01/27/13 — Local student earns $10,000 scholarship

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Local student earns $10,000 scholarship

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 27, 2013 1:50 AM

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Alyssa Odell, a senior at Wayne Early/Middle College High School, is among 16 legally blind, college-bound high school seniors to receive a $10,000 scholarship from Jewish Guild Healthcare.

A senior at Wayne Early/Middle College High School with aspirations of going to Yale and becoming a child psychologist is among 16 legally blind students chosen to receive a $10,000 scholarship from Jewish Guild Healthcare.

Alyssa Odell, 17, of Pikeville, said she heard about the scholarship opportunity last year from her guidance counselor, Kerri Loury, and decided to apply.

She is the only recipient from North Carolina. Winners were chosen after a rigorous application progress, with criteria including academic excellence, community involvement, financial need and legal blindness.

While Alyssa's blindness is not what defines her, it is something she deals with on a daily basis.

She was born with albinism, which means she lacks pigment in her skin, hair and eyes. According to the American Optometric Association, by definition, a legally blind person needs a distance of two feet to be able to read what a person with 20/20 vision could see comfortably from 20 feet away.

"My eyes get tired a lot easier," Alyssa said. "I prefer audio books."

Otherwise, she has no major limitations, other than being unable to drive.

A member of Key Club and Student Council Association at her school, she is also active in the youth group and choir at Patetown Church of God.

"It's amazing what she's able to do," said Lee Johnson, WEMCH principal. "She can get around all over the campus. She's just been a model student. She's done very well since she's been here.

"When I first heard that a student here was legally blind, I wondered how that works. It's been a struggle for her but she's done beautifully."

Ms. Odell has attended WEMCH all four years of high school. She is also taking college-level courses and will graduate in May with a high school diploma as well as an Associate in Arts honors degree.

"In the UNC system, she would go in as a junior," her principal explained.

In a graduating class of 60 students, Alyssa has never required special treatment, made excuses or let anything hold her back, Mrs. Johnson said.

"I hate it when people like take pity on me," Alyssa said. "I just didn't want to be known for making excuses."

Mrs. Johnson said she marvels at the senior's fortitude.

"She's never, the whole time she's been here, everything she's gone after, she's done a great job and she's never let anything hinder her. She's never seen any limitations. She's had the complete high school and early middle college experience."

"I don't know anything different," Alyssa said. "I guess I'm used to it in a way. I know I'm capable of doing more so why not? Why stop trying when you can do a whole lot more?"

She admits that there have been challenges, especially in the younger grades. She said there were times she has been treated differently, as well as the occasional incidents of bullying and teasing.

Having a supportive family has helped, she said.

In addition to applying to Yale, she has applied to four other colleges, including Duke, and has already been accepted at Appalachian State University.

She hopes to study psychology and said she is looking forward to seeing what the future has to offer.

"I don't know what to expect," she said. "I think I can do some cool stuff.

"I want to be a child psychologist. I think it would be cool to just help children from the beginning. A lot of times problems they have when they're older started when they were children."