Abigail Lanier, Mentor Coordinator

Blindness, like many other disabilities, is often viewed as a negative characteristic for members of our society. Although it continues to create numerous obstacles in Abigail Lanier’s life, she chooses to consider it a positive quality about herself. Diagnosed at age four with Retinitis Pigmentosa, she lives with a gradual deterioration of her retina, viewing the world through an ever changing lens of colors and foggy shapes.

Abigail attributes much of her philosophy and positive attitude towards her disability to her mother, an educator and interpreter for the deaf. Her mother’s support and motivation to advocate for herself have prompted Abigail to achieve goals others might deem unattainable. Learning to view her disability as merely a portion of her identity is one of the many valuable lessons her mother has taught her.

A transplant to New York from North Carolina, Abigail strives to educate the public on persons with disabilities through her hobbies and work. She received a BS in Music Industry Studies and a minor in General Business from Appalachian State University in May of 2014. Abigail divides her time at Learning Ally among serving as the College Success Program’s mentorship coordinator, contributing her skills with audio and recording to the production process of Learning Ally’s audio books and mentoring students. She is interested in audio production for journalistic podcasts, and was a 2014 New Voices Scholar at the Third Coast Audio Conference in Chicago. As a long distance runner, she is a member of Achilles International, an organization promoting mainstream athletics for people with disabilities. She has competed in several national half and whole marathons and triathlons. Often people are surprised at how she lives such an active lifestyle, and she hopes to teach others that the quality of life for a person with a disability should never be viewed as less than that of an able bodied person. Abigail faces the challenges of living with a disability by living life to the fullest.


Kristen Witucki

Kristen Witucki, Curriculum and Content Editor

Kristen Witucki has been totally blind since birth. She earned her BA in English with a minor in German and certification to teach English to secondary students. She earned Masters degrees in gifted education, teaching students who are blind or visually impaired and creative writing. Reading and writing are her passion, and she tries to carve out time for both. She has written several nonfiction articles about motherhood as a blind person. Her first book, The Transcriber, was published by Gemmamedia Press, and her novel, Outside Myself, is forthcoming in Spring, 2018 thanks to Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and her two young sons.


Alicia Ucciferri

Alicia Ucciferri

Alicia is a 25-year-old native of New Jersey who currently resides in Texas. She discovered her love of singing and expressive arts at a fairly young age, and grew up involved in numerous choirs and theatrical productions. She received her BMUS in voice from the Houghton College Greatbatch School of Music in 2014 with non-music elective studies in linguistics and minors in Spanish, French and intercultural studies. She went on to obtain her MA in applied linguistics, and hopes to combine her love of singing with her love of linguistics by working in both capacities in the Middle East. Relating with people is one of her favorite things in the world, and so she is incredibly excited to get to do that as a mentor with the Learning Ally College Success Program!


 

Amanda Baker

Amanda is currently attending the university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is a Masters student in Information Science and Digital Data Curation. She received her Bachelor's degree in Mathematics and History at Binghamton University. She is currently pursuing research in freely available textbooks internationally and the quality of these resources. Moreover, she has served many lead roles on both campuses as the Vice-President of Academic Affairs of her Student Association at Binghamton as well as the President of the Special Libraries Association at UNC. Outside of school, Amanda loves to cook, read, and especially go horseback riding and rock climbing. Blindness to me has never been something I necessarily define myself as. It is a large component of my life but I never allowed it to be the most memorable part of me. I feel that blindness is merely another way to perceive life and nothing can ever be out of reach to overcome regardless of one’s ability.


Brianna Murray

Brianna Murray

I am Brianna Murray, and I am currently finishing my last semester in graduate school. My Bachelor's is in psychology with a minor in English, while my Master's is in clinical mental health counseling. I currently work for Learning Ally as a mentor in the college success program, and as a counselor intern for Vocational Rehabilitation. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing, playing the violin, and spending time with my guide dog. I have a black lab from Guide Dog Foundation named Hopps who has a ton of energy. When I graduate in December I plan to obtain my clinical health counseling license, and find a permanent counseling position.


