Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement


Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.

College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 3: Relationships
College Knowledge by Learning Ally

July 9, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 3: Relationships

Being a college student with a visual impairment can be challenging but connecting to the College Success Program can help you make the most of this experience and succeed in reaching your goals. Join our mentors and cohosts, Bryan Duarte, Rachel Grider and Rashad Jones as they explore the academic, the professional, and the personal aspects of College Knowledge. If you are a college student who is blind or who has low vision, or you are curious about the world of college and visual impairment, this show is for you!

Episode 3: Relationships

In the episode, our hosts interview Caitlin Mongillo, blind mentor and social worker, and discuss everything about relationships: the professional, the platonic, and the personal. Learn some important guidelines about networking, making friends and connecting with potential romantic partners.

You can also find this episode, and previous episodes, on iTunes by searching College Knowledge or by clicking here. Be sure to leave us a rating or review!

Learn more about the College Success Program and sign up at learningally.org/CollegeSuccess.


Episode 3: Relationships Transcript


Rashad Jones: Hello everybody, welcome to College Knowledge, Learning Ally’s podcast for college students who are blind or visually impaired. This podcast brings together sort of the three elements of Learning Ally, and that’s mentors, resources, and community. I’m your co-host, Rashad Jones. Blind mentor, independent living coach, and lifelong learner. Starting or maintaining relationships can seem easy for everyone else, but when you’re blind or visually impaired, you know, what do you do when you can’t recognize someone’s face? How do you greet a professional you don’t know? And how do you deal with dating and desire? Today we’ll be discussing these topics and many more, all related to developing and maintaining and navigating those professional, personal, and intimate relationships. I’ll be talking with my co-host, Bryan Duarte. How are you doing, Bryan?

Bryan Duarte: Very well, thank you.

Rashad Jones: Great. And we are so delighted to have the guest speaker for today, who is Caitlin Mongillo. Now, she’s a blind mentor in our program. She’s also a social worker who works with some of the most vulnerable people in our population, helping them to maintain their independence and really helping them find employment and just really be confident about who they are, really excelling in their lives. So, Caitlin, thank you so much for joining us. How are you this evening?

Caitlin Mongillo: I’m great, thanks for having me.

Rashad Jones: No problem, no problem, no problem.

Bryan Duarte: Awesome. Thank you Caitlin, thank you Rashad for that awesome introduction. As Rashad talked today, mentioned in the introduction, we will be discussing three major topics of relationships, and the first one is professional, personal, and romantic or intimate relationships. The first one we’re going to start with today is going to be professional relationships and really what does this look like, and how do we navigate that, when some of the things that society does or social society says that we should do, to get along. So, without further ado, let’s jump into it. So, the first thing we’re going to kind of discuss is, what is it like when we introduce ourselves to someone, and they want to throw out a handshake? Where do we kind of start with that? I’m blind, maybe I don’t see them putting their hand out, is there any ways that we can give some tips on how to do this, or when to do it, or when not to do this?

Caitlin Mongillo: So I always sort of, I’m totally blind, I have light perception only so I can’t see, you know, if someone’s reaching out their hand to shake, and I know when I started my job, my current position about 6.5 years ago, this was really challenging for me because a lot of times in, you know, college and graduate school and these kinds of things, you’re not really having to shake professor’s hands or fellow students’ hands, so I sort of always recommend to people and something that I do for myself is if I’m being introduced to someone, I say, you know, “Hi my name is Caitlin Mongillo,” and I’ll actually extend my hand in the general direction that I think they’re facing, that I think their voice is coming from, so this way, you know, I’m putting it out there first and it’s on them to kind of pick up my hand and shake, and I sort of do that as general practice. If someone says to me, “Oh, you know, I don’t shake hands,” or something, I say, “Oh okay no problem,” and I just put my hand down. But this way I’m sort of jumping the gun and trying to get there ahead of them. You know if they have their hand out already and I don’t see it doesn’t matter, because they pretty quickly, maybe there’s a second of awkwardness, but they’ll pretty quickly, you know, take my hand if I’m extending it to them. Because it is somewhat awkward, sometimes you can’t really tell how close you are to someone, so I definitely over-extend my hand and there’s always that slightly awkward moment where maybe you, you know, accidentally touch someone on the stomach or you know in a weird sort of way and you just kind of, I don’t really have an easy answer for that one, unfortunately. 

Bryan Duarte: Awesome. Well you bring up two good points that I would like to touch on and the first one I’m gonna throw at my partner here, Rashad. So, the dynamic of male and female, right? We have this kind of thing where it’s common that men shake hands, right? So is that something that women do as well, Caitlin?

Caitlin Mongillo: Yes, generally—it’s a great question—if you’re meeting, if I’m meeting someone in a business setting, whether they be male, female, I will always offer to shake hands. The relationships differ and if it’s a coworker, you know, from a different company but someone you know in the field that you’ve met before, maybe then you don’t shake hands and you’ll do like a hug, or you know, you’ve seen coworkers—women coworkers—I’ll, you know, kiss you on the cheek or something like that. But generally, the first time, I always think, for me at least, rule of thumb is to offer the hand, no matter who the other person is.

Bryan Duarte: I agree. I think that it’s very important that you kind of follow social norms when in a professional setting; you stand up straight—if you will, you make eye contact, right? This is something that society says we’re supposed to do in a professional setting—you’re supposed to make eye contact, but how do you do that as a blind person? Is that something that you all do in your normal, day-to-day professional networking situations? Caitlin?

Caitlin Mongillo: Generally, the way I kind of get around that is I’m very cognizant to look in someone’s direction. So even if my gaze is slightly off to the right, off to the left, you know, I sort of try to hone in on where their voice is coming from, and make sure that I’m at least facing their direction. Of course, I can’t, unfortunately, meet their eyes—but the same thing in a presentation, if you’re at a conference or something, and it’s important to, you know, kind of look in the general direction of the speaker, and you know, some of us will go to these conferences where you’re sitting at small roundtables, in a large ballroom or something, so you can’t actually tell which way the front of the room is, or where the speaker’s coming from. So I’ll sometimes ask someone, “Oh, hey, you know, is the front of the room off to the right, off to the left,” so at least I look like I’m putting in the effort of trying to be attentive you know, to the speaker, even if it’s a room of 100 people, because it’s good courtesy to them but also I think it’s less socially isolating to the people around you who can see, if your back is, you know, totally to the action, it looks a little awkward. 

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely, and that brings up a good point. 

Rashad Jones: Is it just me, or if you’re like, at a, in a room where maybe the tables or the chairs aren’t facing where the speaker is, do you guys turn in your chair so that you can kind of face that way, or do you turn the whole chair—am I the only one who kind of turns half way and does all these weird body things? Is that just me or, what do y’all do? Does anyone want to talk about it at all?

Bryan Duarte: Well I’ll tell you right now, I don’t like when my neck gets a crink in it from having my neck turned to the right because my chair is facing to the left, so I’m probably with you brother, I’ll turn my whole chair, turn my whole body, and kick back because it’s going to be a long one. I definitely don’t want my neck getting stiff because I’m looking to the right.

Rashad Jones: [Laughing]

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing]

Rashad Jones: Yeah, so sometimes those seating arrangements can be a little awkward, so that’s just really what I was talking about, so—

Bryan Duarte: Okay, well I do all kinds of stuff so— 

Rashad Jones: Awesome, awesome.

Bryan Duarte: So the other kind of social norm that I think it’s important—blind or not—that we kind of keep in mind is we have the whole standing up, we have the whole making eye contact, if you will, or at least looking in the general direction of the person who’s speaking, or the person you’re interacting with. I think that’s really the key here, is that we’re not kind of extending an ear to them, we’re giving them our attention. I think that’s just a matter of respect. Would you both agree with that, that we’re just kind of respecting the person that we’re speaking with enough to give them our attention by pointing our body at them, letting our physical body language kind of complement our verbal language in that aspect? 

Caitlin Mongillo: Absolutely.

Bryan Duarte: Okay. And kind of the other thing that I think is really important, and Rashad and Caitlin, is what would you say about personal, and kind of boundaries, if you think about it, so you know, there is a boundary, right, you don’t want to be, if, I think what we call it nowadays is being in someone’s bubble, right? You don’t want to be in someone’s bubble when you’re having these encounters. Is there like a safe distance for these conversations? If it’s a busier room, do we get closer—but how close? Do we hug? Do we, you know, what is that, how do we navigate that as a blind person?

Rashad Jones: Well, I would just say if I can, it’s just, you really have to, I think it’s best to be a little bit more professional than you might normally be. And the situation I’m thinking here of job interviews, or meeting some staff members, or professors, or things like that—people who you’ll be working with in a professional capacity. So, you know, this is just where I’m coming from, but I think it’s important to portray that you’re a little bit more professional than you would normally be, and then allow them to, you know, give you the cue to relax a little bit. I think sometimes people start off, nowadays, some of us start off a little too personal, you know a little too informal, and while you definitely want to get to that point in some cases, it’s really important to make sure that you’re respecting that this is a professional situation until it’s otherwise dictated or, you know, it can be kind of tricky for some people to understand those social cues and those social norms, so just thinking about those people, you know, I think that’s really important to point out.

Caitlin Mongillo: I agree with you. I think that, you know, a lot of times, you want to be, when you’re in a business setting, you want to be more professionally-minded. And I know for me a lot of times, you know, it really depends if it’s a coworker or a colleague, someone I don’t know and I’m meeting for the first time, I won’t ever hug them. I’ll always just shake their hand. But if it’s someone, you know, from a different—who works in the field, I’ve met maybe a couple times at conferences or at meetings or we’ve had some interaction and maybe they’ve, you know, changed jobs or something, then, you know, maybe you do hug them, but I always generally let people—other people take the lead because I don’t ever want to go and go in for the hug and have them, you know, kind of not expect it. So I sort of approach it that way. And I think Bryan, your point about the bubble is really, really good, and I do find that, you know, even for myself really challenging because I can’t really see at all where they are in time and space. So I know a lot of times what I’ll do is, on the initial meeting when doing the handshake, I kind of try and stay in one spot unless—we’re, you know, it’s a, it’s a—you have to move from point A to point B, because I know at least initially I was arms-length away from that other person, and that’s generally a fairly socially acceptable distance to be, you know, in a professional relationship. Of course, that changes if you’re in a noisy room, and maybe you have to incline your head a little bit to, you know, hear what someone’s saying, but I feel like generally if you can see, or even if you can use the initial handshake to kind of gauge staying about an arm’s length away from someone is generally comfortable for most people.

