2022 Student Spotlight: Saree Behm

Saree Behm leaning on a metal railing

Council scholarship recipient Saree Behm has been adapting all her life. Born in China, she was adopted from an orphanage at age 6. Saree never attended school while she was in China. She entered first grade in Janesville. While she spoke no English, “I was pretty quick to learn the language,” she says. She also remembers that even at the start of her U.S. education, she was fortunate to be surrounded by caring teachers and specialists.

“I had a wonderful classroom teacher and a great special teacher who helped me to deal with my vision loss all my years in public school,” Saree says.

Now in her junior year at UW-Whitewater, the Dean’s List student continues to adapt and to be resilient—in both her student life and her personal life. COVID cost her family dearly. During October of her freshman year, both her parents contracted the virus. Her mother endured mild symptoms and recovered. “But my dad got really sick and had to be hospitalized,” Saree says. After 19 days in the hospital, the last seven on a ventilator, her father died.

While she still grieves, the experience caused her to take stock of her life and her goals. Saree entered college intending to become a teacher. She believes that if her father had survived, she would have stayed with that plan…and that it would have been a mistake. She caught that mistake when her self-inventory revealed deeper desires.

“I changed my degree,” she says. “I loved making lesson plans and working with the kids, but I wanted to do it as a job, not for a career.” Saree is now in a corporate health management major.

While the change in major pushed her graduation date further into the future, her decision is an example of Saree’s ability to adapt her plans and follow through on them. She’s known on the Whitewater campus for helping fellow students do the same.

“Her eagerness to learn is easy to see in her lively and curious personality,” says former UW-Whitewater Students with Disabilities staffer Janet Ley. “Saree has served as a campus assistant and frontline ambassador for our campus and works well with students of all ages.” Ley adds that the Council made a wise choice in supporting Saree with a scholarship. “I believe the best investment of scholarship money is with students who have already proven themselves successful in a university environment.”

When asked what advice she would give to a student with a disability who is considering going to college, Saree says, “Remember why you want to go to college. Look at the long-term goal. Don’t make drastic decisions based on what you’re feeling in the moment.”

Saree is grateful for the Council’s scholarship support. “It’s helped me tremendously,” she says. “It’s helped my confidence. It’s helped me pay off debt. As a student with a visual disability, I needed more help with adaptive technology and just paying off the expenses in general. It also came in handy when I changed my major. I so appreciate it and I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”

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