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Sweden-bound senior wins $5,000 scholarship

September 7, 2004

Photo of Arlena WinnAlthough finance major Arlena Winn is legally blind, she plans to go sight-seeing in Europe for three months after studying international business this academic year in Sweden. Winn is one of 20 students statewide to win the Dale M. Schoettler scholarship, and the $5,000 award will help fund her European adventure.

Winn, from Sunnyvale, has Stargardt's disease, an inherited condition that creates central blind spots that increase in size as the disease progresses but leaves peripheral vision intact. She was diagnosed at age 12 but has not let the condition discourage her from achieving her goals.

Winn realizes the world is a visual one and believes she won the Schoettler scholarship because of her aspirations to study abroad and travel in that "visual world," despite her impaired vision.

The 24-year-old senior has maintained a 3.2 grade point average and is attending Vaxjo College in Sweden to study international business for the academic year.

Winn rarely speaks of her condition and works hard to curb its effects. She reads most of her school books directly from the page, using a closed-circuit television only when her eyes are tired. She has trained herself to make eye contact even though the face of the person she is speaking to looks like a "white cloud" to her.

"I can look a person in the eye, but I can't see their eye," Winn explained. "I have to look away to see facial expressions, but when I look centrally it's all a blur, like a white cloud."

Despite having Stargardt's, Winn played college basketball during her freshman and sophomore years at Bethune-Cookman, a historically African American college in Florida.

"When playing basketball you need your peripheral vision, but you don't necessarily need your central vision," Winn said. "You just have to be really intuitive."

Winn transferred to SFSU as a junior and began studying finance, concentrating in international business. She will graduate in 2006 and then plans to work in international finance and travel around the world.

"Arlena has demonstrated tremendous determination and resilience in overcoming obstacles to achieve her goals," said Patti Wright, transitions specialist in the Disability Programs and Resource Center. "She entered the University system with purpose, focus and life experience. Arlena has always strived for academic excellence, and I am awed by her courage to embark on the incredible journey to study abroad in Sweden."

Winn, whose mother is Swedish, plans to learn as much of the language as possible while studying there. She has already begun studying Swedish books and listening to language tapes.

"I planned to study abroad before I was awarded the scholarship,” Winn said. "The Schoettler scholarship money is really going to help.”

The Dale M. Schoettler scholarship, sponsored by the CSU, provides assistance for full-time students that are declared legally blind. It is made possible by a $3.4 million contribution to the CSU system received in 2002 from the estate of Schoettler, a longtime Bay Area resident.

To find out more about SFSU international programs, visit the Office of International Programs Web site.

-- Student Writer Elizabeth Davis with Matt Itelson


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Last modified September 7, 2004 by University Communications