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Winter 2003 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Leading the Way to Success

By Will Conrad, Student, Rice University, Houston, TX
With forward by Ann Adkins, TSBVI Outreach Consultant and Will's former TVI

Forward: Will Conrad, a sophomore at Rice University, is often asked about his experiences as a visually impaired student. Will was one of ten Rice freshmen featured in the spring, 2002 edition of The Sallyport, the Rice alumni magazine, and will be followed by the publication for the next four years. A former TAER Student of the Year Award winner and member of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) LITE (Leadership in Transition with Excellence) Committee, Will's extracurricular activities are as extensive in college as they were as a student at Westlake High School in Austin (Class of 2001). They now include more activities to help prepare him for a career in law. For two summers, he has served as an intern with the State Office of Risk Management (SORM), General Council Division, and he plans to study in Scotland next fall. We have also included some excerpts from a personal letter he wrote for a scholarship application that tell a lot about this young man.

While these articles show some of Will's accomplishments and his "academic side," they can't convey his personality and sense of humor. For example, when he walked off the stage into the orchestra pit after being inducted into the National Junior Honor Society, seventh-grade Will responded to the gasps from the audience with, "Guess I should have used a cane, huh." He refers to his fall off the stage as "his swan dive." As his TVI for five years, I enjoy sharing "Will stories" with my colleagues and other students and parents. One year, on a mission trip to Mexico, he helped the youth group of his church build a fence. Unfortunately, he hammered the arm of the girl working next to him instead of the fence. When I learned that he was taking a girl from his church to the prom, I couldn't resist asking him if he used a hammer to convince her to be his date. It wasn't the same girl, but Will was prepared for my questions, just as he continues to prepare himself for his studies at Rice and his life as a young adult who is visually impaired. His challenges include making the transition from print to Braille, using a cane, mastering complex technology, and learning to be his own advocate-the same challenges faced by many visually impaired students. Being visually impaired is only one aspect of Will's life, however, and only one component of his success. He moves ahead with a sense of humor, as well as excellent skills, and is truly "leading the way to success."

Excerpt from The Sallyport article, "All Roads Lead to Texas":

Will Conrad is truly Texas proud. When another freshman was asked why he decided to come to Texas from the East Coast to attend college, Will piped up, "Because everybody comes to Texas. It's the greatest state. You can't deny it—you're all here!" And Texas isn't the only thing Will's crazy about. "My first semester has been a blast, and I'm really excited about my major, political science."

Will's enthusiasm, confidence, and determination don't necessarily set him apart at Rice - most Rice students are very involved and passionate about their education and their futures. But Will, who is legally blind, has to work just a little bit harder at everything he does, which is what makes his accomplishments - and genuine zeal - so remarkable. From navigating the Rice campus to making sure he gets his books on tape well before each semester begins, Will's got his hands full. But it's not his visual impairment that is posing a challenge this semester - he's been dealing with that since birth - instead, it's the 15 credit hours, 35-page papers, and busy extracurricular schedule.

Will is involved in the Rice College Republican, Reform University Fellowship, the Baker Associate Committee, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship - activities that reflect the strong influence his faith has on his life. He credits a high school mission trip to Juarez, Mexico, with shaping the person he's become. The trip, which included running a vacation Bible school, put his faith into action and established an identity that, he says, "has carried into my groups and friends at Rice."

Will also has put his interest in practicing law into action by serving on University Court, which he says "allows me to get some experience with law while learning about the Rice judicial system and helping the university with discipline." Sounds perfect for someone whose enthusiasm for justice is as big as the state of Texas.

Will wrote the following as a response to a question on a scholarship application:

With my first year at Rice University just completed, I have experienced and learned many new things. Navigating the campus proved no challenge after my first week when I became lost once. Using the knowledge that the cars travel one-way around the intercampus loop, I was able to resolve the situation quickly and return to my dorm. After this experience I had the confidence to not only travel around campus myself, but to provide visitors with directions. The rigorous academics at Rice challenged and stimulated me to seek new knowledge. I have chosen to study the field of political science stemming from courses in high school, and my passion for the subject has only expanded. This excitement about my studies results from the professors and their willingness to spend time with all students. The professors not only invite students to their offices during office hours; they will usually eat lunch in a college where any student may join them. I have had lunch with several professors and we discussed everything from college life to politics. This relationship with my professors promotes self-advocacy for necessary adaptations.

Even though I have made A's at Rice, I have really learned more outside the classroom through participation in extracurricular service activities. Rice University Court represents an activity that I have particularly enjoyed. The Rice U-Court assesses punishment for violations of the code of student conduct, the alcohol policy, and criminal law. We use community service as a means of constructive sentencing. I serve on the court as the vice chair who investigates the different cases. I have worked with the chair of the court to purchase a computer with scanning features so that I can independently read the police reports. I have also served the Rice community by my involvement in the variety of campus ministries. One Tuesday each month I accompany other members of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship to the Palmer Way Station to serve breakfast to the homeless. With Reformed University Fellowship, I plan to take a weeklong mission trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. While on this trip, I will serve not only the Rice community, but also the international community. I have experienced three major benefits from helping others: it makes me feel good, it accomplishes something for the other person, and it helps me grow in my relationship with God.

I have tried to prove to professors, fellow students, and particularly to other handicapped persons, that a blind student can be a leader in academics, school service work, and other community services activities. I believe that I have succeeded. (Editor's Note: We believe you have too, Will!)

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Last Revision: August 25, 2003