Use a chainsaw while wearing a blindfold.
Would you do it?
The program debuted in 2010 with a cohort of 16 students from around the nation. Twenty-six students are able to be involved this year, including Stacy Jena and Bryan Moles from NIU.
“It provides an opportunity like none other,” Jena said, “and I am very thankful that Dr. Kapperman encouraged us (NIU vision students) to check it out.”
Connecting passionate education students with the resources and knowledge they will need to succeed in helping students who are blind is the goal of the program.
The program includes interactive workshops, mentoring opportunities, teaching opportunities, professional development, advocacy and an abundance of resources they can use.
Workshops will allow the education students to learn new technologies, meet with individuals who are blind who want to share their life experiences, and advocate for issues with NFB in Washington, D.C.
Mentors such as a current teacher of blind students, an adult who is blind or a parent of a child who is blind will ensure the students in the program get a first-hand perspective.
Students will be involved in the program over the course of the year, attending workshops over various weekends all across the country while still taking classes at their respective colleges and universities.
Jena is able “to travel to Baltimore, Md., Washington, D.C., Dallas, Texas, and Ruston, La. I am most excited to go to Dallas and Ruston because they are new cities to me, and I will have opportunities to make connections that I could not get without this program.”
Jena and Moles are working toward their master’s degrees in the Special Education Visual Disabilities program with an emphasis on both Orientation and Mobility and Teacher of Visually Impaired.
Choosing NIU was easy for them because they had heard of the great reputation of the Visual Disabilities program.
The program’s “incredibly impressive financial support was a huge boon as well,” Moles added. “I wanted to learn how Dr. Kapperman and the Vision Department had all these grants and how I could learn to do it myself.”
After admittance into the program, they still agree that it is exceptional and provides support and a sense of community.
“My professors and teachers work hard to foster a sense of community and professional collectivism between not only our cohorts but with them as well,” Moles said. “There is no doubt in any of our minds that the entire department is very much invested in our education and professional development.”
Jena’s NIU career has been influenced by Sharon Wyland, her undergraduate adviser: “[She] always encouraged me to keep going and never to lose sight of what I wanted to do.”
Both students want to teach and positively affect students’ lives.
Along with working in the Chicago Public Schools, Moles would like to spend summer “working in Kyrgyzstan, where I volunteered with the Peace Corps for two years. We have some pretty big dreams we are going to try and make happen.”
“It was, honestly, a life-changing experience that eludes any attempt to define it in words. Four days a week I worked with my counterparts from the local villages to run lessons from 5th grade through 11th. The classrooms didn’t have much, but we figured out what we could,” he said.
“In the afternoons two or three days a week I would head into Osh, the nearest city, to the neighborhood where the residential school for the blind was housed in a converted kindergarten building. This was my first experience working with students with visual impairments,” he added. “The teachers at the school had not had any formal education on what to do, either; we had to figure out what worked and what didn’t through trial and error. Most days it was a great experience, but I have to admit that some days it was hard figuring everything out, on top of the language barriers.”
Moles has high hopes that his NIU degree, in combination with the Teacher of Tomorrow program, will enable him to help students both in Kyrgyzstan and the United States.
“I hope to create more enrichment opportunities for students with visual impairments. These experiences prove invaluable in the education process and cultivate a thirst for knowledge,” he said.
“No one organization or pedagogical philosophy has everything ‘right’ so it is important to educate yourself from a variety of theories and from that pick what you want to use.”
Jena looks forward to the “experiences that I cannot get in the classroom. I will have hands-on opportunities to interact with students, parents, and professionals who are visually impaired.”
She already has experienced one workshop, where she used a chainsaw while blindfolded. “IT was much easier and less frightening than I thought it would be,” she said.
by Sarah Fraser