Tag Archives: College

The UNlimited College Experience

On Monday I went with my in-laws to drop my sister-in-law off at college. I was so excited that you would have thought I was the one starting on a new adventure. My sister-in-law has chosen to attend my alma mater, Grand Valley State University, and I can’t help but feel like her experiences there are partially my responsibility. I know that’s silly, but I just want her to have a great experience.

I loved college; it was easily four of the best years of my life, part of that is probably because high school was pretty terrible for me. I was the first person in my immediate family to attend a four year university. Having a disability seemed to make this accomplishment even more important, although I didn’t particularly think so. College was always something I knew I would do, but there were still some challenges that needed to be overcome. If you have a disability, and plan to attend college, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Every college has an office that is supposed to tend to the needs of students with disabilities. My advice is to contact these offices before you are admitted. That’s right, research the services that are provided for students with disabilities and make that research part of your decision to attend. Accessibility should not be the only reason you attend a college, but it should probably outweigh the male to female student ratio, or the food selections.

My second piece of advice is to visit the campus, more than once, before accepting admittance. Especially if you have a disability that will affect how you navigate the campus. Because I had visited Grand Valley several times before becoming a student, I knew I would need a power chair in order to be fully independent. I never considered a power chair before, at this point I had only been using a manual chair for a few years; this was not something I would have thought of had I not thoroughly toured the campus. When you visit campuses you might discover that you will want an aid, a service dog, or another accommodation to help you navigate. You may also discover that the campus is not as accessible as you had been led to believe.

My last piece of advice, do not be afraid to speak up and ask for the things you need. In my first year at GVSU, I found out that there were many small things that made it difficult for me; doors that had no buttons, counters that were too high, restroom stalls that were too small. I wrote a letter to a school newspaper called The Rant. Days after it was published, I was contacted by the dean who wanted to tour the school with me; I was able to point out the things that were not accessible and explain why they needed to be adjusted (which is not always obvious to those who don’t have disabilities). Not only were these things improved, my advice was used for future projects.

College can be a great experience. It can also be a not so great experience. Sometimes situations will be out of your control; but embrace the things you can control to make it the best experience possible. College isn’t just about getting a degree. It is also where you learn about yourself, your needs, your strengths, your weaknesses and really grow into yourself.

An Incredible semester (part 2)

     At the beginning of the second semester of the WCE my mentor, Kaye and I started to talk about the possibilities of creating an Unlimiters product line. She told me of a program in the Architecture college where students design products called the ID (industrial design) program. She thought it would be interesting if we went and talked to the director of the program about Unlimiters. She knew the director from past work in the College of Architecture and thought Unlimiters could be a great opportunity for the ID program since the products would be user-based and would bring a different experience for the students. The day of the meeting I had a bad cold so I was not at 100% during the meeting, but we told her all about Unlimiters and suggested it for a part of her curriculum. We left with her saying she was on board and would think about adding an “Unlimiters” project to her curriculum for her incoming class; she also invited us to the final review of her senior class to show us their capabilities. With no idea what being a part of the curriculum would entail, I was excited nonetheless. A little while after I had this meeting, I joined the business plan team. I brought two people from the team to the final review to show them what I had in the workings. At the end of the review the director of the ID program told me that she was definitely putting Unlimiters as a part of her curriculum for the incoming class, but she was unsure whether it would be the next semester or the semester after.
     It turned out to be the following semester because a month before spring break I received an email asking if my mentor and I could come by her office to talk about the “Unlimiters” project. She told me her plans were to make each student in her class of 13, design a product that was focused around me. She asked if it was ok if her class followed me, filmed me, and asked me questions for an entire week. Being so excited and thankful for the opportunity I could only say “awesome” which merely translates to “yes”.
     A week later I was introduced to the class and the class was introduced to their subject (me).  After the introduction I preceded to hang out with them in their studio, they were extremely accepting and immediately I felt comfortable with everyone. While in the studio they broke up into four groups and assigned each group a part of my daily routine, such as getting up, going to school, eating, studying, and etc. They also divided up the days, Tuesday through Friday.  The week this began I was a bit nervous because I did not know what to expect, but knowing they were all cool people I was able to relax. It was awkward being filmed through it all, but throughout the week it felt like I was just hanging out with good friends with no fear of being judged. It was almost like being followed by paparazzi, I was filmed eating, walking, locking my door, putting things in my wallet, and etc. They captured it all and what they didn’t have on tape they would ask me about and would record me or jot down notes.
     I was an open book and answered all their questions honestly and did anything they asked. Many times I was asked the same things asked by the previous groups, but I did not mind and answered everybody’s questions. Doing this with me for an entire week allowed them to collect data on me and gave them ideas on what kind of product they would design. A few days after spring break they wanted me to join them in their studio to go over their findings. After looking at all of the data they collected, I was astonished how well they knew me. Making references to things I didn’t know about myself and things I knew, but didn’t make clear; such as, saying something was because of laziness when it had more to do with my disability. So, amazed by that finding, I told them the reason behind this was I hate pointing to or blaming my disability for anything.
     As soon as the students decided what area exactly they wanted to focus on, the filming and the questioning started all over again, but this time individually and much more focused. I was filmed walking in front of people, getting dressed, bathing (with a bathing suit), opening containers, and on and on. This continued throughout semester. I would constantly hang out at their studio answering their questions, testing out their prototypes, and just to hang out. There were many nights where I stayed there until after 11; it was like my third home. First being my apartment, second being the WCE working on the business plan and the presentation for the business plan competitions, and the third being the ID studio. As they got closer to their final review I made a point to be at the studio as much as I could answering as many questions as they had. Sadly due to our final competition in Orange County I couldn’t attend the final review. But they held a separate event for me, my family, and the business plan team where they each presented their designs to us. Everything we saw was a great design. I was so grateful for the whole experience and can confidently say I have 13 new friends.
Some examples of the designs include:
Wheelchair briefcase – an adaptable wheelchair easy accessible bag
Newly designed wallet – made the contents in the wallet easier to grab
Electrical outlet add-on – made it easier to plug things in to an electrical outlet
Dispenser – made it easier to pour a measurable amount of solids
Holder/opener- made it easier to open things with one hand
Button looper – made it easier for me to button buttons

