Scholarships for the Hearing Impaired

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

Being deaf affects one’s opportunities and one’s ability to live and function in society. One of the most unique institutions in the United States serving the hearing impaired is Gallaudet University, an undergraduate and graduate school located in Washington, DC, that only accepts deaf students and whose staffs and teachers are also deaf.

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Rotary district 7620 has been giving scholarships to students in need to facilitate their attendance at the university. Pat Kasuda, a past District Governor from the Catonsville Rotary Club and a recipient of the Service above Self Award from Rotary International, has served on the Gallaudet University board for the last 15 years. Together with other Rotarians, she has helped raise funds for the Rotary-Gallaudet scholarship fund. The aim has been to collect $500,000 for scholarships, an objective that is close to being met. The first scholarship was presented in 1976 to Vera Confectiones from India, who is now a software designer and developer at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory operated by the University of California and the U.S. Department of Energy. Since then 147 more students have benefitted from the fund.

This year, on March 12, 2013 during the annual Rotary Day at Gallaudet, eight more scholarships were given to four American and four international students. Over 60 Rotarians attended and toured Gallaudet’s Student Academic Center, including the Student Tutorial Center, to which the Rotary contributed over $65,000, and saw an ASL (American Sign Language) and deaf culture presentation by Department of ASL and Deaf Studies Professor Benjamin Bahan.

Pat’s commitment to the project is unwavering but when she first heard about the idea she thought that this might not be a good fit for her. When asked how she got involved, she laughed and explained that a Rotarian friend had recommended her to join the board and she got hooked. As she puts it, “all cultures should be shared and heard and the deaf culture is no different”. Her advice to Rotarians is to serve but also to take risks and try out new avenues of service. Even though Pat wasn’t sure that becoming a board member was right for her, she tried it and now she can’t imagine a world without helping students experience the deaf culture.

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

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