SF State News {University Communications}

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News Release


SF State graduate student Laura Millar selected as winner of CSU-wide award


SAN FRANCISCO, September 16, 2008 -- As a child growing up in East Africa, Laura Millar, now a Livermore resident, witnessed the discrimination of people with disabilities. Later as a college student in California, she became legally blind due to a degenerative eye disease and now seeks to use these unique life experiences to help others to lead fulfilling lives. The California State University (CSU) system has selected Laura Millar, a master’s degree student at San Francisco State University, to receive the William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees' Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Millar gained first-hand knowledge and experience of the cultures in East Africa. While most of these experiences were positive, she witnessed the devastating effects of AIDS, genocide and the fear of people with disabilities. She often saw disabled individuals treated as social outcasts and sometimes considered possessed by evil spirits. Millar left East Africa and returned to the United States to attend college.

"These events and experiences in East Africa shaped my philosophical approach to life in ways that I would not understand fully until years later," Millar said. "When health and science collide with culture, I am a firm believer in the philosophy of trying first to understand and then to be understood." Her experience compelled her to focus her studies on how to improve the health and living conditions of people from ethnically diverse cultures, while respecting and working within the limitations of those cultures.

She was halfway through her bachelor's degree when she was diagnosed with a genetic eye condition that has caused her to become legally blind. Determined to continue her education, Millar sought assistance and used adaptive technology to complete her undergraduate degree in health education from Chico State University. She recently finished her second year of a master's program in public health at SF State while juggling the challenge of being a new mother.

Practical work experience, an important component in SF State's College of Health and Human Services, has given Millar another life-transforming experience. She worked as an intern for the non-profit organization Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), assessing children’s access to health care while living in mother-child prison programs. Currently, she is creating a curriculum to train correctional officers in the state of California to respond effectively to the special needs of elderly prisoners, whose population is growing significantly within the state's prison system.

Millar, along with one winner from each CSU campus, will be honored by the Trustees on Sept. 16 at the CSU Office of the Chancellor in Long Beach, California. The CSU Trustees' award provides $3,000 scholarships to students who have demonstrated financial need, experienced personal hardships and have attributes of merit including superior academic performance, exemplary community service and significant personal achievements.

The William Randolph Hearst Foundation originally established an endowed scholarship fund in 1984 to honor William Randolph Hearst, founder of the Hearst newspaper chain. In 1999, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation partnered with the CSU Board of Trustees to supplement the endowment with contributions from CSU Trustees and private donors.

San Francisco State University is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls more than 30,000 students each year. With nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies -- the University's more than 140,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

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