Brilynn Rakes

Brilynn Rakes

Brilynn grew up in the small town of Visalia, California. She found her passion for dance and dance performance at age 8 and has been studying and performing ever since. Brilynn has studied classical ballet, pointe, pas de deux, Horton, Graham, Limon, contemporary, jazz, improvisation, and West African dance. She was invited to participate in the New York City Finals of the international ballet competition, Youth American Grand Prix in 2012 and 2013. Brilynn was also the AT&T Spotlight Performer on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars; she performed alongside Emmy nominated dancer and choreographer, Derek Hough. Brilynn moved to New York City for her undergraduate education and is a recent cum laude graduate from Fordham University where she earned a BFA in Dance from the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program and a BA in Communications and Media Studies.


Bryan Duarte

I was born and raised in Arizona and continue to reside in the Phoenix metro area. I recently graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Software Engineering focused on embedded systems and network security. After some serious consideration and a lengthy application process I was admitted into a Ph.D. of Computer Science program. As a Ph.D. candidate I applied for a National Science Foundation fellowship which awards students with tuition, medical insurance, conference travel, as well as an annual stipend to assist in conducting research and development in the STEM fields. I was selected to be an Alliance for Person-centered Accessible Technology fellow.

In 2015 I was a National Federation of the Blind national scholarship winner from Arizona. I currently am the president of the Arizona Student Division. During the 2016 National Convention, I was elected to serve as a Board Member of the National Association of Blind Students and am excited to continue serving blind students of America through the Learning Ally mentoring program.


Caitlin Mongillo

Caitlin Mongillo is a social worker and program director at an unemployment agency in Bridgeport, CT. Currently, Caitlin works with people with disabilities and homeless families to assist them in accessing training, resources and education to assist in attaining steady employment. Caitlin received her MSW in 2013 from Stony Brook University, and her BA in English and secondary education in 2010 from Manhattanville College.

Caitlin spends her free time reading, writing, and hanging out with family and friends. She loves to travel and learn new things. She is excited to share her educational journey with the next generation of blind students and hopes that her experiences, both good and bad, will be able to help other students as they progress through higher education.


Emilie Gossiaux

Emilie Gossiaux

Emilie Louise Gossiaux is an artist and educator from New Orleans. She received her BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art in 2014, where she studied sculpture, drawing, sound, and performance art. Upon graduating, she was hired as a Contractual Museum Educator for Access and Community programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She teaches a class called “Seeing Through Drawing”, a studio class for visitors with visual impairments, and has led cross-sensory gallery talks for general audiences. As a practicing artist, Gossiaux has shown her work in several galleries and institutions across the world, including Pippy Holdsworth Gallery in London, Storefront Lab in San Francisco, False Flags in Long Island City, Sculpture Center in New York, and the Smithsonian Institute of Art in Washington D.C. Gossiaux was accepted into Yale University MFA sculpture program and begin her graduate studies in the Fall semester of 2017. She lives in New Haven, CT with her seeing eye dog, London.


Emily Vasile

Emily Vasille

Born with a cataract in her left eye and later on diagnosed with glaucoma, Emily never let her visual impairment define her ability to succeed.

Emily Vasile is an instructor and administrator in higher education, teaching specifically in a program for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments and also in the field of blindness and low vision studies. Emily received her MS in Low Vision Rehabilitation from Salus University, her MAT in Special Education from The College of New Jersey, and her BS in Elementary Education and Psychology also from The College of New Jersey.

In her free time, Emily enjoys hiking, yoga, mindfulness, exploring, reading, singing (in two different choirs), and making art.


Glenn Dausch

Glenn Dausch

Glenn Dausch is an Assistive Technology Specialist and Usability Consultant living in New York. He received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dowling College. While he doesn't see blindness as a barrier, he recognizes that no two people experience life the same way.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, reading and playing the guitar. He is looking forward to sharing his experiences both as a student and as a university disability services administrator with the College Success Program.


Irwin Ramirez

Irwin Ramirez

I hold a Master’s degree in Computer Science from SUNY Polytechnic Institute and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from CUNY – Zicklin School of business from New York. The way people and technology intertwine is interesting to me. I want to be involved in leveraging technology, not only to conduct business activities, but as a support to decision making that advances the business.

