Amanda Rowland defines the word selfless.
The special education senior used her time in Champaign to improve the lives of others—especially those with disabilities. And her effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rowland was honored with the 2013 Lincoln Academy Student Laureate Award. The Lincoln Academy of Illinois recognizes students displaying overall excellence, in both curricular and non-circular activities.
“I try to be an advocate for people with disabilities,” Rowland said.
Rowland visited the old state capitol building and the governor’s mansion to receive the award.
“I think the coolest part was that everyone there were the most amazing people. I didn’t feel worthy of being there.”
Rowland worked with Professor Maya Israel on a James Scholar project that aimed to increase the involvement of students with disabilities with STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“One of the biggest things I do is try to eliminate the R-word,” Rowland said. “And I make sure everyone I encounter is on the same page with that.
“A lot of people, from lack of exposure, don’t know how to treat someone with disabilities and they feel awkward,” she continued. “But the more people are exposed to people with disabilities, they learn that they’re just like anyone else.”
In high school, Rowland volunteered to work with an adaptive physical education class, which opened her eyes to special education.
“One of the girls who I was working with passed away while I was in that class,” she said. “And I saw how much her life affected so many people, even though she had never spoken a single word due to the nature of her disability. It opened my eyes to what different kinds of people have to offer the world.”
With graduation a few months away, Rowland is thinking about her future. And, of course, her focus is on others. She wants to work in a high school helping students with mild disabilities and in a few years plans to return to school for a masters degree.
“Never underestimate someone’s capabilities,” she said. “I want to help bring out everyone’s strengths and abilities.”