The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Vision of success

Butch McCartney

Senior Lisa Hansen doesn’t like taking the easy way out of things.

When she began Karen Havholm’s geology 106 course in spring 2000, prior to a successful corneal transplant, she knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Hansen had been blind since birth, and the heavily visual nature and field components of Havholm’s class would pose unprecedented challenges. Havholm even offered Hansen an alternative to the required course, one that would involve less field work.

Hansen said no way.

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She and Havholm worked together to tackle the challenge of her visual impairments throughout the semester. But their efforts didn’t end there.

They conducted joint research, winning first prize at the university’s Faculty-Student Research Day and eventually presenting their work at the national conference of the Geological Society of America. Hansen currently is working on a related article for the Journal of Geoscience Education.

These efforts, plus her general academic excellence, earned Hansen a spot on USA Today’s All-USA College Academic First Team. Hansen was featured in the national newspaper’s Thursday’s issue, along with 19 of her peers from across the country.

An elementary education major, Hansen is student-teaching sixth-graders at DeLong Middle School and plans to graduate in August. She hopes to eventually earn her doctorate in education and is particularly interested in how cultural, gender and disability issues affect learning.

But, contrary to what many people assume, she doesn’t necessarily want to teach others with visual impairments.

“I’ve always believed that the ability to teach comes from the head and the heart,” Hansen said.

She always has been determined not to let her visual impairments weigh her down. But that can be difficult, she said, not because she doubts herself, but because others sometimes doubt her.

“If someone says I can’t do something, I’ve got to show them they’re wrong,” Hansen said. “I’ve got to make them sorry.”

Hansen’s determined attitude was particularly evident when she lost what was left of her sight after an unsuccessful corneal transplant during her research, Havholm said.

Staying positive after the failed transplant was difficult, Hansen said, but she was determined to get through it. And she did. A successful operation last May allowed Hansen to see more than she ever had before.

“I had to learn to recognize my family by looking at them,” Hansen said. “It’s been so cool, because I never realized what I was missing out on.”

For the first time, Hansen can see stars in the sky, ride a bike and read regular books without enlarged print, she said.

But her dedication remains in helping others with visual impairments.

“She’s always looking for an open door to do something to help others,” said Hansen’s grandmother, Elaine Rueden. “She’s always got the time for anyone (with a disability).”

Teachers can adapt to students with visual impairments in a variety of ways, Hansen said. These range from simple efforts, such as simply offering more in-depth verbal descriptions, to creating tactile maps and diagrams.

This can be done with glue, fabric paint or “wikki stix,” which help students feel maps and diagrams that they may not be able to see. In addition, when describing concepts, such as the earth’s layers, teachers can use different grades of sandpaper to help students with visual impairments discern the differences, Hansen said.

She also has used books on tape and live readers to help with her normal coursework, especially after the first corneal transplant failed to restore her sight.

And she’s had a lot to keep up with, taking an average of 20 or 21 credits per semester, plus working and doing research.

But Hansen said she likes to stay busy. She stays motivated through her faith in God and the support of her grandparents, with whom she lives when back home in Spencer, and her fianc‚e. Hansen got engaged two weeks ago and plans to get married Aug. 14, 2004.

For now, however, she’s focusing on her student teaching, which she’s enjoying.

“(My students) are brilliant children,” Hansen said. “They’re cool about (my disability). They ask what they can do to help.”

Hansen would like to teach middle school and, perhaps, university students once she finishes her education.

“Lisa’s a very determined young lady,” Havholm said. “Whatever she decides to do, she’s going to achieve it.”

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