Eileen Brown, a suddenly disabled single parent fighting for survival, is one of eleven students in The City University of New York (CUNY) that was awarded a Belle Zeller Scholarship in November by the Professional Staff Congress.
But Brown, whose award pays her tuition as long as she is an undergraduate at CUNY, had few thoughts of going to college after high school, desiring only to be a wife and mother. Today, this Westerleigh resident is a senior at the College of Staten Island (CSI) with a 3.966 grade point average.
Dr. Adrienne Siegel, the CSI faculty adviser who helps CSI students prepare their applications, has called Brown “one of our college’s most accomplished individuals.”
After a twenty-year marriage, Brown was diagnosed with a progressive eye disease that has diminished her eyesight to mere light perception, and is now looking to the future through different eyes.
“As devastating as my diagnosis was, I chose to see what the world had to offer rather than what it lacked,” Brown wrote in her scholarship application essay. “I came to understand that having a disability meant that I had to learn not what I would be unable to do, but rather, I would have to train myself to do things differently. Most important, I realized that I could survive as an independent person who could use my experience to help others.”
Brown has assisted the New York State Attorney General’s Office in sting operations that were created to challenge and evaluate the effectiveness of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and worked in conjunction with reporters from the New York Daily News where Brown helped expose problems with the city’s Access-A-Ride program.
Not content with these accomplishments, she continues to promote independence for the disabled by serving as a volunteer at the Staten Island Center for Independent Living and with the Guide Dog Users of America.
Realizing that the world is a connected place, she also attends Moving Forward, a support group that enables visually impaired individuals to vent, vocalize and solve problems affecting them.
Eager to share her personal struggle with others, Brown derives pride from demonstrating her guide dog Jitney’s intelligence and abilities at schools, community groups and other organizations. Each year she and Jitney participate in a ten-mile walk to increase awareness and to raise funds to train guide dogs.
In addition to the Belle Zeller, Brown has also received the CSI James Ortiz Memorial award for academic excellence, the CSI’s Student government service award, the American Association of University Women’s Merit Scholarship, and the Patricia Milton Scholarship from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
“Eileen is living proof that a disability does not condemn an individual to a disabled life…and that physical problems do not have to hinder one’s ability to help others,” said Siegel. “Eileen realizes that she still has a long journey ahead of her.”
Once she completes her Bachelor’s degree, she plans to enroll in a Masters program in Social Work or Rehabilitative Counseling.
When asked about her inspiration, Brown quotes the late 18th Century writer Hugh White: “The past cannot be changed; the future is in your power.”
The Professional Staff Congress is the union that represents more than 20,000 faculty and staff at The City University of New York (CUNY). The Belle Zeller Scholarship Trust Fund was established in 1979 by the PSC to honor its founding president, Belle Zeller, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Brooklyn College, where she taught for over 40 years. To qualify for a Belle Zeller, candidates must have at least a 3.75 grade point average, demonstrate a record of service to their college and community and be enrolled in a full-time academic program.