I currently work for the 3M Consumer Business Group (CBG) Web Services Team. In my role, I support 3M’s Consumer Business Group with overall marketing initiatives with search engine optimization (SEO), accessibility, analytic reporting, industry research, and dashboarding. In the past, I worked at the American Foundation for the Blind and at National Industries for the Blind.

My visual impairment is not what defines me, but it has influenced the things I do. I totally believe that we set our own limits of what we are fully capable of. My eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa, started to develop at adolescence. I’ve adapted and continue to adapt to my eye condition in constant change.


James Boehm

Determination and mission summarize James Boehm’s way of life. Since becoming blind in 2010, James has continually challenged himself, not allowing his loss of vision to keep him from the many available opportunities in this new chapter of his life. Mr. Boehm, former automotive restyling business owner of 15 years, now uses his experience with customization and design in his new enterprise, Kustom Cane. He designs and personalizes mobility canes, dog harnesses, and other accessories such as protectant and charms to sell on KustomCane.com. In 2012, James began furthering his education at MTSU with the intention of acquiring a masters degree in psychology; in turn, Mr. Boehm’s goals include becoming a clinical counselor to empower others using his own experience with vision loss, helping others to see that life has not ended, but has just begun. James graduated in May 2016 with Magna Cum Laude honors and with his bachelors in psychology, minoring in social work and mental health counseling. James was accepted into a very competitive program at Peabody of Vanderbilt University to continue his clinical counseling track.

James is an active member in his community and in the NFB, serving as president of his local Nashville chapter. James started the Tennessee Association of Guide Dog Users in 2013, serves as secretary of the Tennessee NFB affiliate and participates in many advocacy initiatives throughout the nation. Mr. Boehm’s mission is to demonstrate and emphasize that with the appropriate education, attitude, and training, blindness is a characteristic, not a disability, and it should be embraced as one lives a fulfilling life. Blindness does not limit-low expectations do! We can live the life we want and be strong contributors to society.


Katie Shelton

Kaiti Shelton

Kaiti Shelton is from Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently resides in Cleveland. She attended the University of Dayton where she studied music therapy with a minor in psychology. After completing her music Therapy internship, she hopes to become a Board-Certified Music Therapist and work in educational settings with children who have disabilities. Kaiti was involved with the College Success Program as a mentee during the Spring 2015 semester, and found the guidance she received from her mentor to be helpful. When not practicing one of the many instruments she plays in her music therapy sessions, Kaiti enjoys reading.


Kristin Barnes

Kristin Barnes

My name is Kristin Barnes Hamer and I am 23 years old. I am visually impaired and do not have any central vision meaning that I only use my peripheral vision to navigate through life. I graduated from North Greenville University in 2016 with a psychology degree and I am currently working on my master’s degree in social work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I have been using Learning Ally since I was in elementary school and it has enhanced my learning experience in a great way. I will graduate with this degree in May and I would love to have a career as an advocate for individuals with disabilities.


Megan Dausch

Megan Dausch is an advocate, a perpetual learner, teacher, cook and technology enthusiast who loves to read and write. She received her bachelor’s degree from Manhattanville College, where she studied English, Spanish and French. She holds a Master’s degree in Language and Literacy from The City College of New York. She currently teaches adaptive technology. College is often a time of challenge, transition and joyful exploration. Megan enjoys being a part of the College Success program and supporting students through their journeys in higher education.


Melissa Deroche

Melissa D. Deroche, Ph.D., LPC-S, LMFT

Melissa earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Education in Human Services Counseling from the University of New Orleans. She has over fifteen years of experience working as a professional counselor in community-based and rehabilitation agencies; a state psychiatric hospital; and a private practice. Melissa recently earned her Ph.D. in Counselor Education, and she is currently pursuing her goal of becoming a professor. Melissa attributes her success to her advocacy skills, support system, personal and professional mentors, her tenacity, and her multiple guide dogs. In her spare time, Melissa enjoys hanging out with family and friends, making jewelry, reading, and hiking.


Mike Dinoski

Mike Dinoski

Hello! I'm a recent graduate of Five Towns College's Business Management program with a concentration in audio recording technology. I dabbled in many forms of art while in school, such as film, theater, and music. I'd like to consider myself a generalist, and I try to stay as well versed as I can with all different kinds of fields and passions.

