Joe Brown is a typical Columbia College student in many ways
Like an increasing number of students, he's a bit older, 29; lives with his parents; and has a patient, devoted black lab, Bo. In the morning, his father drops him off and he takes the bus to Columbia College. He hopes to be a sports photographer someday, maybe back in his native Texas where sports are a religion. In the meantime, he's advanced to a black belt in taekwondo and is enjoying the camaraderie and many learning opportunities of college.
Brown also has had cerebral palsy since birth. He's confined to an electric wheelchair on campus and Bo is a support dog.
"Oh, Bo?" Brown says, reaching down to scratch the dog's neck. Bo closes his eyes in ecstasy. Brown speaks haltingly but clearly. "He turns on switches for me. He opens doors for me, helps take off my shoes, socks and clothes, puts clothes in the washer." Brown adds that Bo provides a wonderful opportunity to meet people, especially the opposite gender. "They come up to me and say, 'Can I pet your dog?' which seventy-five percent of the time leads to, 'Can I have your telephone number?' "
Brown is the inaugural recipient of the Stedem Family Endowment award. Marty '92 and Jill '96 Stedem recently endowed the grant for disabled students, the first of its kind at the college; their daughter Ashley also was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. The Stedems vowed to give students like Brown the same educational opportunities they had at Columbia College. Read the spotlight article…
Brown, originally from Arlington Heights, an inner suburb of Ft. Worth, Texas, moved to Columbia with his parents. In high school, he was far more active than most students, serving on the student council in different leadership capacities and was an enthusiastic member of the robotics team.
When it came time to pick a college in Columbia, Columbia College was a natural choice. "It's a small school," Brown says. "That's why I like it. I get a lot of individual attention from professors. Otherwise I might get lost in the shuffle!"
It's been working out so far. Now in his second year, Brown can only take one class per semester; this semester it's English 107, Developmental English Composition; last semester it was photography with art professor and photographer extraordinaire Ed Collings.
Read the spotlight article…
"Ed Collings is an awesome instructor, a very wise and talented man," Brown says. "He took the time and he had a lot of patience with me. He led me through photography step by step, and everybody, all my classmates, stepped up and helped me, too."
Brown says he wants to take more photography classes and adds his lens is for hire, especially at sporting events. "Going to school has been a chance to prove myself, to be accepted," he says. He also is now a student ambassador for the college and says he wants to give speeches to show that someone can enter an environment not traditionally associated with people with disabilities and not only succeed, but make an immediate and positive impact.
Above all, Brown never loses faith. "Some people sit back and feel sorry for me. Not me. I might have a disability, I might talk differently, but I still have the same feelings and desires as anyone else."