2023 was a year of positive change for Lewa Diarra. The two-time Council Scholarship recipient transferred from the University of Minnesota to UW-Madison for her junior year. “I’m really enjoying being back in Madison and being closer to family,” the Madison West High School graduate says.
The switch to Madison included a change in majors as well. On course for a degree in Psychology at Minnesota, Lewa decided to change her major once at UW to Information Science with a certificate in Computer Science. “Information Science is very similar to Computer Science, but focuses more on how people interact with technology,” Lewa explains. “I picked it because I find the subject deeply engaging and interesting. I also want to go into accessibility or cyberlaw, which this degree will help.”
The career path is a good fit. Accessibility and accommodations in school and beyond have been part of Lewa’s education journey since high school. “I had gone through life up to that point rarely asking for help or advocating for myself,” she says. “If something wasn’t working for me, I would keep quiet and try to figure it out for myself.”
“I went into my first semester of college with that toxic mindset,” Lewa continues. “I struggled in my classes, not having asked for all the accommodations I needed. It wasn’t until I got my first batch of grades back that I finally decided things had to change.” What changed was that Lewa began taking control. “I had to start advocating for myself. I went straight to the disability resource center on campus and explained everything to my counselor.” Her advocacy was effective. “I could feel the difference immediately once I had all the accommodations I needed,” she says.
Transferring to UW-Madison was a big change, but some things remained constant for Lewa. One was her love of running. She joined the university’s Track Club. She’s also a member of the African Student Association. “Both groups have helped me make friends that have similar interests and backgrounds and do the things I enjoy,” she says.
What should younger students with visual impairments who are interested in college but feel overwhelmed do? “My advice to those students is to not be afraid to step outside their comfort zones,” Lewa says. “There are so many new opportunities and new people with different perspectives to meet. Being willing to step outside your comfort zone will allow you to grow so much as a person.”