Congratulations to Jessica Rae Wertz, a senior Disability Services major with a minor in deaf studies, who was recognized by the IUP Student Government Association at their 2017 Leadership Awards Reception on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, as this year’s Emerging Student Leader Grant recipient.
Jessica is a peer mentor in the IUP Labyrinth Center, which is a program that supports IUP students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is also a member of
the IUP Sign Language club, which promotes awareness of the deaf community and provides an inclusive setting where students can improve their fluency in American Sign Language and Simultaneous Communication. Throughout Jessica’s time as a member of
the IUP Sign Language club, she has assisted with events such as the End the R-Word event at the Westmoreland Mall and the Sign-A-Thon that was hosted by the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In addition, Jessica is
extremely involved with her church, where she serves as a Sunday School teacher, a lead preschool Vacation Bible School teacher, and a nursery volunteer.
At the beginning of April 2017, Jessica approached Annah Hill from the Department of Communication
Disorders, Special Education, and Disability Services to be her faculty advisor throughout the grant writing and implementation process.
The Emerging Student Leader Grant Award is given by the Division of Student Affairs to assist students in acquiring practical experience as a foundation for making positive change at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The grant is intended not only to
provide personal learning, but also to allow the emerging leader to re-transmit that learning for the betterment and edification of the broader IUP community. The project will be completed by April 2018.
Professor Annah Hill shared: At IUP, Jessica demonstrates perseverance and self-determination while working on coursework to then make an impact in the field of disability services. I truly feel that it is pertinent for faculty members to collaborate
with undergraduate and graduate students through research, grants, and other scholarly activities. I greatly appreciate that Jessica’s focus at this time is to improve others’ quality of life on our campus at IUP. Giving back to IUP is truly an important
aspect which more students need to consider. Through this project, we can support IUP’s strategic plan, specifically goal 4.2.1, “support people of all backgrounds and abilities.”
This experience will develop and enhance Jessica’s leadership and interpersonal communication skills, and will strengthen her already present academic and scholarly interests. She will develop ways to compensate for her bilateral hearing loss (as I also
do on a daily basis) and prioritize her life, which in turn enables her to support others who need to develop in the same area. It will be a pleasure to watch Jessica develop her personal self-determination and perseverance through this endeavor.
Jessica shared the following about her
project: The purpose of my project is to promote disability awareness, education, inclusion, accessibility, and advocacy at IUP by creating a documentary that consists of interviews with IUP students who have disabilities as well as other IUP students,
faculty, and staff who specialize in working with people with disabilities. The documentary will educate viewers about people with disabilities and will focus on topics such as students’ experiences with having a disability and accessibility on IUP’s
campus. In conjunction with the documentary, a supplementary video series will be created that will be aimed specifically towards IUP faculty and staff members. The purpose of this supplementary video series is to educate IUP faculty and staff about
a wide variety of disabilities, as well as provide information and training on how to work effectively with IUP students who have disabilities. My goal is to create meaningful resources that will spark conversation and encourage IUP students, faculty,
and staff with and without disabilities to come together and learn more about people with disabilities who are a part of our campus community and promote understanding among everyone who is a part of the IUP community.
Also at this event, Meghan Erwin an educational advisor in the Department of Developmental Studies introduced the keynote speaker,
Felicia Daniel, administrative assistant to the dean of the College of Education and Educational Technology, who spoke about the value of leadership. Felicia challenged the audience to look at campus issues through a different lens, saying, “A person’s
outlook influences their decision-making and actions. Leaders have the attitude of rolling up their sleeves and working hard to solve problems. They view situations differently. Leaders are able to view obstacles as conquerable.”