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Amazing Alumni & Donors

[photo]: Alice Wong, BA in Sociology/English, 1997

Alice Wong


** Alice Wong was recently appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on Disability. Read more about Alice's appointment here. **

Alice Wong (BA, Sociology and English, 1997) dreamed of attending a small liberal arts college when she graduated from Carmel High School. Born and raised in Indiana of immigrant parents, she yearned for the experiences of college life. A bright, articulate, and excellent student, she had choices. Except that she didn't. To live on her own, away from home, Alice would have required significant assistance for her daily needs.

IUPUI became a practical solution to a sticky problem, and Alice was not happy about it. "I was miserable, but I had no choice. I couldn't live on my own and Indiana Medicaid wouldn't pay for the aides I needed for daily living."

Still, Alice had drive. She set out on an ambitious academic journey that has served her well. And although she never would have chosen IUPUI or the School of Liberal Arts, once she got going, she met IUPUI up close and personal, and discovered a place that nurtured its students, regardless of their situation in life. As she delved deeper into her major courses, she connected with faculty who became her mentors and friends.

"In the '90's, IUPUI was a boring place. There was no student life. Students came to classes and left." As a full-time student who got around in a motorized wheelchair, Alice was not one of those students who left. Most of her classes were in Cavanaugh Hall. And after a while, things changed for Alice. Professor of sociology Carol Gardner saw her potential and invited her to participate in her research, exposing Alice to her love of research and giving her invaluable training. English professor Karen Johnson became a valued teacher and mentor. Tere Molinder Hogue gave Alice her first paying job as a tutor in the Writing Center, and sociology professor Linda Haas involved her as a student mentor. Other faculty who deserve special mention: Colin Williams, Ain Haas, Missy Kubitschek, Jane Schultz, and David Hoegberg.

Looking back on her experiences and the professors who became lifelong friends, Alice notes, "I wouldn't have had these same opportunities anywhere else. I am blessed that it turned out so well. I have such fond memories of the faculty and staff, like Pam King in Adaptive Educational Services. It was many little things that people did to help me along the way. Between classes I could go to Pam's office and they would help me switch out my books for the next class. Not a big deal for most students, but for me, it eliminated a barrier that could have ended my student career. It meant a lot."

Following the direction and advice of sociology and English faculty, Alice structured her studies to get into grad school. She took five years to earn her BA, taking courses in two majors through every summer session and all semesters, never taking a break. Now a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Alice has become active in her community (another hallmark of an IUPUI grad) on issues of accessibility, autonomy, and independence for people with disabilities. She is author and co-author of numerous articles and is an eloquent speaker and presenter.

Her work has been recently recognized with the first annual 2010 Chancellor's Disability Service Award at UCSF and the Mayor's Disability Council Beacon Award (San Francisco) for her outstanding leadership at the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act celebration. The award recognized her work at UCSF and as the president of the San Francisco In-Home Supportive Services Public Authority Governing Body.

Currently, Alice is developing an online curriculum to train home caregivers, to make them better prepared to manage individuals' in-home care, enabling more people the right to age in place, or to live safely and independently at home. One of Alice's goals is to help people understand that persons with disabilities simply navigate the world differently. They can be active and productive citizens, working and living full and fun lives.

As a student, Alice found a home in the Liberal Arts and among the staff and faculty. Their gifts of enthusiasm and support and confidence have set in motion a woman who is making things right, building awareness and helping change attitudes. She makes you believe that, in words from the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, "everything will be all right in the end. And if it's not all right, it's not the end!"

To learn more about Alice, check out the video she submitted to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, "What's Your Story" Video Challenge: http://tinyurl.com/cn3jofh. Alice's video was voted as one of the 11 top finalists in the challenge. Follow Alice on Twitter: @SFdirewolf.

--October, 2012