On the first Friday of the new school year, students wander from one table to the next at the Involvement Expo, writing their names down on mailing lists. For many students, signing up at the expo is the first step toward finding a community where they can explore their passions alongside like-minded peers.
But Isabelle Jeppsen ’21 had her sights set on one particular club before she even set foot on campus. When she visited HWS as an incoming First Year, she set up a meeting with the president of Eye to Eye. Over a year later, Isabelle is now the organization’s new Chapter Leader, and cites Eye to Eye as one of the strongest factors that drew her to HWS.
Eye to Eye has a small profile on campus, but it is making a big impact. A national organization with chapters at more than 100 colleges, universities, and high schools across America, Eye to Eye fosters mentoring relationships between students with learning disabilities or ADHD. Each mentor from HWS is paired with a mentee student from Geneva Middle School. They meet every Wednesday to work on art projects together.
These meetings are about much more than making art, though. Isabelle says the projects are meant to facilitate conversations about what it is like to learn differently. “Oftentimes students with learning disabilities have less self-esteem and less confidence in their potential for success,” Isabelle says. Eye to Eye creates a safe and welcoming community where these students can talk openly with mentors who also learn differently. According to Isabelle, this is tremendously empowering for mentor and mentee alike.
Isabelle worked as a mentor last year. She says that talking about learning disabilities can be uncomfortable for mentees who are not usually encouraged to speak openly about the topic. As they work on art together, Isabelle often uses color or shape metaphorically as a bridge into discussions about learning styles. Students discuss accommodations that help them, share their experiences, and build friendship and self-esteem as a result.
At the first meeting between mentors and mentees, each person introduces themselves and shares their disability with the group. “I had never done that before,” Isabelle says, recalling the experience. She emphasizes that in a world where having a disability is a huge part of so many people’s identities, creating opportunities and spaces to share one’s experiences and unique needs is crucial, and should be done more.
Eye to Eye has led Isabelle to venture outside of her comfort zone in ways she never imagined she would as an incoming first-year. When she became the HWS Chapter Leader, she was invited to attend a conference at Brown University over the summer of 2018. The Young Leaders Organizing Institute, or OI, brings together Eye to Eye Chapter Leaders to discuss leadership.
Isabelle says she discovered a vibrant, supportive community of people she identified with at the OI, including four HWS alums, who inspired her to be a more authentic version of herself. “Everyone there was so uninhibited to be themselves,” she says.
Isabelle has been involved in community service for eight years. As a high school student, she wrote a 55-page paper on the 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it was published in the Digital Maryland database. She is certain that service will remain a part of her life in the future; she is considering working with the Peace Corps before attending graduate school to study special education.
For Isabelle, seeking opportunities to grow outside of the academic sphere is a crucial part of a college education. Whatever the path to get involved, every student’s college experience can be enhanced by engagement with the dynamic community of clubs and service organizations on campus, says
Isabelle encourages any HWS student with a diagnosed learning disability who is registered with disability support services in the Center for Teaching and Learning to join Eye to Eye. New members can receive training to become a mentor on Oct. 4 and can begin working with a mentee the following Wednesday.