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University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

NEWS RELEASE

News Bureau Schofield Hall 201 Eau Claire, WI 54702
phone: (715) 836-4741
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USA Today Names Senior Lisa Hansen
To All-USA College Academic First Team

MAILED: Feb. 13, 2003

         EAU CLAIRE  
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Lisa Hansen is among 20 college students nationwide to be named to the most recent All-USA College Academic First Team. The 20 undergraduates are featured in today's (Feb. 13) issue of the nation's USA Today newspaper.
         The award recognizes significant academic endeavor on the undergraduate level and is given annually by USA Today. Hansen, an elementary education major from Spencer and a graduate of Wausau West High School, received a $2,500 cash award. She is student teaching this semester with Karen Bejin at DeLong Middle School and will graduate from UW-Eau Claire in August.
         "I am so proud and excited for Lisa. Every faculty member who is conducting collaborative research dreams of working with a student with Lisa's capabilities. Her intelligence, wit and energy propel any project toward success," said Katherine Rhoades, interim associate dean of Education.
         In her nomination letter to USA Today, Rhoades described Hansen as a student leader, a collaborative student researcher and an accomplished Honors student. "But that's not all. She also has emerged as a powerful voice for promoting awareness and changes that will improve accommodations for people with disabilities."
         Hansen, who was born with glaucoma, has had more than 25 surgeries for her blindness. In college her vision diminished drastically, and after an unsuccessful corneal transplant in 2001, she could only distinguish light and dark. Last May she underwent a second corneal transplant. This time the surgery was successful.
         "I can see stars for the first time, and people's faces. I can even ride a bike," says Hansen, who takes tap and jazz dancing lessons to relax. "It's very exciting."
         A lifetime of impaired vision, however, has made her acutely aware of the challenges visually impaired students face in conventional classrooms. Those difficulties were particularly evident when Hansen enrolled in Dr. Karen Havholm's introductory-level geology course in the spring of 2000.
         "Dr. Havholm was nervous about my taking her class. Geology is tough for a blind student. It's very visual and this particular course had a field component. We both struggled a lot, and it was hard to come up with ways to work around the obstacles," Hansen said.
          "I feel very strongly that education should be accessible to all students, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. My experience in this geology course was just another example of how a lack of resources and understanding about visual impairments made information inaccessible and frustrating. Something had to be done to change things for the better."
         In collaboration with Havholm and supported by UW-Eau Claire's strong focus on undergraduate student/faculty research, Hansen embarked on a research project to identify resources available for geoscience teachers faced with the challenge of educating students with visual impairments. After completing an extensive literature review and interviewing teachers of the visually impaired, Hansen developed materials and methods that could be used by teachers to make course material accessible.
         The final product was a poster, identifying different methods for test, homework and field accommodations, Hansen said. The project won a first place award at UW-Eau Claire's annual Student Research Day. Last fall Hansen presented the poster at the national conference of the Geological Society of America. She is currently working on an article to be published in the Journal of Geoscience Education.
         "It brought home to me that I am a visual learner, and that I must remain aware that this is not the best learning modality for all students. I am much more conscious of what I say to a class in addition to what I show to a class," Havholm said.
         Hansen carried her fervor for the challenges faced by students with disabilities even further while a student in Social Foundations of Human Relations, an education course taught by Rhoades. One of the course requirements was to work with another student to design and conduct a research project and then create a multi-media poster to present the findings at a research exposition.
         Hansen and her partner contacted people with an array of disabilities who resided in various Wisconsin communities. They asked their research participants to record journals to explore the social implications of living with a disability. After analyzing the journals, they interviewed the participants to gain additional data to develop identified themes and patterns. The end product was a one-hour documentary, using taped interviews and film clips, to show that people with disabilities are limited socially, even more than academically.
         "As children, most people with disabilities don't realize how different they are. They don't realize how they seclude themselves because of their difference," Hansen said. "I was anti-social until I did this project. It's difficult to socialize when you don't know really simple things, like what a squirrel looks like. You're afraid to look foolish."
         Rhoades said the project ranked among the most outstanding projects ever to be produced in the course and extended the boundaries of existing scholarship in the field of disability studies.
         Chancellor Donald Mash said UW-Eau Claire attracts high quality students like Hansen because of the opportunities it offers for academic accomplishment.
         "By enabling students to engage in substantive research projects during their undergraduate years, UW-Eau Claire provides students with special opportunities to acquire the analytical and critical skills that will allow them to make a difference in the lives of others," Mash said.
         Hansen said she became a stronger scholar when she took the initiative to tackle an issue that was very personal to her. "It is my hope that teachers will take what I have done and incorporate it into their classes. I also hope that my research will help teachers be more accepting of and willing to accommodate for students' needs and that students who come after me will benefit from the work I have done," Hansen said.
         Hansen will seek a teaching job for next year and eventually plans to earn a doctorate in education. She wants to study cultural and disability issues as they relate to the classroom and teach teachers.
         Note to editors: Lisa Hansen is the granddaughter of George and Elaine Rueden, Spencer, and the daughter of Tim Hansen, Owen, and Cheryl Shaw, Spencer.

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JW

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Judy Berthiaume
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Updated: February 13, 2003