Back to school is especially significant for Carrie Mulderink this year. Carrie was born with Cerebral Palsy and grew up a daddy’s girl in her close knit family in suburban Chicago where she spent many nights watching the Chicago Bulls games with her dad either on TV or at the stadium.
School was always challenging for Carrie both academically and socially due to her disabilities, but she dreamed of going to college. Which college she would go to was a set in stone, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. “I decided to go to SIU because my dad, my mom and my brother all went there and, of course, I wanted to carry on the family tradition.”
Carrie not only faced the normal challenges of college life but also the extra challenges that go along with having a disability, such as relying on a power scooter to get around campus and having to find and hire personal support workers, just to name a few.
“During my college experience I received services through Disability Support Services at SIU and they went above and beyond in helping me get the accommodations that were needed for my success. Accommodations such as note taking, extended testing, and transportation. I honestly can’t say enough about the school and the services that I have received.”
The services provided by DSS at SIU include consultation with instructors, note taking, test proctoring, lab assistants, sign language interpreters or speech to text services, electronic/brailled/large print textbooks and classroom materials, homework and reading assistance referral, advocacy and counseling, housing assessments, and liaison services. During the 2013-2014 school year, DSS provided services to 530 students with disabilities ranging from students with learning disabilities to individuals with mobility issues in need of wheel chairs. In most cases students’ academic successes depends on these services.
Not only does Carrie have positive things to say about SIU Disability Services, but tells us that the students at SIU are “…the most accepting people that I have met. On more than one occasion, my power scooter broke down in the middle of campus, including during one ice storm when the entire town was in a state of emergency. It never fails, even during that ice storm, that students will always stop and help out.”
“The professors are very accepting as well; there is one professor in particular, Dr. Rachel Griffin, who was my favorite. She set the tone in her classroom for acceptance. She has a way of weaving accommodations in and setting up the classroom in a way that no one notices that anyone needs anything different or special.” Dr Rachel Griffin is Carrie’s inspiration to become a professor herself.
When her father passed away suddenly one year over summer break, Carrie’s heart was broken but her spirit and her determination were not. She returned to her studies at SIU, and this May she graduated! Carrie’s mom was beaming as she watched her daughter receive her diploma, but this is not the end of the road for Carrie at SIU. Carrie was named a Graduate Dean’s Fellow and returns this month to continue her higher education in the School of Communications Graduate Program. The fellowship provides a tuition scholarship as well as research and teaching opportunities.
Rita VanPelt, Assistant Director, Disability Support Services with the Dean of Students Office, added, “We are so proud of Carrie’s accomplishments and are excited to have her back at SIU again this year. During Carrie’s first year at SIU, we spent a lot of time with her troubleshooting problems, helping her figure out the campus, setting up services, etc. However, once she was acclimated to the system, she was off and running. She’s a very independent and talented student. I’m sure she’ll be a great professor one day.”
“I want all kids with any type of disability to always have hope. The frustration of living in a world that is physically inaccessible and social excluding is challenging but rely on yourself to get through those tough times and be persistent and you will reach your goals.”
Carrie’s story is inspiring and it can be your story too. You can live in your own house, have a job, go to college, and maybe someday, you will be in the classroom of Professor Carrie Mulderink.