Bryan Duarte: You know, you both kind of make me think of some things, and this is probably a little bit more along the lines of someone who’s maybe not done this as often or maybe isn’t kind of quite the extrovert as some of us are. But is it my responsibility to make someone comfortable with my blindness? Or is it something that, the way that I position myself and the way that I carry myself and conduct myself, will kind of make that all come together? Is that, is there something that I need to be doing or saying to make them comfortable? Can you give me some kind of feedback on that?

Caitlin Mongillo: I feel like that’s the one-million-dollar question, right?

Rashad Jones: [Laughing] 

Bryan Duarte: [Laughing]

Caitlin Mongillo: You know, I feel like if there was an easy answer we’d all be really rich and a lot more comfortable probably with ourselves.

Rashad Jones: Yeah.

Bryan Duarte: Well I ask it as a provoking question, but I ask it from experience. Because I’ll tell you, as a personal testimony if you will, when I was kind of newly blind and kind of meeting people for the first time, I always was trying to quote, unquote “prove myself,” right, prove myself as what? Well what I was trying to do, was I was trying to prove myself as a man, a father, as a person, a professional, but then to do it in such a way to where they would look past the blindness. And really what I learned over time was that they didn’t need to look past the blindness, the blindness was part of me, but what they needed to see was me first.

Caitlin Mongillo: Yeah, I think that’s really powerful, and I know for me the job I have right now is the one that I, is my first job that I’ve had after graduate school, so when I started I was 24, maybe 25, I was pretty young, it was my first ever, in air quotes, “big girl job,” you know, where it wasn’t like “I’m a camp counselor,” or something like that. And I kind of struggled with the same thing initially, in kind of feeling, even though I’ve been blind all my life, I kind of felt like meeting these new people who are all these, you know, business people and all they’re going to see is, you know, my guide dog, or the fact that my eyes don’t focus straight, and they’re not going to listen, they’re not going to see the worth in me being here, and I think it’s also just even too just a matter of time and as you do it more and more and you get more comfortable, and you kind of are in these, really—let’s be honest—these really challenging situations, where you know you’re the new kid in the room, and you don’t really know anyone, and it’s mobility-wise maybe difficult, and it’s all new people, and you really kind of push yourself. And I think as you do it more and more, with time you get more confident in yourself and you get more comfortable, and I know for me I would always kind of just, the mantra in my head that, you know, often at the beginning at least I kind of failed on, but over time it’s gotten easier and it’s like, you’re meant to be here, you’re supposed to be here—you can sit at this table, you can play with these people too. You have worth no matter, you know, what you are or what you’re not. You’re here because of your intelligence, or your job, or you know whatever, you know what you’re talking about. And, you know, if all they can see is you being blind, they’re missing out on a lot. So.

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely. And I think that this is a topic that we could all, three probably, talk about for hours because it’s very important that we do know how to conduct ourselves in a very professional matter. We’re all aspiring engineers, or social workers, or lawyers, or doctors, or I mean, just anything out there, and to kind of to compete in today’s market we really need to have these skills. And some people can say, “Oh well I’m blind, those don’t apply to me,” but really they do, because they’re really more about respect than they are anything else. So, with that being said, let’s go ahead and transition into the personal networking space. So, when we talk about meeting people personally, we’re not really always gonna be doing the handshake, we’re not really gonna be doing eye contact as rigorous as we would in a professional setting, but there are still some key things to keep in mind, and also there’s that aspect of: Where do I find these people? How do I know if they’re interesting to me? And what does this setting look like? Is this something that I’m going to be doing at work? Is this in a restaurant? Do I have to go somewhere special? What does this whole thing look like? So, where are some places that I would, how do I get involved with people at a personal level? Is there a place? How do I get involved in general?

Rashad Jones: Well I would say, as college students, you know, you go to your classes and things like that, and that even can be—depending on the nature of the class—you can probably find some people who you connect with on some level. Maybe who you could have lunch with, or something like that. Just by listening, and even some of the interactions you may have in some of your classes, I’m thinking here about maybe some general ed classes. I remember, one time I was in an American politics class, something like that, or it was some sort of civics class or something—anyway, political science or something—so, what was interesting to me was, so the classes can be kind of long, so, but I would have questions about certain things, and so I’d ask questions, and then there was somebody who always asked a bunch of questions or they kept on prolonging the time, so the girl behind me, I remember she was like “Oh my gosh, she’s still talking,” and I’m like, “Yep, still talking,” and we struck up a pretty cool friendship for that semester. I mean, she was like my best friend in that class, because we ended up—this sounds really bad, but—we ended up complaining together about how long the class was, or how difficult it was when we didn’t have really any assignments or we just had tests and things, and it was just, it was really interesting. So, we made fast friends. So just, even if you’re able to pick up on some of their mannerisms and things like that and y’all share similar interests and things like that, then I think that’s one way you could do it. So that was me—what about you, Caitlin, what do you think?

Caitlin Mongillo: I think that’s an awesome point, you know. It sounds so silly, but complaining over, mutually complaining is an awesome way to make friends.

Rashad Jones: Yes, oh my gosh.

Caitlin Mongillo: But I do—I know most of our listeners are maybe college students, or graduate students, and I think just looking, you know, locally, looking on your campus, normally campuses have a lot of really great either intramural sports, or clubs, or different organizations, based on a whole host of interests, from, you know, political parties that you affiliate with, to drawing, to theater, to really liking to play frisbee, to doing some kind of community service activity, or something like that. So, I would say, you know, if you’re in college or in graduate school, definitely look no further than your campus community because it’s one of the easiest ways to make friends is to surround yourself with people that already have something in common with you. So, when I was in college, I was an English major—I loved reading, I still love reading—so I joined the book club, you know, and that was, those were people who had an interest in common with me, even before I met them. I knew that they were going to be readers and that, you know, if nothing else, we could talk about books. And I also joined a social justice kind of club because, you know, I cared about, you know, those sorts of issues, and still do. And I had a particular community service scholarship at my school, so I had to participate in different community service events and things, so I met people through those sorts of different activities who already had, you know, some things in common to me, which is a great way. I also know that for some of our students, maybe they’re commuting to school, or online college programs are now a really big thing, so something that I found really useful is using websites like Meetup—I think it’s Meetup.com—where you can kind of type in interests and find groups in your area of people that could be any ages, you know, but they have all sorts of different things, like dog walking clubs, to book clubs, to square dancing clubs, to any kind of thing and it’s sort of the same sort of factor of, look for people that care about the same stuff you care about. And that’s, you know, I think a really good way, at least initially, of trying to meet folks that are kind of at your same level, I’d say.

Rashad Jones: Yeah.

Bryan Duarte: Yes, yes, indeed, and I think that you really hit on it perfectly when you just kind of said common interests brings people together, so you think about the friends that you have or that you’ve had, really I think what brings you together is common interests or—in Rashad’s case—common differences, that you can voice together; that’s, there’s something really powerful about that in any relationship, and so just putting yourself out there into meetups, where you can say, “Hey, I like to go two-stepping on Tuesdays and Thursdays, maybe somebody else does as well,” right? Or, “Hey, I’m an engineer, maybe I’ll find somebody who’s an engineer in my classes,” right? Or, you know, just even beyond that, church is a great place—if you have a religion, finding somebody at church, getting involved with small groups at church. And joining clubs—I found that joining clubs was very powerful for me. I got involved, early on, in student government when I was an undergrad, I served on the undergraduate student government (USG), for 3 years when I was an undergrad, and I was the senate president for a while. So, getting involved at that level, you start to meet people; and you don’t meet just your peers, but you meet the deans. I remember I’d have dinner and lunch and the dean actually gave me tickets to an Arizona Diamondbacks game, and it was just because we had built up that relationship through these different involvements that I was in, and then clubs. I created a club called Disabled Athletes and Allies, and it was really just geared to bring people with disabilities together with those with quote, unquote “no disabilities,” and get them involved around something like sports, or activity, working out, exercising, gardening—I created a group called Homegrown Doubles, and that was all about gardening, and again, we had equal amount of people with disabilities as people without disabilities coming and they loved it. So really just getting involved is what I’m trying to get at. I think we’re, all of us are really trying to get at. Just understanding that there are differences in people­—some visual, some not visual but they’re still just as important, right—culture, relationships, means you’re going to have friends, you’re going to have people you’re going to meet, they’re going to have different cultures, and in a professional setting we talk about those who may want to shake hands and those who may not want to shake hands, and that could be for a lot of reasons, knowing that there’s this very big, important thing and it’s gender identity, you know, understanding that somebody want to talk as a man, as a woman, or as some other gender-agnostic, if you will, identity. But being cognizant of those things and those people.

Caitlin Mongillo: I think all the stuff that, Bryan and Rashad, you guys hit on, is perfect for making connections. But the one other tool that I know friends of mine have used in the past to kind of reach out and sort of form new friendships, new relationships, is actually even looking as far as social media. So, if you look on Facebook, you can find nearby events in your town, if that’s a carnival or if that’s some sort of chicken wing eating contest, or a concert, or something like that. And, you know—

Rashad Jones: Right, definitely.

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing] But that’s a cool way, too, to find something that—even if you’re not interested, it’s like, well okay it’s a way to get out there and even, you know, the getting out there I think is the biggest thing. Just be a little bit brave and, you know, stick yourself outside the box to meet people. They’re not going to come to you, you have to kind of do your part to go to them too.

