Biology student overcomes challenges to earn academic success

UMSL biology student Nicole Benjamin's confidence to overcome a hearing impairment and her stellar academic record earned her a scholarship from the Missouri Business Leadership Network. (Photo by Jennifer Hatton)

Nicole “Nikki” Benjamin has never let her hearing impairment slow her down. The University of Missouri–St. Louis biology major sees the challenge as one she knows she has repeatedly overcome.

That confidence and her stellar academic record has earned her a $1,000 scholarship from the Missouri Business Leadership Network, a partnership of employers and service/education providers focused on the enhancement of employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Missouri.

“I’m very thankful for the scholarship,” Benjamin said. “I don’t feel that I’m that great of a writer, so when I sent in my essay, I didn’t think it stood out. But I wrote about my academic life and challenges, both in the past and in the future and I guess it made an impact.”

Benjamin, who lives in Florissant, Mo., was diagnosed as hearing impaired when she was 6 years old and fitted for her first hearing aid at 7. The oldest of four girls, the family traveled for months with her father’s job, so Benjamin was home-schooled by her mother. It wasn’t until she entered a classroom at UMSL, that she realized what a challenge it might be to understand her professors. The loud sounds in the classroom, background conversations and thick accents made following along in class another challenge for her to overcome.

“One of the biggest problems is just not knowing what is going on (in class),” she said. “I can’t hear the professors; it’s hard to read lips in a classroom and from being a distance away.”

With the help of Disability Access Services at UMSL, that challenge has been one Benjamin has breezed through. DAS provides her with a student worker who types up class lectures and sends it to her to review. Although this adds an additional three to four hours of study time each week to Benjamin’s schedule, she’s not discouraged. She’s already looking forward to taking two classes this summer and is looking into master’s degree programs in human biology. She wants to be a forensic anthropologist. And although she admits to watching forensic shows on televisions, she says they frustrate her.

“They annoy me sometimes,” she said with a smile. “They are so wrong!”

Missouri Business Leadership Network is one of 60-plus chapters across North America that are members of the United States Business Leadership Network. The networks promote business and business practices to include people with disabilities in the work force. Scholarships are awarded annually to students with disabilities, to promote education and training.


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