An Incredible Semester (part 1 – redone and extended)

     When I entered the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, I had been discussing the concept of Unlimiters with my dad for over two years.  During the second semester of the program I was approached by a group of four students who wanted to help me develop my concept further and enter the idea in business plan competitions representing the school. I gladly accepted the help and joined the team. The first thing we did as a group was recruit MBA students by presenting the idea to a MBA entrepreneurship class. Our presentation went over well enough that we had 6 to 7 interviews to narrow it down to two students to help us with the process. The remaining weeks of the semester we spent talking about the idea and refining it.
     The writing of the business plan began shortly before our third semester in the program. We put one of the MBA students in charge of developing the “beta” website which we planned to use mainly for a marketing analysis tool. We spent a lot of time together discussing the logistics of the business plan and the time we spent apart was dedicated to writing our designated sections of the plan. As soon as we felt a bit comfortable with the plan we started to talk about the competitions we were going to enter. We decided to enter five different competitions even though two wanted us to submit our business plan right away before we were completely ready.  We were declined by the first one since the plan was our first rough draft.
     As time went on we continued editing our plan and practicing our presentation; we presented to our class many times before our first competition in Nebraska. The general format of the competitions we entered was a 10 to 15 minute presentation and then 10 to 15 minutes of Q&A with a panel of judges. A week prior to the competition in Nebraska, we had to submit our plan and by this point we felt pretty good about it.   During our spring break we had two competitions to go to, one in Nebraska and another one in California.
     In Nebraska we placed first in the undergrad category. The day before we presented, we had a booth up displaying information about Unlimiters. We had many people, judges and other teams, pass by our booth surprised at the fact that we were undergrads. The second competition was the one where we had to submit our first rough draft, and it was also one where we had had to take our MBA student to since it was a grad level competition. We were the only under grads at this competition, and the only thing that qualified us was our MBA student. We did not place in California, but we managed to get a standing ovation, a venture capitalist interested, and we advanced to the wild card round (meaning that in the first leg of the completion we got second place out of five).  We strongly believe that if we weren’t judged on our first rough draft of the plan, we would of easily advanced to the finals. Once we got back from California we had a month break until our next round of competitions. In that time we made slight changes to the business plan and the presentation. The third competition in Dallas was during the last day of Wolffest (out senior term project running a food stand for three days). We managed to fly out to Dallas the night of our second day at Wolffest. We got there and learned we had to be up at 7 am the following morning.  Unrehearsed, we felt like we needed to practice before going to bed. We made it to bed at 11 pm and made it to TCU at 8 am where we learned we were the first to present in our leg; meaning that we had virtually no time to rehearse beforehand. We managed to place second meaning we weren’t finalists but giving us another chance to advance to the finals in the wild card round. The next day, after waking up a little after the first round we came in first in the wild card round. Then, on the third day after a good night’s sleep, we came in first beating the school that beat us the previous day. The following week we headed to Orange County for our final competition where we competed with undergrads, grads and doctorates; we tied for second place. Four competitions, two first place finishes, a second place, and one, well we tried.
     We presented one last time at our graduation for families, students, teachers, and faculty to see our winning presentation. All in all, it was an amazing experience.
Video of our presentation (and Q&A) at TCU: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqJowLfOERY

An incredible semester (part 1)

Last summer the program director of the WCE (Wolff Center of Entrepreneurship) posted on Facebook telling my class that the program was looking to form two business plan teams and asking for volunteers. My first thought was to volunteer and be more active in the program. I figured by becoming more active it would force me to be out of my comfort zone and help me to gain more confidence. After debating with myself for a day or two I decided against it since I did not know much about it. As soon as summer ended and school started our teacher told us more about the business plan competition and informed us that they already put together the 2 teams for the competitions. The teams would write their own business plans and compete nationally presenting them to judges. Once the teams started to meet regularly I was approached by one of my friends in the class telling me that her team was interested in using Unlimiters as their business idea for the competitions.  She asked me if I could present my idea to the whole team. A few weeks later they decided to go with my business concept, Unlimiters; in turn I had to join the team. By joining the team I got four people helping me write the plan, a chance for all of us to get national recognition, and a chance to get funding for the business. Plus, on a personal level I now was forced out of my comfort zone giving me the opportunity to gain more confidence. Soon after joining the team we recruited 2 MBA students to help out with the plan and the concept. The majority of the semester was spent brainstorming and refining the Unlimiters concept. We didn’t actually start writing the till early this year, but since we talked about it so much writing the actual plan was pretty simple. Right as we started school back up we started rushing to complete everything and submit what we needed in order to compete in the competitions. As of now we are set to compete in 4 competitions nationally.  Currently we are focusing on our presentation and rehearsing it daily. This whole experience with the business plan team so far has been unbelievable for me.
    Part 2 coming soon…

 

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