Rashad Jones: And I’m really glad you said that because getting out there can be really challenging. I know for me, sometimes—believe it or not, Bryan—sometimes it was kind of something that brought me a little bit of apprehension because, on little practical things like how am I going to get there? That was always a thing. So, I think that’s always something I wanted to bring up, and that’s really important about making those friends and acquaintances early on, even at the classroom level, you know, finding those people, seeking them out there because that’s going to be a real issue. You know, you might not know where everything is on campus, or, heaven forbid, if it’s an off-campus event how are you going to get there? So, I think really doing your best to in those groups. And one group that you guys did not mention was like a music organization—I’m a little partial ‘cause that was my thing in college. As well as, I mean, on a collegiate level, in terms of the fraternity that I was a part of, am still of part of, just as an alumni now, but being involved in that. And then also, on a—from a religious standpoint, I was in a gospel choir at my college, and the thing was, I loved it because it was more than just at that time a gospel choir, it was really something where we had a bible study, and things like that, and so for me, personally, that faith-based organization was something that held a lot of importance in shaping who I am and, you know, I’m still in touch with some of those people to this day—we have had brunches and every year, excluding this new year, but on New Year’s Day we always had a brunch for the past 7 or 8 years. So, you know, these are the kind of relationships that can really be long-lasting if you’re willing to just step out there, even a little bit.

[Silence with some interspersed words 26:59-28:36]

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely, absolutely that’s really good, yeah I’m glad you brought that up because there’s very few things that is as close to peoples’ hearts and music is definitely one of them. Music, and sports, and faith are very important things to individuals and they bring you close. So yeah, definitely. Well I think that it’s a good time to segue way into romantic relationships. Now, this is going to be an interesting one.

Rashad Jones: Talk about long lasting, hopefully!

Bryan Duarte: We talked about long-lasting—where are you going to find one at, right? So, let’s dive into this and understand that there could be some issues and tough questions that people have that otherwise they wouldn’t ask in a public setting, but I think once they pop this podcast on, they’re really going to find that hey, maybe we touched on some of those difficult things and they can feel free to ask questions. So, when I’m thinking of romantic relationships, that can be a boyfriend, girlfriend, that could even be something deeper when you’re talking about marriage, right, and you want to start a family, and all of that. What are some ways to go about finding a romantic or intimate relationship? Do you have any ideas in that? Where would I go to find these? Is it the same, is it different, how do I conduct myself in those manners? Those are kind of the things we’re going to look at. So, Caitlin, what kind of avenues, or what kind of tips can you give me in looking for a relationship that’s a little bit closer than a personal one?

[END silence with some interspersed words at 28:36]

Caitlin Mongillo: So, I think the first thing I would say is, a lot of romantic, intimate relationships—whatever term you want to use—will actually come from, you know, a personal friendship or a shared interest first. Doesn’t always, of course, mean that—they always say opposites attract—but it definitely can come from, you know, just being friends with someone. I know that my husband and I, we met in college and we were friends first—pretty tight friends for about two months before we started dating. You know, and that just came from, we had a mutual friend who introduced us—not to be, you know, boyfriend/girlfriend—but just like, “Oh, she’s new and he’s nice,” so, you know, it can kind of come from that. You can also find, you know, people are everywhere, people are out there. You can certainly do the online thing—you know, we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but—[Laughing]—but, you know, it can come, you know, come from really anywhere. You never know when you’re going to meet someone. It could be that, you know, someone in your group in class that you’re working on a project with, or it could be, you know, you’re walking your dog, or it could be someone that you work with, or you commute every day with. And I would just say—you know, I think I would say just be open to possibilities if you want to be in a relationship, but also I’ve seen people who kind of get mired in the openness to possibilities and if it’s not happening on the same timeline that they’d like it to, you can get depressed, or anxious, or upset, and say, “Well what’s wrong with me, why don’t I have a boyfriend, why don’t I have a girlfriend, why doesn’t, you know, why aren’t I going on dates,” and things like that, so it is—it can be discouraging. And I think I would just—I mean, it sounds maybe a little bit trite and overused—but I think there’s worse to it that, it’s gonna happen. You know, just like we talked about before, kind of, know your worth and that you’re super awesome and, you know, someday someone will see that, but, you know, to put yourself out there, to be brave, to go on dates, to, you know, be friendly, to introduce yourself and things like that, and if it’s not happening, that doesn’t mean it’s because you’re doing something wrong. It just means it’s not happening. And if you’re worried you’re doing something wrong, ask a friend, or ask your sister, ask your brother—“This is how I handled this situation, would you have done it differently?” Be open to that kind of feedback. Because maybe that opinion will help too.

Bryan Duarte: Let me ask this question to both of you: is there a way to poise myself when I’m looking for a relationship of this type? How should I hang the flag, if you will, and say, “Hey, I want to try to date, I want to take this relationship from my music group, or my sporting group, or my meetup, to maybe the next level”? Is there a way to kind of position myself or poise myself for that?

Rashad Jones: Ooh, that’s a toughie.

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing]

Rashad Jones: That’s a toughie—I mean, for me, college was just a very, “Hey, let’s just all hang out” thing, and I didn’t really—not very much, I would say—wasn’t really looking for anybody in that regard. I mean, there were times where, you know, something would have been nice, but I didn’t, I just didn’t even focus on it because I feel that I was so lacking in that area—contrary to what people might believe about me. But it can be tough, it can really be tough, especially when we consider that, you know, I had a visual impairment, and so I’m like, “No one’s going to look at me in that way,” that’s just always been kind of my default when it comes to that kind of thing. So, it was actually kind of a rough one for me.

Bryan Duarte: You touched on the main point of why I asked that question—"I’m blind, nobody’s really going to look at me like that.” When did you find, or how did you change that. Did it happen in you, did it happen because of a friend, what really gave you that notion that, “Hey, yeah I’m blind, but that doesn’t matter.”

Caitlin Mongillo: I think that, for me, everything that we’ve kind of been talking about all centers on the same—relationships are hard. They are not easy at all. They are not easy if you’re sighted, they are not easy if you’re blind—any kind of relationship. But I think for me at least, I know that, you know, it’s kind of all the same. I have to remember that I have worth, and that, you know, I am much more than just blind, but that’s an important part of me; and I have to be okay with, you know, the facets of myself—all of them—the ones that I like, and the ones that maybe I don’t like as much. And especially in regard to blindness, it’s a matter of, you know, remembering, and kind of constantly reminding myself, “You have a place here—in this relationship, in this job, in this family, in this” you know, whatever it is. And there’s definitely days—I’ve been married now for, oh gosh, almost 7 years, and there’s days where…

Bryan Duarte: Better not forget that!

Caitlin Mongillo: Yeah better not forget that—June 8th, 2013!

Rashad Jones: Okay!

Bryan Duarte: Alright!

Caitlin Mongillo: But there’s, you know, even days where I’m just like, “God, I’m a terrible wife; if I wasn’t blind, if I wasn’t this, if I wasn’t that, my husband would be so much happier with me.” So, everybody has crappy days, right, you have days where you just feel not okay about who you are. And that’s okay to acknowledge that, too; and hopefully just learn from that and let it pass. But I think you, you know, you attract the attention that you put out. So if you, if you’re interested in pursuing a romantic relationship, be a little bit confident; and even if you’re not, fake it ‘til you make it, you know, put it out there like, “I’m here, I’m cool, I’m cool with who I am,” and, you know, that makes people automatically more comfortable if you seem like you’re comfortable in your own skin, I think.

Rashad Jones: Yeah, definitely agree with that. You know, it’s about you developing that confidence. And again, I think it goes back to these social interactions and things. But really, having—making sure that you participate in that stuff is really important, ‘cause then it’s not only what you do during those interactions. It’s about the food that you go and have afterwards, the hangouts that you have even after the official meetings, that’s really where a lot of the relationship building takes place. And I think there’s a lot of potential for things to possibly escalate or go further. But another thing that Caitlin, you brought about, brought out, was just, and you guys both said this—being comfortable with who you are and all those types of things. I mean, that can be many different facets and levels and, you know, different avenues of that. You know, layers to that whole topic, but being confident in who you are can make or break you in that. So just learning to relax. And then, there’s inevitably somebody who’s going to take notice, and then if you notice somebody that you kind of, you know, that you think there’s something there between the two of you, then building the courage to say something about it.

Rashad Jones: Okay, so here we go. I’ve got some confidence, my friends tell me I need to do it, I’m interested in it—kind of—but let’s give it a try, I want to do online dating. Have you ever done this? Is this a thing? Can blind people do that? Should blind people do that? I have friends that have done it, there’s thousands of apps out there that do it, what should I do? Should I do it?

Caitlin Mongillo: I know—

Rashad Jones: Caitlin!

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing]

Bryan Duarte: I told you it was going to get challenging! Let’s do this—

Caitlin Mongillo: I know, I know! So full disclosure, I haven’t dated in…

Bryan Duarte: 7 years, at least!

Caitlin Mongillo: Well no, 13 years actually.

Rashad Jones: Okay, okay.

Caitlin Mongillo: I’m an old lady.

Rashad Jones: Nah!

Caitlin Mongillo: And, [Laughing]. So, when I started dating, my husband—who was then my boyfriend—online dating wasn’t really a thing, we had like OkCupid and eharmony and stuff, so I never actually used them because I wasn’t, when I started dating him, I wasn’t really looking for a boyfriend, I was just kind of having fun and being 18. But I definitely think, you know, it’s the wave of the future, right? There’s, like you said Bryan, and you’re right, there’s hundreds and hundreds of apps, and I think you’re mileage is gonna vary, certainly, because a lot of them are very—what would you call it—picture-based, maybe, you know, so maybe from what I’ve talked to, you know, my girlfriends who might be visually impaired, or blind, you know, being really cognizant of, you know, you being able to write your profile on your own, even if you can’t type it into your iPhone and you want to have your friend, or your sister, or your, you know, whoever, your coworker, whatever it might be, someone that you feel tight to, and that you know is gonna help represent you, even if you’re not typing it in yourself but they’re doing it, know what you want to say, have it be your words.

