...the whole attitude of helpfulness permeates through Sauk's community...It's not just the instructors. It's everybody.
Dusing, who graduated with honors in 2006, is majoring in special education with an emphasis on visual impairment at Northern Illinois University. She hopes to eventually teach or return to work in the developmental community. Being a visually impaired student herself, she believes will give her special insight into the needs and fears of her future students. She credits Sauk for helping her to hit the ground running at NIU.
"Sauk prepared me very well," said Dusing. "I felt confident going into my classes at the university, which was not the case when I first arrived at Sauk."
How Dusing came to Sauk was an accident. She, her husband Bruce, and daughter Chantel, moved to Sterling to help care for Bruce's father. Prior to that, she managed a group home for developmentally disabled adults for 11 years. In addition to managing clients, Dusing taught aggression management, human sexuality, growth, and development. She had looked for employment in the Sauk area for more than a year, but had no luck. It was when she decided to take an off-campus Spanish class at St. Mary's Church that she discovered Sauk. The class, taught by Kit Lillyman (retired full-time Sauk assistant professor of Spanish), had some students in the class that were Sauk "champions." They encouraged Dusing and talked her into coming to Sauk. She met with Keith Bos, coordinator of special needs, about placement and accommodations.
"I had made several visits just walking through the building to get the "feel" of Sauk. It felt very homey," she said. "It was very much family oriented. People were very accepting and Keith was right on the ball. I think that made the whole experience of coming back to college a lot easier especially since my first college experience had not been that pleasant."
Prior to Sauk, Dusing had a semester of college at another institution. That was a semester, she says, she would rather forget. Because of that experience, Dusing was nervous about starting at Sauk. Dusing recalls at the first school, she was told that she should consider selling shoes door-to-door because that's what people like her could do.
"So, I came to Sauk extremely nervous because I never got the proper accommodation at the other school, even though I had planned ahead when starting college there," Dusing said. "That was almost 20 years ago, so, when I came to Sauk, Keith just started from scratch."
Dusing added that by the end of her second week at SVCC, she didn't think she was going to make it, but, Bos encouraged her to give it a couple more weeks. She did and things took off from that point. She started at Sauk with four classes that went very well. She remembers Jane Hamilton, assistant professor of English and reading, made her feel like she was succeeding every day in her class, which is extremely important for a returning student – not to mention one with a disability. Of course Ms. Hamilton will tell you that the reason she told Kathleen that she was succeeding in class is because she indeed was succeeding!
What Dusing remembers most about Sauk is the many available resources. She says she could go almost anywhere in the building and someone would be able to either help her or find someone to help her with whatever she was working on.
"It's just an amazing thing that the whole attitude of helpfulness permeates through Sauk's community; it isn't just in one section of the building. It's not just the instructors. It's everybody. I think that the community is extremely lucky to have this type of resource offered to them."
Dusing became closely involved at Sauk with her studies, the College's Honors Program, and Phi Theta Kappa. However something extraordinary happened in March 2006, Dusing was one of 20 students from across the country named to the USA Today All-USA Community College Academic First Team. In fact, she was the subject of a feature story on the All-USA Community College Academic Team that appeared in the April 24, 2006 edition of USA Today as a representative of all outstanding community college students.
"That was phenomenal!" she says. "I never would have dreamed that I would have been picked to be one of the top 20. To me, that was like an Academy Award. I don't think it could have gotten any better than that. It beats the cover of Rolling Stone."
The All-USA Academic Team program annually recognizes 60 outstanding two-year college students. First, Second, and Third Teams, each consisting of 20 members, are selected. Selection is based on nominations submitted by community college presidents or campus CEOs. The program is sponsored by Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), USA Today, and the AACC. PTK, the international honor society for two-year colleges, administers the program.
Dusing received a $2,500 educational stipend, and a trophy at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convention in Long Beach, California, where she also spoke. In addition, she received the 2006 New Century Scholars Scholarship, sponsored by the Coca Cola Foundation, the Coca Cola Scholars Foundation, and the AACC.
The award was based on more than just academics. It was also based on what the recipient gave back to his or her community. Dusing did just that with her projects. She created the final installment of a trilogy of children's books written in Spanish, English, and Braille, challenging children to develop their translation skills and sentence skills. In another project, she developed tactile devises to teach math concepts. She taught junior high and high school students the Jaws for Windows screen reader and the Kurzwiel Optical Character Recognition program. And, Dusing revised a Spanish textbook into a format for blind, visually impaired, and disabled students.
"Things like that I really had a great time with because my dad was a very strong advocate of giving back to others," says Dusing. "He was also blind. When you're able to accomplish something, you need to turn around and hold your hand out for the next person behind you. He was very, very strong in that roll. I wanted to make sure that I followed in my dad's footsteps of turning around and helping other people out."
The USA Today All-Academic Team experience helped open doors for Dusing by enabling her to meet officials from other community colleges and to let them know that people with disabilities shouldn't be put on the back burner.
"As students, we have as much to offer as anyone else," she says. "I feel very fortunate that I was able to push to the forefront and show everybody that it's not impossible for a student with a disability to make it."
She hopes that she might have touched the lives of people who heard her so that when they returned to their college, and had the opportunity to interact with students with disabilities, they will look at those students much differently.
As for encouraging others to go to Sauk, Dusing calls herself a "pied piper."
"I think I have tried to lure everyone behind me to come on in and bring their children and grandchildren," she says. "I just think that this is a very good environment. Kids are wasting their money by going off to a University; they need to start in a community college first.
"I can truly say that I am proud to be a graduate of Sauk. When someone says, ‘where did you go to college?' I would NEVER be embarrassed to say that I am a graduate of Sauk Valley Community College. In fact, I'm extremely proud to say "I am a graduate of Sauk Valley Community College!"