Amanda Baker – College Bound Award
Blind since the age of 5, Amanda Baker cannot see with her eyes, but her high school librarian says she “sees with understanding and a commitment to learning unmatched in any student I have met in 10 years.” At Farmingdale High School on Long Island, Amanda takes honors and AP classes and has been so successful, with a current GPA of 97, that she is graduating a year early. She is extremely sociable with a quick wit, and her critical thinking makes her a valuable asset to classroom group work. Her excellent organizational and time management skills allowed Amanda to be part of the Science Olympiad and Varsity Swimming for two years and active in the History Club, the Key Club, National Honors Society and the Spanish Honors Society. She is a prolific reader/listener with more than 300 books to her credit since October 2009. Amanda hopes to use what she learns in college to lessen the unequal treatment of people with a disability.
Hannah Chadwick-Dias – College Bound Award
This extraordinary young woman, now 20, grew up in two worlds: southern China and northern California. An abandoned infant who was found by a caring older couple she called her grandparents, Hannah lived with them in their small farming village until age nine. When they discovered that Hannah was visually impaired and was not allowed to attend school, they sent her to an orphanage so she could have an education. There she was adopted, some three years later, by a visiting American family who took her home to California. Although Hannah came to reading late, she developed a passion for literature and writing. In her freshman year at Arcata High School her essay on education for all children won an award and in 2011 she won first prize in a Braille essay contest. In her last two years her grades were all A’s, with one exception, a B+. Hannah has traveled extensively and independently as well as with her family. Having graduated early from high school, Hannah returned to China as a volunteer at an orphanage for the blind. She has been an excellent tutor and teacher, thanks to her engaging personality and nimble intelligence. Hannah’s dream is to continue her education so she can help improve human rights and education for children with disabilities around the world.
Nathan Bullock – Undergraduate Award
A freshman at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Nathan Bullock has been blind since birth. Due to Norrie Disease, which caused his blindness, Nathan also began to lose his hearing in his sophomore year in high school. His strong work ethic, persistence and intellectual integrity have made him a role model for his peers and an inspiration to adults. At age 14 Nathan shared a passion of his with a group of underprivileged students when he taught them to play drums and to make a drum as well. Without vision and with limited hearing, Nathan showed them how to rise above circumstances. When a senior at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, Nathan decided the school needed a website and he proceeded to create one that is fully functional and completely accessible to the blind or visually impaired. He did all this without sighted help or funding. He built a desktop computer for his mother with all the bells and whistles and has refurbished several donated computers for blind students who could not afford to buy one. He was selected on two occasions from nationwide groups of visually impaired students: once to participate in a summer robotics computer camp and also to be part of a band of totally blind musicians. In a summer job for a dentist, Nathan compiled and entered insurance data for the practice. He has also transcribed material into Braille, developed PowerPoint presentations, and taught faculty and students how to use Braille Note Takers and other technology. This remarkable young man is interested in going on to Master’s level study of assistive technology.
Kristina Constant – Graduate Award
A second year Masters student at Teachers College of Columbia University, Kristina Constant is studying to be a teacher of the visually impaired. Her instructors describe her as highly motivated, with exceptional ability in the acquisition and use of literary Braille and Nemeth code of Mathematics. Because of her fluency, Kristina was asked to tutor fellow graduate students who had great difficulty in achieving competency in literary Braille or Nemeth code. Kristina enjoys teaching, demonstrating patience and providing support and encouragement. She says she chose her career goal because she feels strongly about the lack of teachers of the visually impaired who are fluent in literary Braille and Nemeth code. When she lost her eyesight to Retinitis Pigmentosa, Kristina felt alone in her school because she was the only one with visual impairment. She was deterred from pursuing a career in mathematics because no one at her school knew about Nemeth, which Kristina learned for the first time in graduate school. As a teacher of the visually impaired who is blind, Kristina feels she can directly relate to the students to whom she imparts the skills necessary for academic and individual independence in the sighted world. What’s more, Kristina plans on holding these students to high expectations. Committed to volunteering and community service, Kristina has lobbied in Washington and Boston, served on the state board of the National Federation of the Blind in Massachusetts (where she went to college), received the Gold Award in Girl Scouts (equivalent to Eagle Scout), and lectures on the history of Braille. Kristine hopes to inspire her students to become involved in both extracurricular activities and community service and to pursue careers including science, math, engineering and technology.