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely.

Caitlin Mongillo: But then also too, you know, if you’re curious, you start connecting with a guy or a girl and you want to know what they look like, and that’s okay. We’re curious even if we can’t necessarily be vain in the same definition so, you know, go back to that friend like, “Hey!”

Bryan Duarte: Who says?! It’s all about equality, right?!

Caitlin Mongillo: Exactly! You know, like “Hey! What’s his look like? Does he have long blonde hair? Does he look like a surfer? Maybe she’s a goth, or maybe, you know, he’s a punk or, you know, punk rock kind of style, or she’s really short, he’s really tall,” and, you know, if that matters to you, awesome, and if it doesn’t, awesome. But, you know, I don’t think that’s a bad thing to kind of have an idea of what the person looks like, you know, because everybody else gets that feedback too. So I think it’s okay to know and ask.

Bryan Duarte: Well before I give my personal story, Rashad—do you have a personal story from this online dating thing? Or do you have a perspective of it?

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing]

Rashad Jones: Whew—boy, oh gosh—

Bryan Duarte: Just calling you out—

Caitlin Mongillo: On the money, Rashad—

Rashad Jones: Yeah, you definitely are. Okay, so online dating, these apps—I really believe that you should exercise a lot of caution and common sense when you go on these things. According to “research,” of course y’all understand that. You know, “research suggests” that just because these are applications—dating applications—you still should probably, may want to think about how you present yourself on them. I mean, ooh—a lot of good can come from them. You know, if you’re looking for a casual hookup. But it can also be a situation where people, number one are like, you know, “What are you doing on this app? What’s wrong with you?” They’ll look at your physical appearance, and there are a lot of ignorant people. So, when you get on these apps you’re not necessarily going to be finding people who are understanding of people who have disabilities. So that’s something that you have to really be ready for. I remember on one app, I posted a picture of myself, and I took a picture of myself and they’re like, “What’s wrong with you?” or, you know, I mean, you can get some really negative feedback from some people. That’s not the majority, now let me make that clear, that’s not the majority. “The research” indicates that it’s not the majority. But you know, you might find one or two people who have a negative view of people who have disabilities, or just are very ignorant, and don’t understand, and aren’t looking to understand. So in those instances I would say, yeah I would say it’s rough, again, but you have to breathe, and then come back to it later, and figure out, you know, how you want to present yourself. And then, when you do that, you know, be very cautious about how you interact with these people. I mean meetups, and things, are pretty cool; but you know, you’re taking a chance, I would say, that you might not necessarily take in a more traditional setting, depending on what you’re looking for—I’ll put it to you like that. And then, if you’re not, if you’re too open, if you’re too willing to / eager to have somebody, you know, and this can be in a traditional setting too, but I’m thinking of “research” (ahem) and—

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing]

Bryan Duarte: [Laughing]

Rashad Jones: —okay, stuff that maybe I’ve encountered, and then, you know, stuff that you watch on things like 90 Day Fiancé, for instance. You just—the world is an interesting place, and I’m not saying don’t use them, ‘cause then, you know, the “researchers” and the other participants might think that I’m being a hypocrite. But what I am saying is—

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing]

Rashad Jones: [Laughing]—what I am saying is, this is a different time than, you know, your aunts, uncles, parents—certainly. So, I mean we’re going to be out there a little bit, you know, so try to have somebody you trust—like look at the pictures; number one to be like, “Hey, what do you think about this person?” You know.

Bryan Duarte: Safety first, safety first, I think.

Caitlin Mongillo: Absolutely.

Bryan Duarte: Let me ask you this question; let me ask you this question; I’ve got a question for you. How about this—do I tell people I’m blind on my profile?

Caitlin Mongillo: Ooh, good question.

Bryan Duarte: Do I just post a picture? Do I just write this awesome blog, this little post about me, and how I love to go hiking every Thursday ‘cause “research says” that everybody likes to hike? And “research also says” that everybody likes long walks on the beach and candlelit dinners, right? If I put that on my profile, and I don’t say I’m blind, when do I tell them I’m blind? Is that something that you can, that you’ve got some feedback on? I know my experience but let me ask you all first and then we’ll move onto the next two kind of little points I want to bring up.

Rashad Jones: Good question, that’s a great question.  Well personally, I do not have it in a profile. So, I will just wait until I make a connection with somebody, and then I’ll mention it in my personal introduction, you know, and then at that point, I let them know, you know, I have this visual impairment. But, I also went to college, have a degree, work three jobs, you know what I mean. And maybe that’s the wrong approach—I don’t know; you know, because it’s kind of like, the blindness maybe in some way in my mind is like a nuisance to somebody. It could be a deterrent. So, since I know, I guess since I know that some people might view it in that way, then you know, then I do—I just let them know the reality of it, so that’s the way that I’ve handled it. Caitlin may have something different.

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely. Caitlin? Do you have kind of a perspective? I know you said that you don’t really have experience with it, but do you have any feedback?

Caitlin Mongillo: I do have thoughts, though, of course.

Bryan Duarte: Sure.

Caitlin Mongillo: I have thoughts on all things.

Bryan Duarte: [Laughing]

Caitlin Mongillo: I, so—I agree. I think the only one thing that I would say is that, I feel like this is a very much, your mileage might vary and there’s no right answer, and there’s no wrong answer. It’s really what you want to do and based on an individual thing. So, I absolutely think that—Rashad, I think your approach of not saying it until you kind of connect with a person, there’s a ton of value and merit to that, you know, and really you’re able to present it in a longer form way. But I also think, too, you know, if you felt like you wanted to put it out there initially—awesome, all the more power to you, right? But, you know, you can do that, you just have to know that, okay—well, if I connect with someone and I match with someone, maybe they’re only matching with me because they want to ask all these questions about guide dogs and reading Braille and that kind of stuff. So, you may encounter that, and, you know, you also, it might be hard to know too, well, I’m not getting as many matches on Tinder, or Bumble, or you know, whatever the other ones are because I do have this out there, and are people discriminating against me because of it? So, I’ve seen people kind of vary it, where maybe initially they put it in there, and then, you know, after two months they take away the blind part and see if that changes. So, I think—you know, I really think it’s a personal opinion more than anything else. I don’t think there’s one right, one wrong way to handle it.

Bryan Duarte: Well you took my story, so now I don’t have to share it anymore, but—

Caitlin Mongillo: Sorry! [Laughing]

Bryan Duarte: [Laughing] No, I think you brought up, you bring up the—my experience, at least. And so, a few years back, I did try an online dating app, if you will, it’s called Coffee Meets Bagel. A bunch of my friends had tried this app called Bumble and Tinder was becoming a big thing, and so I had tried this thing. And it was accessible; I did it on my iPhone, and it was an app, and it was free for the most part. I think there was some kind of paid thing, that you could’ve paid for more people or—I don’t know how it all worked. But, I didn’t do all that, and you know, I tried that. I had my friends help me with the pictures, and I was able to type my own bio, and I tried it both ways. I tried it first telling people who I was and about me, and with the picture left the blindness out. And sure enough, you know, I had matches. But then, it became—not, I wouldn’t say as awkward, I don’t know how awkward I ever get, really, but it became the whole, “Oh, you’re blind, well—How do you live? How do you eat? Who takes care of you? Who does…”—I’m like oh my gosh, here we go, right? Well then, I was like, let’s try to avoid that and let’s only try to match with people who are going to be okay with me being blind from the onset. And so I switched my profile and I left most of it there, but then I also put in a spot kind of in it that said, “Yeah I became blind when I was 18 due to a motorcycle accident, and I still continue to do what I do, and I’m independent, and it doesn’t bother me so don’t let it bother you,” or, I don’t know—something along those lines, right? And again, I got matches, but from the beginning it was more of what I experienced later. So, it wasn’t, it wasn’t that there wasn’t interest, it wasn’t that I kept many people, at least, I still had people that were interested—blind or not blind. But really what I think we need to be okay with in a situation like this is, people are going to have questions, right? People are going to want to ask, people are not familiar with it, there’s a lot of people who probably never even think that blind people would be on an app like that and it’s always interesting when they are. And sometimes we need to be okay with answering questions and letting them kind of quiz us. I think there’s a point where we say, hmm, okay, enough is enough, let’s get back to what we’re here for and, you know, the whole grand scheme of things. But, I think that letting them have that kind of Q&A time is a good thing. I personally like telling them upfront better than I did later on, because then it’s the whole, “Oh yeah, by the way, I’m blind,” thing, and that’s not fun for anybody, and it’s really not fair, in my opinion. But I think it is important to let them ask the questions and kind of be okay with them. And I think once they talk to you, and get to know you more, that’s an okay thing. But that was my experience; and you touched on it, you both touched on it, so I think we covered the online dating thing pretty well. Let’s move to this other topic of: What do I want? And, what don’t I want? I think these are two questions that people ask me all the time: Well, what are you looking for? What do you want? And my question, my answer’s always the same: I’m not 100% sure what I want, but I know what I don’t want. And that could be equally as important, right? If you know you don’t want somebody who is an alcoholic, or does drugs, or who smokes, or who, you know, maybe you are looking for somebody who has the same faith as you—that could be an important thing, and that can definitely be a deal-breaker, right? And maybe you want somebody who has—it’s not super important to me that they’re musical, but that would be cool, right? You know, having these things in your mind, and knowing when to settle, and when not to settle. We all talked about this earlier in one of the personal relationship things, is having common interests, right? Having things that are in common. Now some of these are negotiable; others are not. So really having those listed out. So, do you have any feedback or perspective on those?