For those curious, I have had my visual impairment since early childhood. I am completely blind in one of my eyes, and am legally blind in the other. I have a plethora of experiences when it comes to being accommodated, ranging from positive to quite negative. As such, I am well practiced in the method of advocating for myself on behalf of my disability, and I'm eager to share that knowledge and experience with any who may need it!


Miso Kwak

Miso Kwak

Miso graduated from University of California, Los Angeles, with a B.A. in Psychology and double minor in Education Studies and Disability Studies. Miso proudly identifies not only as a blind person, but also as a 1.5 generation immigrant Korean-American, because she believes that these aspects of her identity positively shaped her work ethic. Miso’s long-term goal is to improve educational opportunities for students with disability, so she is excited to work as a mentor for the College Success Program. In her free time, she enjoys playing the flute and spending time with family and friends.


Rachel Grider

Rachel Grider

Rachel Grider is from Modesto, California. She graduated from California State University Stanislaus in June of 2011 with a BM degree in vocal performance and composition, and from Peabody Conservatory in 2013 with MM degrees in Voice Performance and Music Theory Pedagogy. She is currently teaching music at Gottschalk Music Center and performing free-lance. She plans to continue her education in choral conducting. Grider is a member of Sigma Alpha Iota and Py Kappa Lambda.


Rashad Jones

Rashad Jones is a native of Columbus, Georgia (where he currently resides), and is the 2nd oldest of 4 siblings. In May of 2015, he completed a Bachelor of Music in Music Education (Choral-Voice) from the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University. As a self-proclaimed people person, Rashad can often be found enjoying a nice conversation with close friends and family members, while relaxing in the comfort of his home. He enjoys attending church where he serves as minister of music, traveling, interacting with people, and helping others whenever possible!


Stephanie Zundel

Stephanie Zundel

My name is Stephanie Zundel and I have a black Labrador retriever Seeing Eye dog named Marley. I am from New Jersey and I have three younger siblings. I have a bachelor of science degree in Child Studies from Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt University, I also minored in special education and sociology. I am currently in the master's program for Human Development Counseling (school track) at Vanderbilt University. My passion is working with children and animals. I absolutely love to exercise! It helps me to relax and relieve my stress. I recently ran the New York City and Boston marathons with Achilles International Nashville. I have my junior and senior black belts in White Tiger Kempo and I have been boxing since the age of ten. I am so excited to be a mentor for college students with visual impairments! I believe that educating and advocating are the key factors to having a successful college experience.


Tabitha Brecke

Tabitha Brecke

Tabitha Brecke graduated from Auburn University in May 2016 with a Ph.D. in adult education. She currently works as an accommodation specialist in the Office of Accessibility at Auburn. Prior to returning to school, she worked in the rehabilitation field as a rehabilitation teacher and counselor and supervisor. She received master’s degrees from the University of Arkansas Little Rock in rehabilitation of the blind/teaching and rehabilitation counseling. The achievement of goals by students or clients that they previously thought impossible, is the aspect of her career that she enjoys the most.

Tabitha has many hobbies including reading, knitting, weaving, playing harp and singing. She is a member of the American Association of Blind Teachers, an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, and is the secretary of that organization.


Zachary Mason

I grew up on a dairy farm in northern New Hampshire. The use of my right eye was completely lost and that of my left was severely reduced at the age of four from a brain tumor. Despite what many would consider a setback at such a tender age, my blindness never stopped my love for or involvement in animal husbandry. My life was not determined by my disability, but rather by my involvement in my county and state 4-H livestock extension programs.

After graduating high school as salutatorian, I went on to study Animal Science at Cornell University. At Cornell I participated in many organizations such as the Cornell Dairy Science, Cheese, and Food Science clubs; in addition to becoming a member of the Alpha Zeta honors agricultural fraternity. I also belonged to the Cornell Dairy Fellows Program; a curriculum within the Animal Science department, which is well-known for training the future leaders of the dairy industry. Presently I am a master’s student at Mississippi State University in the department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.

I have a passion for problem solving, farm families and agriculture as a whole. I have also come to realize through multiple experiences and by meeting many exemplary blind professionals that the limiting factor to one’s success is not accessibility, but rather ingenuity and flexibility.