UC Davis is known for its warm, welcoming atmosphere and it’s up to the students and faculty to make this friendly environment possible.
Gabriella Wong is upholding that tradition.
The senior sociology major was recently awarded a $10,000 Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship for proposing to establish a deaf community on campus.
The scholarship is used to fund public-service projects that California students have proposed and plan to carry out their senior year. Gabriella Wong was one of 14 students selected.
When Wong discovered that a deaf community didn’t exist, she decided to take action.
“I really want to reach out to the deaf students and faculty on campus, and I want them to feel like they belong,” Wong said. “It’s so tough for them. Many people with disabilities, you can see that they have disabilities, but you can easily walk by a deaf person and have no idea that he or she can’t understand you.”
She said the project sparked her interest because she grew up with two deaf parents and understands many of the issues and difficulties surrounding this disability.
Arisa Nakamori, a senior international relations and East Asian studies double major, met Wong through the Davis Honors Challenge (DHC) and offered Wong some of the insights that she has gained as a deaf student.
“When I studied abroad in Japan, I did disabilities studies there,” Nakamori said. “There were many students learning how to communicate with deaf students and blind students so they were very comfortable interacting and socializing with people with disabilities. Here, I feel like my social life is related to academics only.”
In addition to Nakamori’s concerns, Wong said that she believes many deaf individuals are often intimidated to apply to a four-year university like UC Davis.
With these observations and discoveries in mind, Wong stated that she also wants encourage younger students to apply to four-year schools.
Wong said she stumbled across the Strauss Scholarship through DHC – one of her DHC counselors was also a counselor for Prestigious National Scholarships and encouraged Wong to apply.
Among the required application items were a five-page proposal of the project, a timeline and a budget. She said that one aspect that the Foundation prioritizes is sustainability – the question of whether or not the project will endure after the founding student has graduated and left the school.
“What’s great about the scholarship is that [the Foundation] doesn’t have a preference for where you use the money,” Wong explained. “It’s fine if you want to use all or part of it towards paying your tuition, if that gives you more time to work on the project.”
Caryn Stromberg, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Disability Specialist/Interpreter Coordinator, said that she is also excited about Wong’s project and will serve as the staff advisor when the club is formed.
“It’s Gabby’s project, it’s her baby,” Stromberg said. “So we’ll support her, but we also want to let her do her thing.”
Wong said that they have already established a website for the organization, and one of the next steps will be working with the Student Programs and Activities Center (SPAC) to officially register as a student organization at UC Davis.
Additionally, Wong is already planning to visit middle schools and high schools, such as California School for the Deaf in Fremont, to encourage younger deaf students to strive for good grades and gear up for the SATs. She said that she hopes that early preparation will make deaf students feel more optimistic about applying to a competitive, four-year university.
In regard to Wong’s goals, Nakamori said that she too would really like to expand the deaf community, encourage people to take advantage of higher education and also provide more of a social life for deaf students.
“There are a variety of things that you can add to your education that will improve the experience,” Nakamori said. “It’s very competitive here and it would help my enthusiasm to be able to socialize too and not just focus on academics all the time.”
For more information, contact Gabriella at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DARCEY LEWIS can be reached at email@example.com.