Caitlin Mongillo: I know for me, if you look at my husband and I, we’re very, very different. I’m kind of a little bit wild, and a little bit free-spirited—or a lot a bit free-spirited—and very loud, and excitable, and enthusiastic, might be a good way of putting it. And he’s very, very bright, and he’s very, very smart, and he appears to be very serious. So, the two of us together is sort of like a, you know, kind of like an opposites attract sort of thing. You know, and we do have very different interests. He’s very interested in politics, I am annoyed by them. He really likes cars, and I just like that they take me places. But, you know, so there are, you know, we watch, he likes to watch the news in the morning, I want to just get dressed and go to work. So those are small things that are very different from us, but there’s a lot of the core stuff that’s the same; like he is incredibly kind and generous, and I try to be those things, however I’m able. And we both really love our families, and we love dogs, and we love stupid movies that are, you know, like bro comedy movies that we can quote over dinner. And, you know, so it’s a matter of, I think—like you said, Bryan—it’s what do you want, what do you not want? So it’s, you know, but I think trying to—if someone has a lot of the core things that you value, some of the smaller stuff that’s even surface—if you can look beyond the surface differences, you know, give those folks a chance, ‘cause you might find that they’re truly winners for you and they work so well with you if deeper, you connect more than just, “Oh, well, you know, she really likes the New England Patriots and I’m a Jets fan so it’s never going to work.” You don’t want to sell yourself short, you know, and sell someone else short either.

Bryan Duarte: Alright, alright—I get that. So now I have this significant other, or “SO” as my buddy used to say, and I never used to know what the “SO” was, he let me know. So now I have this SO, this significant other. What is the difference between dating and hooking up? Is there a difference? Is this a fine line or is this a line that should be easily identifiable?

Rashad Jones: I think that depends on who you’re talking to and what the day is because those lines can be—yeah, like now, I have a friend who is like, “We’re not dating,” but you still cook for them, and then you, you’re buying stuff for them like they’re seven years old. What do you call it, if that ain’t dating? So I think it depends on the person. To me, it definitely depends. If you are just in it for the physical aspects—shall we say the physical reward, if you will—then I think it’s just, you know, you’re just talking; it’s just a hookup; it’s just a casual type of thing. But then if there’s more involved, the more time that you are able to spend together comfortably, then it’s dating, in my opinion.

Bryan Duarte: Okay, okay. So, let me ask this—and Caitlin I kind of want your perspective on this, with your background in social working and things like that—but, okay, now I have this boyfriend, this girlfriend, or this partner, and I want to be intimate in a physical way. Is this—do blind people do that? Is that a thing that I should be free to do, in kind of a broad sense? Obviously there could be religion or other factors playing in, and I’m not telling anybody that they have to go do this—full disclaimer—but, you know, it is a reality, it is a fact, and it’s something that people do. So, if I want to be intimate, what should I—how do I go about that? How do I navigate this so that I am safe, but I’m also doing things, you know, correctly?

Caitlin Mongillo: So, it’s a good question, and it’s a hard question. But I do think that’s really, really important. So, I think, absolutely—you know, I mean, not to be too up front, but there are blind parents in this world, and their children did not just magically land on their doorsteps. Like, blind people have sex. They do, and that’s great, and that’s fine—just like sighted people have sex. It is not a thing that you should feel like you can’t do, or shouldn’t do, because you’re blind or visually impaired. Nine times out of ten, you’re able to do that and you should do that if you feel comfortable. But I think in terms of navigating the waters of taking our relationship from you know, handholding, or kissing, or whatever—or maybe not even doing any of those things—but wanting to do that. I’d say the most important thing is: communication is key. Right? You need to be communicating with your, either your boyfriend, your girlfriend, or, you know, I also don’t think we should look down on the fact that if you’re in college—or even out of college, or whatever—a lot of people just hookup. They’ll just, you know, they’ll go to a bar, or a club, or a concert, or a wherever, and they’ll find a guy or a girl and they’ll make out, and maybe they have sex, maybe they don’t, that’s fine. But with all of these things, if you’re going to be doing something physical with someone, you want to talk it out. You know, maybe it’s not “We’re going to sit down and have this really long, important discussion,” but just, you know, just say—

Rashad Jones: [Laughing] Make sure you have your dissertation!

Caitlin Mongillo: But, it’s really, really important to say to the person that you’re with, “Is this okay? Can I touch you here? Can I kiss you there? Can I do this to you?” and, you know, most, most important is to respect peoples’ boundaries. So, if they say “no,” no always means no.

Bryan Duarte: Consent!

Caitlin Mongillo: There’s no grey.

Rashad Jones: Right.

Caitlin Mongillo: Consent is the sexiest thing you can ever have with someone else.

Rashad Jones: Yes.

Bryan Duarte: Yup.

Caitlin Mongillo: And likewise, if you’re the person and someone is doing something to you and they’re not asking, tell them no! You are, your body belongs only to you. You are—no one is to touch you, to make you feel uncomfortable, to do anything, you know, like that, and you should feel free to say no. And if they are not respecting it, you know, then that’s another conversation, or you leave, you know. You don’t ever have to feel like you need to do something to make someone else happy.

Bryan Duarte: I think you need to trademark that little slogan, “Consent is the sexiest thing…”—what, how did you say it?

Rashad Jones: —“…that you can have with somebody.”

Caitlin Mongillo: Exactly!

Bryan Duarte: That is good—you heard it here first, people!

Caitlin Mongillo: [Laughing]

Bryan Duarte: And I want to touch on these things, especially for those who maybe are already sexually active, or those who are probably in that area, thinking about it, considering it. Make sure that safety is your first priority. There are health centers on every campus, whether it’s a community college, a university—there’s health centers all around towns, and cities; and if not, you can definitely find them online that are near you. If you go into any health center, chances are they have condoms that are out there for free. If you need pregnancy tests—hopefully you don’t ‘cause you have an education to get—but they also have resources, they have materials. They will definitely bring you in and talk to you about the risks and instructions. But not instructions on how to do it, but instructions about how to navigate those waters and how to do that. So definitely be aware of the risk involved anytime you do something like this, understand where your resources can be found, and also just be aware of like I said, who you’re with—or not like I said—but like Caitlin said, be aware of the people you’re with, the people you’re involving yourself with, and know that consent is the most important thing. And so—

Caitlin Mongillo: And if I—

Bryan Duarte: Go for it.

Caitlin Mongillo: If I could, just to kind of add to what you’re saying, because as a woman who’s visually impaired, you know, like a couple other sort of just sort of things to—your student health center, like you said Bryan, that’s totally your best resource. But also, a good external resource as well within the community is Planned Parenthood. They’ll provide free STD screenings and exams for you if you need; they have condoms there as well, they have the pregnancy blood test that you can take. And normally for people who are in college, maybe you don’t have insurance, or your insurance isn’t great, so normally it’s either free or low cost—Planned Parenthood. And then just, you know, if you’re out and about, and you’re, you know, going to a party or you’re going to a bar, or you’re going to a club, or you’re doing whatever, and you are thinking, “Hey, I might like to, you know, hookup with someone tonight”—totally fine, awesome, you do you; but, you know, be careful about things like, if you’re, you know, if you’re drinking, be cognizant of, you know, how am I planning to get home—because you can’t consent if you’re drunk. Also, you know, if you’re a young woman, watch you’re drink; don’t leave it just sitting out on a bar if you’re going to the bathroom or you’re going outside. And if you’re, you know—you don’t have to certainly, but maybe that’s something that you go with a friend to, you know, the bar, or the club, or whatever. Or, you know, even if you’re going on a date, have someone like an accountability person that you’re checking in with, like, “Hey, I just got to, you know, the pizza place, I’m meeting so and so,” or “Hey I just got to the bar,” and someone who knows where you are, you know, in case you need to reach out for help. Even if it’s not a consent issue, but just something where you feel uncomfortable. You know, a friend, a family member, someone who can help you get an Uber if you need to, or be there for support, you know, someone who knows where you’re at I think is a good safety kind of consideration when you’re looking into meeting someone for the first time, or you are gonna be out drinking, or hooking up, or whatever, until you get into a more comfortable relationship.

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely. It sounds like being prepared is really the name of the game in any of these situations, right? Being prepared. So, yeah. Well, thank you both so much for this time, and your perspective, your feedback, and really tackling the fun but hard, hard questions of romantic, personal, and professional networking or relationship building. Rashad, it’s always a pleasure. Caitlin, thank you so much for joining us.

Caitlin Mongillo: Thank you so much for having me.

Rashad Jones: Same here, yeah—thank you very much.

Bryan Duarte: Before we go, we would like to thank the Learning Ally staff, funders, and stakeholders, for allowing us to start this new venture and creating a podcast. The hosts of this CSP College Knowledge podcast are Rashad Jones, Rachel Grider, and Bryan Duarte. Mary Alexander is the program director, the content writer was Kristen Witucki, Abigail Shaw is responsible for producing and editing the audio, the social media distributor manager is Katie Ottaggio, and my name is Bryan Duarte. Thank you for joining the College Knowledge podcast, thank you.

Read More about College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 3: Relationships

Summer Reading Recommendations Part 2: College Success Program Mentors
Close up of books on shelves in a library

July 2, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

Compiled by: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

The College Success Program has put together a summer reading list so we could encourage our students and each other to gravitate toward good books we've either read or plan to read. I've recently learned about enough great books to start a blog series! I have to admit that hearing about the many recommended books leads me to feeling almost frozen by the thought of all the books I might not get to! We hope these book lists will help give you a sense of who we are and our program, and also offer some reading entertainment for everyone! Part 2 of our series offers recommendations from seven of our mentors. Read Part 1 here.

Please note: These books are not necessarily available in the Learning Ally catalog.

Maureen Hayden, CSP Mentor

No Impact Man by Colin Beaven
It's a bit outdated now, but for any environmentally minded students this book documents the author and his family as they live waste free in New York City for a whole year. This means no travel, no public transportation, no packaged foods, no electricity, and even no toilet paper.


Emily Vasile, CSP Mentor

Some of the books I plan on reading this summer are:
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Yoga for Better Sleep: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science by Mark Stephens
Conjure Women by Aria Atakora


Bryan Duarte, CSP Mentor

I am not sure if my preferred genre, horror, is good for all, but I just finished:
Devoted by Dean Koontz

I am currently reading:
If It Bleeds by Stephen King
Seize The Night by Dean Koontz
Surprise Kill Vanish by Annie Jacobsen


Sam Van Der Swaagh, CSP Mentor

I am currently reading:
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
World War Z by Max Brooks

Yes, they are all very relevant to what is going on with COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and SpaceX.

