Dear Orange Friends:
I heard a student’s story during Commencement that I would like to share. This student’s story struck me as a tremendous example of the power of determination, the lessons that international students can teach us, and the ways that a Syracuse University education can have impact on individuals, communities and—ultimately—the world.
Nataliya Kolesova is an international student from Ukraine who has received her master’s degree from the School of Education. In 1996, at the age of 21, Nataliya experienced a spinal injury in a car accident. Before the accident, Nataliya was a successful teacher in her native Ukraine. For seven years after the accident, Nataliya was denied the ability to work. Her disability was associated by some with a lack of intelligence. Inaccessible classrooms made it impossible for her to teach.
The accident showed Nataliya how socially constructed prejudices often exclude people with disabilities from public life. She became determined to advocate for herself and on behalf of others with physical disabilities. Nataliya became a three-time, gold-winning Paralympic dancer, and she has traveled all over the world supporting the inclusion of people with physical disabilities. This experience led her to the conclusion that her best opportunity to change the perceptions of people with limited mobility and other disabilities would be to learn more theory and gain more practical experience as an educator. Given her experiences at home, she decided that she needed to study abroad. The process for applying and gaining acceptance to Syracuse University took several years. Nataliya was unable to take English proficiency tests because of inaccessible testing centers in Ukraine. She needed her husband to carry her into testing sites. Many in her family doubted her ability to pursue a graduate education successfully as an international student.
Nataliya proved the doubters wrong. She was accepted to Syracuse University and has earned her master’s degree. She is starting a fellowship with Mobility International USA. She has been accepted into a Ph.D. program at Syracuse University. She has persisted and wants to give back to others who face similar challenges. Her long-term goals include changing perceptions and policies in her native Ukraine by starting a disability studies program there. Nataliya is a stellar example of what we can learn from our international students as they come to Syracuse to pursue their dreams. Her experiences help her fellow students understand the barriers that people with disabilities can face. Determination, ambition and the drive to help others are all qualities that Nataliya embodies. She will make an impact far beyond Syracuse University.
Chancellor Kent Syverud