that is!
Last summer, Whitney took on different challenges in the Lighthouse summer transition program at Columbia University, where she lived in a dorm and learned how to cook, get around safely on her own and how to shine in an interview. She says, “I came into the program as a slightly sheltered child and I exited with important skills I need in life.” Her life will, no doubt, shine as bright as the galaxies she hopes to discover!