Miso Kwak, CSP Mentor

I have read:
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer Lee

I am currently reading:
About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times

I plan to read:
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

And, I also second Mary Alexander's recommendation of Between the World and Me from Part 1 of this blog series!

Megan Dausch, CSP Mentor

I am currently reading:
The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

A few books I've enjoyed in the past year or more include:
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer


Caitlin Mongillo, CSP Mentor

I fully second Where the Crawdads Sing for it's beautiful depictions of scenery and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine for those of us who feel like they never fit in to "normal" society.

I also recommend:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas for its relevance to what's currently going on regarding racial injustice;
The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal by Jonathan Mooney as a poignant and funny look into disability culture;
and The Turn Of The Key by Ruth Ware as a good, solid summer mystery.

Looking for more reading inspiration? Check out Part 1 of this blog series or browse the Learning Ally Audiobooks. And check back in the coming weeks for Part 3 and Part 4!


Read More about Summer Reading Recommendations Part 2: College Success Program Mentors

College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 2: Mentorship: How Not to Reinvent the Wheel
College Knowledge by Learning Ally

June 24, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 2: Mentorship: How Not to Reinvent the Wheel

Being a college student with a visual impairment can be challenging but connecting to the College Success Program can help you make the most of this experience and succeed in reaching your goals. Join our mentors and cohosts, Bryan Duarte, Rachel Grider and Rashad Jones as they explore the academic, the professional, and the personal aspects of College Knowledge. If you are a college student who is blind or who has low vision, or you are curious about the world of college and visual impairment, this show is for you!

Episode 2: Mentorship: How Not to Reinvent the Wheel

In this episode, our hosts interview Abigail Shaw, Learning Ally's College Success Program Mentorship Coordinator. Learn about why she considers her role to be that of a platonic matchmaker and hear from College Success Program mentors and students about what mentorship through the program means to them.

You can also find it on iTunes by searching College Knowledge or click here. Be sure to leave us a rating or review!

Learn more about the College Success Program and sign up at learningally.org/CollegeSuccess.


Episode 2: Mentorship: How Not to Reinvent the Wheel Transcript

Bryan Duarte: Welcome to College Knowledge, Learning Ally’s podcast for college students who are blind or low vision. This show brings together three core elements of Learning Ally’s College Success program – Mentoring, Resources and Community. I am your cohost Bryan Duarte, blind mentor, software engineer and universal designer. When you think about a mentor, what comes to mind? Is it someone who helped you through a tough time? Or maybe it was someone that helped you find the career path you were going to pursue. Maybe this person helped you become a better blind person or maybe just a better human in general. A mentor can be all these things and much more. Our Learning Ally CSP mentors have all undergone several interviews as well as a background check. We work with our students to set goals and we even celebrate with them when they achieve those goals. But, we are also individuals. Just like our students, we all come from different backgrounds, experiences with our vision and areas of interest. The person who coordinates this process is Abigail Shaw, part paper chaser, part interviewer, and to use her words, part platonic matchmaker. To interview her today is my cohost Rachel Grider.

Rachel Grider: Thanks, Bryan. Abigail thinks of blindness as one of many parts of her identity. She attributes her positive attitude about her disability to her mother, who worked as a sign language interpreter, but also developed extensive knowledge about visual impairment along the way. Abigail studied music and audio engineering and is now pursuing her masters degree in social work. She moved from her home state of North Carolina to Brooklyn, New York. She is also a runner who has competed in marathons in New York City with Achilles International. She is also, incidentally, the audio engineer for this podcast. Welcome to the podcast as a speaker, Abigail.

Abigail Shaw: Thanks, Rachel. It’s fun to be the person in front of the microphone.

Rachel Grider: All right. So, how did you become interested in College Success?

Abigail Shaw: I actually started working for the College Success program in the fall of 2015 as a mentor. Another staff person at the time had reached out to me and let me know that they were looking for mentors and shortly after being a mentor for about a semester, the position of mentor coordinator opened and the rest is history.

Rachel Grider: That’s great. So, onto something that I’m sure everyone is curious about – matchmaking. Why do you call yourself a platonic matchmaker? And how does the process work for you and for a student?

Abigail Shaw: So I kind of just think of it as a match. I’ve never witnessed or met someone who does matchmaking professionally. But the ways in which it’s conveyed through media or the classic Fiddler on the Roof musical, there’s usually really involved in getting to know as much as they can about these two parties and connecting them for, well, in the non platonic way of a happy life together as a married couple. But for all intents and purposes for our program, I think of it as a platonic matchmaker because I really try to learn as much as I can about the student and match them up with a mentor who has things in common with them; whether that’s through academics, the technology they use, their personality. So I compile all the information that the students and mentors both share with me and then I kind of shift things around and think about who would work best together.

Rachel Grider: Right. That’s great. Sounds like a hard job but it sounds like a lot of fun too. So as a blind student, I always wanted to know what a job was like from day to day. Could you describe what your job looks like on a daily basis?

Abigail Shaw: Yeah, so I also split my time at Learning Ally with our production department in helping to produce our audio books. So part of my day is spent on those tasks and the other part is on the College Success program. I’ve been working remotely for Learning Ally for the last about three years. So I work from home and occasionally go into our Princeton headquarters in New Jersey once a month or so. But I love getting to work from home. I create my own schedule. I have a little corner of my apartment where I always go to work. I have lots of meetings with our College Success program core team over video conferencing. I collaborate with my colleagues on Google Docs and Sheets a lot. I connect with our mentors and follow up on questions they might have in supporting students. I do a lot of reviewing of our audio for the audio books part and following up with our volunteer narrators and listeners to make sure that they are helping us to produce books in a timely manner so we can get them to students. So yeah so it’s kind of a mixed bag of things, a lot of interpersonal kind of work as well as some technical audio pieces too.

Rachel Grider: That’s great. So you, you do a lot. That’s amazing. So what is one piece of advice you’d give college students on their journey?

Abigail Shaw: So one thing I think when I think about starting college is that it was a bit of a scary time cause there was a lot of unknowns, certainly a lot of anticipation and excitement of getting to meet new people, learning lots of new things. But I think one thing that I would encourage students to remember is that it's ok to ask for help whenever you’re uncomfortable or not sure or you just need assistance doing something. Because asking for help doesn’t mean that you’re any less independent or capable. We all need to lean on each other at times. And so whether asking a professor to better explain an assignment, asking a roommate to help you if you’ve lost  a shoe that has seemed to disappear into the abyss, asking somebody in the cafeteria if you’re holding a bottle of orange juice versus apple juice, I think it's ok. And we should encourage one another to reach out whenever we need help with the small things and the big things. 

Rachel Grider: Excellent. So is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Abigail Shaw: I’m just really excited that we have this program. I wish it had been around when I was a student. And I’m excited that we’re expanding to do things like this podcast and I hope that students will continue to stay in touch with us and give us their feedback on how things are working or how they could be better.

Rachel Grider: Great. Thank you so much for coming on the program, Abigail.

Abigail Shaw: Thanks, Rachel.

Rachel Grider: Now we’d like to introduce a mentor and a couple of students who have benefited from this program. So first I’m going to bring Bryan back in. He is completing his PhD in software engineering at Arizona State University. He loves talking technology, writing software and building universally designed assistive technology. He is also the father of an 11 year old daughter and 9 year old twin sons. Bryan, welcome to the podcast as a guest.

Bryan Duarte: Thank you, Rachel. Appreciate it.

Rachel Grider: All right. So in general what was your college experience like and how did that inspire you to mentor?

Bryan Duarte: That is a great question and one that I love to share with those who I interact with. I like to be honest with everybody that I speak with about this because it really is the reason why I do what I do. I always tell people that my first semester was almost my last semester in college, at least in higher education. I first started. I took two classes at a community college and I thought things were going pretty well for what I could expect from a community college. And when I got to a university, I was always kind of under the impression that oh things are going to be so amazing. They’re going to have all the resources. They’re really going to have this accommodation thing down pat and the only struggle I’m going to have is doing the classes, right. Well I was wrong. I wasn’t as accurate. And I think a lot of our students can attest to this. That not all universities do have it down pat. Some might, but others don’t. So really what it takes is being able to advocate for yourself. And so my first semester was almost my last semester because I got there and I was taking calculus and physics and some pretty tough courses as a somewhat newly blind student. And there wasn’t much support there and it came to the point where I had to drop calculus and I had to focus all my time, so many hours in the tutor center. But I ended up getting through it. So my original stop was to not give up and just to keep going and seek out resources and kind of like we all do, we find workarounds and find ways to solve the problems that we face.

Rachel Grider: Yes. Thank you so much, Bryan. So onto mentoring, what do you enjoy most about mentoring?

Bryan Duarte: How much time do we got? I especially like mentoring. For me, mentoring is as much for me as it is for the students. And I tell all of them that, because I don’t look at them as mentees. I don’t rarely ever call them mentees. I like to think of me as developing relationships with them, friendships, if you will. My background is in computer science and software engineering which is a pretty specific area and it's one that not a lot of people are in if they have a vision disability. So what I am unique in is that I have students who I work with who are pursuing educational careers in that area. So we have a lot in common right out the gate. And we get to talk about things that we’re doing, things that we want to do. And it's so awesome as someone who has this innovative mind to hear and work with students who their mind is even more innovative. And  it's so inspiring to me all the time when I meet these students. And I’m like, “Wait, how old are you and you’ve done what?” It’s very inspiring to me. So I really love to work with the students and to hear what they’re doing and what they want to do and just really come beside them and push them, not let them cut corners, and just keep letting them push it till they achieve what they want.

Rachel Grider: Wonderful, Brian. I can absolutely attest to that as well. So what would you say is one of the greatest challenges that you faced as a mentor?

