At six weeks old, Courtney Sue Gross had her first surgery to correct the cataracts with which she was born. She underwent 23 surgeries to correct glaucoma, retinal detachments in both eyes, and various other visual defects, and had lost vision in her right eye at the age of five. After four more surgeries, at the age of 10, Courtney went completely blind.
Courtney’s passion for reading motivated her to learn Grades I and II of Braille in 5 months, whereas people typically take up to 2 to 4 years to be completely Braille-literate. Even without the ability to read the printed word, Courtney was always in mainstream Honors and Scholar classes from elementary through high school. Courtney learned cane skills quickly as well, but felt extremely limited relying on the use of a cane.
During the summer of 1999, after high school graduation, Courtney’s dream of having a seeing eye dog became a reality when she trained at the Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ. She was paired with Xavior, a one-and-a-half year old male Golden Retriever. “With Xavior,” comments Gross, ” I have gained more independence, confidence, inspiration, and determination to succeed.” And it is with this renewed sense of zeal and strength that Courtney set off to college.
Courtney, a Staten Island resident, was accepted to the ivy-league Barnard College as well as the CSI Honors Program. Ultimately she chose CSI and began her college career in August 1999.
Since Courtney entered CSI with 16 college credits, (she earned these by obtaining high scores on Advanced Placement examinations in High School), Courtney completed her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology within three years, by carrying a 16-credit course load each semester. Throughout her stay at CSI, she maintained a general Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.87, with a 3.95 GPA in psychology.
Courtney’s achievements don’t end on the personal and academic, however. She believes in giving to community, and has volunteered at Clove Lakes Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, assisting with recreational activities, mailing and clerical responsibilities, and sometimes just visiting with new-found friends.
Courtney also works with at-risk adolescents on Staten Island as part of her mentoring class, and spends time at her alma-mater, Susan B. Wagner High School, where she tutors students that need help in English. She also observes interactions between teachers and students in an effort to devise more productive and successful educational practices with a psychological foundation.
“CSI’s professors have been very helpful, understanding, accommodating and willing to listen to my concerns and those of other students. All of the professors that I’ve had are knowledgeable and experienced in their fields,” comments Gross. “They have been encouraging and supportive, providing guidance, opinions and insights, and have always encouraged me despite my blindness, and were willing to give their assistance, even if it didn’t directly involve class matters.”
Jennifer Lynch, CSI Honors Program Counselor, and Ellen Goldner, the Director of the CSI Honors Program, have provided the signature services that helped Courtney choose CSI over Barnard. They worked one-on-one with Courtney, as they do with all Honors Program students, helping with staff interactions, the bursars office, financial aid, registration, graduation, and all of the other complications.
“I have always believed that the only way to improve and to change the world is to educate, to understand, and to accept all people regardless of their race, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or social class,” comments Gross.
“When people begin to realize that we are responsible for one another and are need to assist one another, they are often more open to the reciprocity which results from volunteering. In my opinion, this reciprocal relationship is the most valuable reward anyone can receive.”
June 6, 2002, marks the second graduating class of the CSI Honors Program. Courtney graduates as a Dean’s List student with a Student Leadership Award from the CSI Alumni Association. She has recently become a member of the Richmond County Psychological Association and the nationally recognized honors society PSYCHI.
Courtney and Xavior recently returned from trips to Florida and France, and will take a short summer vacation visiting friends in Texas.
This fall, Courtney will seek out new challenges at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as she begins work on a Masters Degree in Forensic Psychology.