Purdue Today

March 20, 2008

Focus Awards honor contributions to disability accessibility, diversity

Initiative and dedication for outstanding contributions to disability accessibility and diversity were honored recently with Focus Awards.

The awards, given on the West Lafayette campus each March during the state's Disability Awareness Month, recognized students, faculty and staff.

The Affirmative Action Office and Office of the Vice President for Human Relations sponsor the awards and an annual reception at which they are presented.

For 2008, the theme was "Attitude is Everything" and the speaker at the reception was Purdue sophomore Brandon Scott, a communication major from Indianapolis. Though having only slight amounts or arm or leg, Scott is a competitive swimmer.

He is close to the qualifying time in the 50-meter backstroke for the 2012 Paralympics in London.

Scott recited a poem titled "It's All a State of Mind" that he learned as a member of the wrestling team at Lawrence North High School. When he sustained a major ankle injury and had to stop wrestling, he became a manager.

Still, his teammates pulled him into their traditional pile as they recited the poem together.

"That's when I learned what the poem really means," he said. He soon turned his competitive fire to swimming. Reciting the poem before his races, he placed sixth in his first international competition.

"As long as a person has the right state of mind and attitude, they can do anything they want," he said.

Alysa Christmas Rollock, vice president for human relations, presented the awards, noting how often honorees say they were just doing what they do.

"We need to lift you up so the rest of the campus and Indiana can recognize the possibilities," she said.

The awards were:
* Student. Chelsea Koch, a senior in health sciences (pre-occupational therapy) from Warrick County near the Ohio River; and Jamie Sommers, a senior in materials engineering from Indianapolis.

For several years, both have been service providers for students with disabilities through what is now the Disability Resource Center. They attend classes and take notes. Koch has also been a reader and tutor.

"When I heard of this, I thought it was a great job, getting paid to learn," she said after the ceremony.
"And we meet such great people," Sommers added.

* Faculty. The award went to a research group of which Brad Duerstock is principal investigator on a nearly $300,000 National Science Foundation grant for 2005-08.

In its AccessScope project, the team explored and devised ways to make bright field microscopes accessible for persons with mobility- and vision-related disabilities. Such microscopes are standard in university-level research in life and physical sciences, said Duerstock, assistant research professor at the Center for Paralysis Research.

The microscopes are controlled by computers and thus adaptable, he said, and the view is displayed on a monitor.

Others on the team were:
Richard Borgens, the Mari Hulman George Professor of Applied Neuroscience and director of the center.
John Cirillo, electronics/computer specialist at the center.
J. Paul Robinson, professor of cytomics.
Wamiq Ahmed, a former graduate student with Robinson now working in basic medical sciences.
Ala Samarapungavan, professor and associate head of educational studies.

* Staff. Rob Mate, assistant dean of students; and Gail Polles, disabilities service consultant in the Student Health Center (PUSH).

The two observed that students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often needed help coping with college life. They developed Make It Happen, a coaching group and strategy for academic, social and personal growth.

Polles was not able to attend.

Numerous offices at Purdue co-sponsor the March 4 reception, whose emcee was Diana Prieto, AAO director.

Prieto summed up the event, "The awards today speak to the remarkable work being done by many on this campus."