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Kelsi Watters of Cameron, Wisconsin was delighted when she received a Council scholarship in 2012.  She knew this financial support would help her pursue her goal to become a religious counselor.  Now, a second semester freshman at Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, Kelsi is on her way.  She’s taking five classes, working on campus and participating in several extracurricular activities.

“As I was growing up, attending college was always a given.  I liked school, and I knew I wanted to do professional work later.”  Her Mom and her vision and mobility specialist encouraged her throughout grade school and high school—where she graduated with a 3.93 GPA.

Choosing the right school with the right fit was an important process for Kelsi. As part of her research, she checked out three schools in the UW System, as well as Bethany Lutheran College, Bethel University, St. Olaf College and Saint Mary’s University.  “At first, I thought I’d study English at UW-Eau Claire, but the more schools I considered and the more I thought about who I am and what matters to me, the more attracted I became to Saint Mary’s in Winona.  A tour of the campus and conversations with some “wonderful, caring people” plus a Presidential Academic Scholarship all contributed to her final decision.  It’s one that seems ideal for her.

To prepare for college, Kelsi and her vision and mobility specialist had many long talks about the opportunities and responsibilities involved.  She learned a lot about Saint Mary’s from their website and attended an orientation session a few months before classes began.  She familiarized herself with certain places on campus like the chapel, dorm, dining room and her classrooms.  “It was important for me to negotiate the campus sidewalks because they are shaped more like the spokes of a wheel than like the more typical straight sidewalks.”

Kelsi is the first student without vision to attend Saint Mary’s in about 20 years. “I don’t consider myself ‘blind.’  I consider myself a person without vision.”   She feels that the term “blind” implies that one is not paying attention or being open to all the possibilities that exist in spite of one’s vision loss.  She finds the environment at Saint Mary’s to be warm, embracing and inclusive—something her vision and mobility specialist noticed the first time they were together on this campus.  “People there treat me like a normal person, and my white cane isn’t off-putting to them.”

To help her with the academic dimension of college life, Kelsi receives classroom materials in a format that is accessible for her, and she meets regularly with the disability services coordinator.  Teachers and students e-mail WORD documents to her so she can convert them to her BrailleNote.

In addition to her class load and working at the university switchboard, Kelsi is involved in the Saint Theresa Leadership and Service Institute for Women. As a member of this organization, she’s initiating a campus-wide food drive for a local pantry. She sings in the Liturgical Choir, and she’s a member of the Living/Learning Community in her dorm.  Activities of this group center around the “four pillars” of spirituality, wellness, leadership and sustainability.

If all goes as planned, Kelsi may spend her spring break at a L’Arche community in Iowa, working with people who have disabilities.  At the end of the school year, she hopes to attend a 12-day mission trip to Guatemala.

For students without vision who are thinking about college or vocational school, Kelsi offers a few tips:

  • Make sure it’s a place that fits your life and interests, and trust your instincts about the school.
  • Make sure that the school you have in mind offers adequate services for your vision condition.
  • Spend time on the physical campus so you feel confident getting around safely and independently.
  • Seems to us that Kelsi has learned a lot already, and we predict that she has a bright future ahead!

Applications are now being accepted for 2013 scholarships.  The kit is available at:http://wcblind.org/images/pdf_files/2013%20scholarship%20kit%20.pdf.  Application deadline is April 8, 2013.  Recipients will be notified by May 15, and they will receive their scholarships at the Council’s July 20 event in Sparta.