Willa Tsao ’19 was chosen as one of eight U.S. students to be honored with the 2016 Graeme Clark Scholarship — an award that recognizes cochlear implant recipients who show academic achievement and leadership — according to a Graeme Clark press release.
Tsao said she suffered bilateral progressive sensorineural hearing loss — a sudden drop in hearing in her right ear — at age five.
Although her cochlear implant allows her to hear, Tsao said she is often not aware of how she sounds when she speaks. As a result, she sometimes needs to ask for accommodations in her classes.
She said that although some classes are challenging due to her disability, professors have been “very flexible” about accommodations.
Tsao credited the Cornell Office of Student Disability Services with giving her guidance on how to ask for assistance and said she hopes that other students in a similar position will be able to utilize these services.
“You have to advocate for yourself,” she said. “It’s important for me to be aware of my own shortcomings.”
On campus, Tsao also credited carious student organizations with helping her pursue her endeavors.
“Students at Cornell have been supportive of me. Student organizations like the Deaf Awareness Project have helped spread awareness of deaf issues on campus,” Tsao said.
Each of the scholarship honorees will receive $2,000 per year for up to four years at any university, according to the press release.
Tsao, who received the scholarship over winter break, said she found out about the opportunity through her local cochlear community chapter in Wisconsin and applied for the scholarship last summer.
Tsao is a biological sciences major and currently considering careers in computer science and medicine. The scholarship is instrumental to her ability to complete her education, she said.
“The scholarship provides me an opportunity to pursue a higher education and to continue to attend a school like Cornell,” Tsao said.
The application committee received 150 applications for the grant that were reviewed by a panel of judges, according to the press release.