Bryan Duarte: I, again just being honest, I think that one of the biggest challenges is, for me as someone who is trying to develop relationships, working relationships, friendships with students, is when they don’t want to ask questions. I can only help them or give them advice or coach them or share my experiences if I know what they’re going through. I can guess what they’re going through. But as we all can attest to, it’s not all one size fits all, right. So we can’t just guess that their experience is exactly like my experience. So if they don’t ask questions, if they don’t want to participate, if they don’t want to engage, it really is difficult for me to work with them. But for the most part, I think as engineers, they always have questions, they’re always used to going out and looking for answers. We always just kind of keep our channels, our networking resource channels open, if you will, that’s the people, that’s the websites, that’s the podcasts or the  forums, whatever it is where we find answers open. So I don’t run into that too often but every now and then I get a student who I work with that it either takes them a long time to open up and ask questions or they just never really do. So that’s kind of the hardest thing for me.

Rachel Grider: So Bryan, what would you tell a student who is considering working with a mentor or a student who is required by a program to work with one?

Bryan Duarte: Great question. I would tell them definitely take the opportunity to partner with somebody, develop a relationship with somebody who… I think probably the best thing and I think that, you can attest to this as well, the best thing about the College Success program is the fact that they do a lot of work to match students with the mentor who is in their same walk of life. Either they’re pursuing music degrees or they’re already professional musicians, such as yourself, or  they’re in acting or they’re social workers or they’re engineers. And they match you with students who are doing that same thing. So it’s so beneficial. I would say this to any student with a visual impairment or not, that you really need to open up yourself to seeking out resources. Those resources are people like I said, those resources are tutor centers, those could be groups or clubs or organizations. But when you don’t get yourself out there and you don’t get involved and network with people, you’re really closing yourself off to your full potential, I believe. Because there are people who have gone through what you’ve gone through, and it’s so important that we don’t reinvent the wheel, the title of this podcast, right – “Don’t Reinvent the Wheel”. Go for it, talk to them, ask them questions, pick their brain, brainstorm together and just really take advantage of the opportunity you have to learn from somebody who’s done what you’ve done, done what you could be doing.

Rachel Grider: Yes, I absolutely agree with you. It’s very difficult to be successful if you try to do everything alone, right?

Bryan Duarte: Absolutely, yes absolutely. 

Rachel Grider: We need to network and our matchmaker knows what she’s doing. 

Bryan Duarte: Yeah, platonic matchmaker professional.

Rachel Grider: Platonic matchmaker. Yes, so thank you so much, Bryan for sharing your insights. So now let’s go on to our two students. Our first student is Faizan Jamil, one of Brian’s mentees. And don’t worry, this isn’t like a reality show when the two of them will start yelling at each other. Faizan, welcome to the show. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Faizan Jamil: Thank you for having me. Lets see, where do I start. I am a student who’s studying computer science, studying in New Paltz. Currently, I’m in my third year of college. I hail from basically western Nassau County of Long Island, New York. It’s right near the city and I’ve been visually impaired since pretty much birth and it’s gotten to a point where I’m completely blind in my left eye, but my vision in my right eye is fine.

Rachel Grider: Ok great, thank you. So what is one challenge you have faced during college?

Faizan Jamil: More than ten. More than I can count on my fingers, I can tell you that much. Lets see, the one that keeps coming up and the one that’s always, I mean always at the forefront of my mind is always I got time management, where it's even, where it’s ok. Yeah, that we all have this issue in college it seems like. Well it’s, you have even with a semester like this current semester that we’re going through right now. I’m only taking three classes. I have a class where the professor is - nice lady. She gives a lot of work, she gives a lot of work and compound that with my other two classes, where one of them is Calculus 2, which for anyone who’s had the, let’s say, pleasure of taking that class, well who had the privilege of taking that class would agree, that’s not an experience you’d want to go through again.

Rachel Grider: I haven’t taken that class but I can imagine. I can definitely imagine what you’re talking about. 

Faizan Jamil: Yeah, Bryan should know what I’m talking about. 

Rachel Grider: Oh yes.

Bryan Duarte: Oh, I very much do. 

Rachel Grider: Oh man, that’s why I’m a music major guys. All right, so how has working with a mentor helped with this challenge that you just described?

Faizan Jamil:  Now Bryan, as you know, is my mentor. He has been extremely helpful when it comes to this sort of thing, that’s extremely helpful as, helpful as, someone can be in this situation where we will go exchange back and forth text messages. We were texting about this well a couple of weeks ago before my online classes started. He has been extremely helpful in the regard that I have been mentioning that I have struggles with time management, or this issue and that issue. He’s suggested ways that I can handle that with mobile apps or computer apps or whatever. So for time management specifically, he gave me a couple recommendations for apps like Google Keep. Microsoft has their own to do list app and there’s Any.do, Wunderlist that sort of thing. I eventually went with the Google option of Google Keep because I don’t use my Microsoft account that much and Google already has me in their clutches. So give them some more food to feed on if you know what I’m saying. 

Bryan Duarte: They have us all, buddy.

Faizan Jamil: Yeah, they do.

Rachel Grider: Great. Thank you for sharing that. That is a great example of how your mentor has helped you and also how technology has helped you. So now that we’ve talked about challenges, what is one thing that you enjoy about college? 

Faizan Jamil: The people. Without a doubt, it’s dorm life and the people you meet there. And that’s what’s absolutely made college for me. Right now, college to me is all about dorm life where, not that I have parties in my room and stuff like that, not that I’m too distracted from my studies but, I have a group of friends that I hang out with. I have a couple people that I very much enjoy the company of and that they, I hope, enjoy my company. But I consider them friends and I really hope that after college we can stay in touch. But we’ll see how that goes. Hopefully it will. 

Rachel Grider: So do you feel that the social aspect of college is just as important as the academic aspect?

Faizan Jamil: Oh absolutely. I learned that firsthand my first year where I had a tough schedule for a first semester kid and I didn’t have a good group of friends to turn to. So I had to find one and luckily within the past couple, like past twoish years, I found one.

Rachel Grider: Excellent. That is wonderful. 

Bryan Duarte: So Faizan, can you let us know. Have you used any of the school resources such as your gym or your tutoring center or have gotten involved in any clubs or organizations at school?

Faizan Jamil: Yeah sure. That’s a good question, Brian. Let’s just start with the facilities because that’s a bit of a shorter bit for me to say. So I have used the on-school gyms. So actually at my school it’s a bit interesting where we have a gym on campus which is spacious. It’s big. It’s all right. It’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s a free gym so who’s going to complain. We also have a mini gym in some of the dorms, or at least in mine, where down in the basement 8:30 to 12 every night, the mini gym is open. And you can do some exercise there. There‘s no cardio stuff but they do offer yoga mats and stuff. I normally just hang around there because frankly, I confess in cold weather, I can’t be bothered to walk all the way to the gym in just gym shorts. So, but in short, I have used the gym, yes. I generally go there for stress relief and stuff. As for clubs, yeah I’ve been involved with one or two clubs. First semester, I was involved with a bit more but I had to sort of narrow it down to find clubs that I actually enjoyed going to. So right now I’m currently involved with two clubs. One of which is the gaming society on campus its called, I think, “Gaming Society of New Paltz” where they do a variety of gaming not just video gaming or board gaming. It’s sort of a mix of both where you have one…

Rachel Grider: That’s cool.

Faizan Jamil: Yeah I know. It’s awesome. I love it.

Bryan Duarte: Do you guys have LAN parties?

Faizan Jamil: I wish. I’d love for there to be LAN parties. But no, they usually just have console games and then board games like various games like Secret Hitler. Occasionally we have UNO nights or card games or D&D (Dungeons & Dragons). And I’m currently serving on the e-board for that club which I also very much enjoy.

Rachel Grider: That’s great.

Bryan Duarte: That’s really awesome. That’s good to hear because I think a lot of students are apprehensive about getting involved in clubs when they have any kind of disability, not even just a visual disability. So that’s really awesome that you shared that. I hope some students will take away that they can be fun and they are inviting whether you have a visual disability or not. Thank you.

Faizan Jamil: Because I’m blind in my left eye, I pretty much have to use a cane even though I can see fine. Not that many people have grilled me about it. People have questioned it, but they’re polite about it. So I got lucky there that I’m not facing any other obstacles with my visual impairment. Only thing is, I just got to move closer to the TV. That’s all. 

Rachel Grider: That’s great. I think it's important too to realize, I think, what you shared about social life, being in clubs, being with your friends, how important that is. I think it’s absolutely key to having a successful college … is being able to network with people just like we were talking about. So, and it’s important, just as important as academics. So thank you for sharing your experiences both of you, Faizan and Bryan. Now we’ll speak with another student, Kaitlyn Ryan. So Kaitlyn, welcome to the podcast. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Kaitlyn Ryan:  Thank you so much. Oh ok yeah. So my name is Kaitlyn. I’m 20. This is my 3rd semester in community college cause I went first semester Minneapolis and I was in training at a blindness center up there called Blind Incorporated. But now I attend Black Hawk Community College. So I attend Black Hawk Community College and I live in the student apartments up there. And I’m going to become a teacher of the visually impaired and I’m going to minor in spanish. 

Rachel Grider: And what year did you say you were in college right now?

Kaitlyn Ryan: So I’m technically still a freshman cause I took … With Blind Incorporated, I was able to take community college classes while getting the independent living skills I needed. So actually I had the support of the Blind Incorporated staff. So it’s my third semester. I’m still considered a freshman. 

Rachel Grider: Ok that’s great. All right so what is one of the challenges that you have faced so far during college?

Kaitlyn Ryan: So my first semester was pretty smooth sailing cause it was just  two classes and I had the skills. But I’m actually a dog user. So actually the biggest challenge I have faced is access with my guide dog.

Rachel Grider: Oh wow can you elaborate on that please?

