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Friday Friends Spotlight
Back to School with Matt Harris Part 2

(L) Prof Boyd, Matt (center), (R) Classmate Rachel Harris

If you missed Part 1 of Matt’s interview,  you can read Part 1. Today I continue with the second part of Matt’s Interview as a returning student on a university campus. Matt shares his views on self-advocacy and a range of attitudes that are helping him to succeed in his goals. He isn’t letting his vision / hearing loss hold him back.

7. You often talk about self-advocacy. What does that mean in light of becoming a student again?

What self-advocacy means to me is to be pro-active in both the planning and the implementation of our classroom strategies. I think our success depends largely on how we communicate what we need. For instance, as soon as I register for classes, which I try to do as earlier as possible, I will send a friendly email to my future professors introducing myself and giving them a heads up about my hearing and seeing challenges. This initial communication helps establish rapport with my professors and allows me to get an early start in preparing for their classes. I will inquire about textbooks or anything else that I might need for their courses. For me, it’s important to get an early start in preparing for the upcoming semester, even if it’s still a few months away. This is an example of self-advocacy. My professors, Mrs. Branigan, and I are a team. When my professors reply to my email, I meet with Mrs. Branigan, and we start planning for the upcoming courses. I like to hit the ground running when the semester starts. At that point, my goal is to have all of my strategies in place, so that I can focus on learning the course material. Self-advocacy and communication are two sides of the same coin and are critical to the success of visually and hearing impaired students.

8. What is your biggest challenge? Your biggest success?

My biggest challenge is just trying to stay on top of things and not fall behind. So far, with the support that I’ve received at the University of Baltimore, I’ve been able to meet that challenge. My biggest successes so far have been that I’ve almost completed 18 credit hours of coursework. Also, last spring, I had one of my poems, “Flashbulb Memory,” published in our school’s literary journal called Skelter.

University of Baltimore mascot
University of Baltimore mascot

9. Have you been surprised by anything? If so, what?

I have been pleasantly surprised at how everyone has been so helpful and accepting of me here at the University of Baltimore. Even the students have helped me out quite a bit, too. Another thing that surprised me was how at first I felt so old. At 55, I was older than most of my professors and decades older than my classmates. I finally concluded, however, that you’re never too old to learn and then started believing that age is only a state of mind. So this year, I don’t feel so old. I even feel younger, like I’m 21 again. Okay. I’m exaggerating a little bit, there, maybe more like 41. LOL

10. How will this course of study help you in the future?

Before going back to school, I had already published 4 books of poetry, so one of my goals with my degree will be to take my writing to the next level and write more books. Right now, my studies are helping me transition from poet to short story writer. Another goal is to teach high school English or perhaps become a tutor. Beyond that, and more importantly, I think what I learn here at the University of Baltimore will help me become a more well-rounded human being.

11. What kind of advice do you have for others who would like to study in higher education but fear because of a vision / hearing challenge?

I think it’s important to have a good sense of humor, a smile on our face, and a sweet tone in our voice. These qualities help put people at ease and that’s important. Sometimes they might be more nervous about things concerning us than we are. Beyond that, preparation is the key. Once you find the college you want to attend, meet with one of the disability specialists and begin to work on strategies for success in the classroom. It’s easier for me when I think about it as being part of a team. Teamwork is essential. It requires a lot of hard work on our part. It takes longer for us to do things and to get from point “A” to point “B” and to maneuver through course material. We also have transportation issues to consider. But if we keep preparing, prioritizing, and persevering, then we will soon have a degree to hang on our wall.

Matt next to his favorite statue on campus: Edgar Allen Poe
Matt next to his favorite statue on campus: Edgar Allen Poe

Can you think of a time when you advocated for yourself? Or didn’t but wish you had? Where does the role of advocacy fit into your life?

You have just read: Friday Friends Spotlight: Back to School with Matt Harris Part 2. by Amy L. Bovaird and Matt Harris. Copyright October 16, 2016. Please take a moment to leave a comment about today’s post.

Friday Friends Spotlight: Matt Harris Part 2
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One thought on “Friday Friends Spotlight: Matt Harris Part 2

  • October 17, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Hi Amy. My hat’s off to Matt for going back to school to pursue his dreams in spite of his recent hearing loss. When I went to college for my teaching degree, I had to be my own advocate as the disability counselor only had one suggestion offering a CCTV for me to read with. I used readers, meaning friends paid to read on cassette tapes instead. God gave me ideas to try as every semester my vision was declining. I agree wholeheartedly with Matt’s advice with keeping a smile, sense of humor, and planning ahead as instrumental components. With a positive attitude, he’ll get along with everyone and conquer whatever comes his way. Congrats!

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