Daniel Price – Judy Van Nostrand Award
Daniel Price says that music has been the one constant in his life. Blind since his first year, Daniel also had to deal with Asperger’s, which he has largely overcome by memorizing his social cues. A teacher describes him as disciplined, focused and determined to make the best use of his time. Ambitious, he strives to excel at everything he does by setting high standards for himself and doing whatever is necessary to achieve his goals. At Maryland School for the Blind, Daniel is senior class president and lead guitarist for the school’s jazz band. After a slow start with reading, Daniel became proficient in Braille, and in time creative writing became a hobby and Spanish a strong interest. As he matured so did his musical abilities. He won several guitar competitions in the Baltimore area and a five-week scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Daniel has been accepted for a Bachelor of Music program. He hopes to pursue a degree in performance and songwriting with a minor in Latin music. Daniel chose Berklee because of its emphasis on personal ability and achievement instead of sight reading, a skill he cannot obtain. His dream is within his reach, but he badly needs the Judy Van Nostrand Award so he can grasp it.
Jeffrey Gazzara – Henry G. Starr Award
Jeffrey Gazzara’s high school guidance counselor remembers the day nine years ago when Jeffrey told her he wanted to become a doctor. When this young man became blind at age 12 because of Retinitis Pigmentosa, he refused to let his visual impairment dominate his life. During high school he was a varsity football player and sprinter and twice won the New Jersey High School Bench Press Championship. He was valedictorian of his high school class and graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in biochemistry and a minor in classical studies. At Penn, Jeffrey was a work-study student in a physiology lab focusing on muscular dystrophy. As his lab supervisor attests, he contributed to three significant papers in peer-reviewed journals. For his senior thesis project Jeffrey worked on a challenging assignment to block cellular apoptosis in a failing heart, which could be used to prevent complete heart failure. This too resulted in publication, with Jeffrey as co-author. In summary, his supervisor called Jeffrey a person of intellectual and personal integrity and accomplishment. Each summer at Penn Jeffrey volunteered as a nursing aid at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and at a camp for blind children. In January 2012 Jeffrey was accepted to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He now hopes to realize his dream of becoming a physician so he can bring good to a troubled world every day.
Daniel Gillen – Syde Hurdus President’s Award
Blind since birth, Daniel Gillen is a graduating senior at New York’s Beacon School with a GPA of 3.80. Daniel will be attending Haverford College where he plans to study astrophysics, which he hopes will help him become one of the first blind astronauts or space passengers. In college Daniel wants his scientific studies to be complementary to his liberal arts background. His passion for music began with his first piano lesson at age 6 and was nurtured by 11 years of study at the Lighthouse Music School. His piano solo received a perfect score at the NY State School Music Association Festival and he performed at Carnegie Hall in the Young Musicians Concert on May 13. He plays with the West African Percussion Ensemble at his school and for three years has been a student at Jacques d’Amboise’s National Dance Institute. Another passion is geography. Since age 8, Daniel has been creating tactile maps of local and global regions, a skill that no doubt contributed to his winning his school’s National Geographic Geography Bee for two years in a row. The accomplishment of which Daniel is proudest is his third-place win in the 2011 National Braille Challenge promoting Braille literacy and excellence among blind youth in North America. He was also 1 of 28 teens selected by the NY State Commission for the Blind to attend the week-long NY State Leadership Conference in August 2011. He has volunteered at The Jewish Guild for the Blind and has been a volunteer tutor and Braille technology consultant. A social worker with the NYC Department of Education who specializes in students with special needs and who has known Daniel for 12 years describes him as “by far the most interesting, talented and moral adolescent that I have ever known.” The Syde Hurdus President’s Award will help an extraordinary young man to pursue his dreams.