Kaitlyn Ryan: Oh yeah absolutely. So the disability coordinator was not really hip on me having a dog on campus. She was nervous about accidents and other issues. We did have a couple accidents when I was walking on my gym… My college gym has an indoor track. But I cleaned them up and took the appropriate precautions to correct her and do what I needed to do. But they were trying to tell me that the dogs just shouldn’t be on campus due to the fact that she could have accidents. And apparently some students were getting distracted by her because they could just look at her and not the teacher. So it was a lot of involving. I went to The Seeing Eye and I want to give a big shoutout to Melissa Allman who is the advocacy specialist at The Seeing Eye, who helped advocate with me and explain the ADA and explain all the laws about guide dogs and how the dog is helpful in making me an independent person. Also at the time there was a president whose name is Jim and he also explained the need of the dog because Jim and Melissa are both dog users themselves.  

Rachel Grider: Oh man. Thank you for sharing that. I’m also a Seeing Eye graduate. So I know both Melissa and Jim and I have had them help me with similar issues. So I’m really, really glad they were able to. So now at this point are you still facing that type of access issue or has that pretty much been resolved?

Kaitlyn Ryan: It’s been resolved. So actually now my challenge is I’m in math class and we’re doing graphing and it's online because of the whole situation. So that’s my new life challenge. 

Rachel Grider: So what have you done? Has your mentor helped you with this issue or what other ways have you found to get around this issue? 

Kaitlyn Ryan: It kind of came up within the past couple of weeks because Megan and I do biweekly calls. Megan is my mentor and we’ve been texting a little bit about the graphing stuff. She’s actually calling me tomorrow. So we’re going to discuss it more. I’ve also been utilizing the college tutoring center. We have great tutors and they’ve been able to do tutoring over the phone with me. So that’s been super helpful in explaining the graph. Also the Disability Center was able to order raised graph paper. So that has been super helpful.

Bryan Duarte: If you haven’t used them already, I would look into Wikki Stix. Wikki Stix are a great way for you to build your graph in a tactile way. For those who don’t know, a Wikki stick is a little wax straw or wax string. It’s a string coated in wax and you can take those strings and you can bend them and mold them and push them and stick them on your raised graph paper. That’s how I used to do graphing as a blind college student doing calculus and such math things. So that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that. It does sound like you are using the tutor centers which is also a great thing. Cause that’s the question I was going to ask you. So thanks for sharing that.

Kaitlyn Ryan: Oh no problem. And also, just for people, because Wikki Stix is a common name, but they also have been called Bendaroos in a lot of craft stores. They actually call them Bendaroos. So just in case students are like, “Ok let’s go get these.” And they go to a craft store and ask for customer assistance and they’re like, “What’s Wikki Stix?” You can say “oh, Bendaroos,” and they’re the same thing.

Rachel Grider: Tell me one thing, or several things if you’d like, that you have enjoyed so far about your college experience. 

Kaitlyn Ryan: I love that, and it was the kind of setup in Blind Incorporated too, but I love meeting people from different backgrounds and diversities. I come from a small town of 800 people, so we all knew each other, and on a family farm. So honestly growing up I’m just like “Everyone has to live the same,” right. So I like that it’s taught me that everyone does live differently and has a bunch of different unique experiences. So I really like that and I just like the social part overall. I also love my job that I actually have on campus now and I just think college is overall easier than high school. 

Rachel Grider: What job is this that you have on campus?

Kaitlyn Ryan: So I am what they call an event coordinator. So I advertise the different events that are happening on college, and get decorations up for them for like black history month, all the different African Americans that have made a difference and we put quotes up. We decorated the campus for Valentine’s Day and different stuff and then usually a few days before the event, we have a popcorn stand that we set up. That way if students are walking by they’re like, “oh, free popcorn,” and then I get to explain the event that is going on, the location, the time, the day and any other questions that students or staff may have about the event. 

Rachel Grider: That’s great. So thank you so much for your wonderful insighst, Kaitlyn and for being on this podcast.

Kaitlyn Ryan: You’re welcome.

Bryan Duarte: Thanks, Rachel for those great interviews. Be sure to join us next time for episode 3, where we’re going to be talking all about relationships, relationships from a personal, professional and even romantic perspective with one of our venturing mentors, Caitlin Mongillo. Be sure to leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. And share with your friends that we have started this new journey of podcasting. Before we go, we’d just like to thank the Learning Ally staff for supporting us in the making of this podcast as well as our funders and stakeholders for supporting us in all that we do. Your co hosts for College Knowledge are Bryan Duarte, Rachel Grider and Rashad Jones. The program director is Mary Alexander. The podcast writer is Kristen Witucki. Abigail Shaw produced the audio and our social media and distribution manager is Katie Ottaggio. My name is Bryan Duarte. And thank you for joining us for College Knowledge. 

Read More about College Knowledge Podcast - Episode 2: Mentorship: How Not to Reinvent the Wheel

Summer Reading Recommendations Part 1: College Success Program Staff
Hands reading braille

June 22, 2020 by Katie Ottaggio

Compiled by: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

The College Success Program has put together a summer reading list so we could encourage our students and each other to gravitate toward good books we've either read or plan to read. I've recently learned about enough great books to start a blog series and below is the first in the series! I have to admit that hearing about the many recommended books leads me to feeling almost frozen by the thought of all the books I might not get to! We hope these book lists will help give you a sense of who we are and our program, and also offer some reading entertainment for everyone! Part 1 of our series offers recommendations from many of the staff members who work the most closely with the College Success Program on a daily basis.

Please note: these books are not necessarily available in the Learning Ally catalog.

Mary Alexander, National Director, Program Initiatives for Students

The Best of Us by Karen Traviss
This is an early prequel on the Galaxy's Edge franchise. My son is a huge GE nut and convinced me to read this book because he knew I'd love it. It opened an entirely new universe for me as there are so many GE books. I've since read a couple of the others and while I'm not a huge fan of reading about various military engagements, there is enough character development that they are very interesting!

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
I found out about this book from my sister Becky. She is an attorney and shares my love of history, especially Great Britain during the time of WWII. I have not read this book but it's on my summer list!

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Given what has happened in the world I want to read something that makes me a better person. This book sounds like it might do that. I'm starting this very soon.

Katie Ottaggio, CSP Engagement Operations Manager

The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel
This was recommended to me by my mom and came on the heels of us both recently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (another great read). I really enjoyed this book as it featured a part of WWII I wasn't familiar with - the French resistance. It's a great historical fiction with a little bit of mystery and romance.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
If you're a fan of tea, you'll appreciate how this book showcases its origins in China. It also explores a little known hill tribe and takes an interesting look at the differences in the tribe culture compared to the culture throughout the rest of the country, as well as the specific impact of the culture on women. I enjoyed this so much that I've added another title by this author - China Dolls - to my summer reading list.

American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hessee
As a fan of true crime, I enjoyed this book as it took a deeper look at the "why" of the crime and takes you on a journey where you find yourself 100% against the perpetrator while still feeling sympathy towards them. For my true crime fan friends, I also recommend I'll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara.


Abigail Shaw, Production Coordinator and CSP Mentor Coordinator

Recommended titles I've read in the last six months:
Educated by Tara Westover
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

I'm currently reading Queening by Candice Carty-Williams.

Books I'm planning to read this summer:
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad
Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Saarashinga


Kristen Witucki, CSP Curriculum and Content Editor

I have read:
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
At first a character who dies over and over again did not appeal to me. I literally abandoned the book. I probably only returned to it because the whole stop and restart ethos is very similar to my life as a mother of three children. Anyway, reading about how one decision could have such enormous ramifications was very profound. It can affect which side of a world conflict you end up on or whether you have individual agency in your life or not!

I am currently reading:
Arranged Marriage by Chitra Bannerjee Divakuruni
I decided short stories fit my attention span at the moment, but these characters are also engaging and full of resonance and warmth. One of the stories, "A Perfect Wife," really resonated with the ways my husband and I handled a completely different conflict.

I plan to read:
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I am very, very, very late to the hype around this book. All of Tayari Jones's novels have been wonderful so far. The book shows the points of view of a married couple who must deal with the repercussions of living in the shadow of a crime the husband did not actually commit. I've dragged my feet on reading it, because I worry about police surveillance in a country in which my husband and sons live as African Americans. I think I've avoided many good books that way, if I've worried they will hit too close to home. But a group of colleagues at work have contributed to a Zoom channel called "A Place to Talk Books," (more about that in Part 3 of this blog series, so stay tuned!), and one of them reminded me why I should read it.


Tom Hetzel, Controller

Recommended books I've read:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

Looking for more reading inspiration? Browse the Learning Ally Audiobooks and check back in the coming weeks for Part 2Part 3, and Part 4 of this blog series.

Read More about Summer Reading Recommendations Part 1: College Success Program Staff

"Education is a right, not a privilege", read our statement from Learning Ally CEO
Learning Ally CEO Andrew Friedman

June 19, 2020 by Learning Ally

The events over the past few weeks have given me and the Learning Ally staff pause for reflection. In line with our values, diversity and inclusion are a fundamental premise of everything we do. We have no tolerance for racism or discrimination of any kind.

We believe education plays an important role in stamping out racism and discrimination.. Over the past 70 years Learning Ally has had a consistent purpose, which is for all people to have an equal and equitable opportunity to learn and succeed. We continue to believe education is a RIGHT not a privilege. In today’s environment it is incredibly important we do better for our most vulnerable populations, including students of color, low socio-economic status, English Language Learners and those with physical and learning disabilities.

Our goal is apparent, not just in our words but the actions we take. We are committed to helping educators understand how students learn and equip them with the best instructional practices to meet their needs and the needs of their students, especially those who are chronically underserved, to improve literacy and learning outcomes. We are working with leading institutions across the country, including UCSF and MIT to develop state-of-the art student assessments mapped to interventions and accommodations, all supported by robust communities of professional learning.

Our dedication to equitable access to education for ALL students is unwavering. We are committed to doing more and doing better.

Andrew Friedman

President and CEO Learning Ally

Read More about "Education is a right, not a privilege", read our statement from Learning Ally CEO

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