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'Driven to Succeed': Grad Helps Others Through Her Own Struggles

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By Jessica Wycoff

Simply looking at Katherine Olson doesn't tell you the magnitude of challenges she has overcome.

Olson, who graduated from UCF on Friday, was diagnosed with severe hearing loss when she was 4. She received her first pair of hearing aids before she even entered kindergarten.

Her parents insisted that she attend mainstream schools, and despite the extra hours of studying and ups-and-downs with speech therapy, she excelled.

"I've surprised myself," she says.

Although she knew it would be a challenge, Olson pursued a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. Initially intimidated by the higher dropout rate of students with similar impairments, she was determined to finish school and graduate.

"If I could use one word to describe my daughter, it would be 'driven.' She always has been driven to succeed," says Katherine's father, George Olson.

The Olsons moved from Virginia to Florida when Katherine was 5. In Orlando, she kept up with her dance recitals and played the flute in the Timber Creek High School marching band, while two of her older brothers attended UCF.

While she was in high school, she received the DisneyHand Shining Star (Dreamer and Doer) award and a college scholarship from the AG Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Olson originally enrolled at UCF in 2006 as a part of the Pegasus Success Program, a limited-access summer program to help students achieve their academic goals while transitioning from high school to college. She wanted to be a Nursing major, but soon switched to Communication Sciences and Disorders in the College of Health and Public Affairs.

In her classes, she often acted as a mentor to other impaired students. She also answered her classmates' questions based on her own experiences with deafness.

Olson also spent time in the UCF Communication Disorders Clinic, where she took speech therapy and volunteered in the audiology lab. For the past two years, she's been working more than 20 hours a week at an ear, nose and throat doctor's office near UCF, interacting with parents and children who suffer hearing loss.

"She has been a tremendous example to the parents bringing their children in for hearing aids and wondering how their child will ever function in this hearing world," George Olson said.

In addition to her coursework in communication disorders, Katherine Olson is an active member of the American Sign Language (ASL) Club. She hopes her fluency in ASL will help in her career in audiology or as a physician's assistant.

Olson and her parents credit her success in college to the many resources UCF provided to help her complete class assignments, study for tests and learn the ropes around campus.

Student Disability Services provided Olson with captionists who took notes in her classes, and the UCF Communication Disorders Clinic offered additional assistance when she needed it.

After her graduation, Olson hopes to make a final decision about her career path. She may enroll in the Doctorate of Audiology program at the University of South Florida.

"Everyone who comes in contact with her is in awe of what she continues to accomplish in spite of her handicap," George Olson said.

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The health care informatics master's program at UCF really helped me connect with the industry, meet people at conferences and sit for the most-desired certification exams."
— Michael Neimann M.S. in health care informatics ('14)
My internship with the District 9 Medical Examiner’s Office was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I gained an excellent understanding of the medical examiner’s office and the criminal justice field in general."
— Adam Stubley B.S. in criminal justice, criminal profiling certificate ('11)
UCF provides its physical therapy students with an excellent education and prepares them to work in the most challenging of settings."
— Jamie Dyson Rehabilitation Supervisor, Orlando Regional Medical Center
UCF's program provided me the opportunity to expedite my student experience while attaining practical experience working within local health systems."
— Daniel Barr V.P. at National Children's Hospital; M.S. in health sciences, health services administration track ('04)
My master's education helped me see the big picture of the nonprofit industry. UCF showed me how to see the different fundraising tools within the Central Florida area."
— Krysti Griffith Executive Director of Growth from Grief; Master of Nonprofit Management ('12)
The course opened my eyes to grant writing ... I learned a great deal and you [Barbara Howell] are truly an excellent instructor."
— Deborah Reith Master of Public Administration student who secured a $10,000 federal grant through a course project; B.S. in criminal justice ('86)
The skills I learned during my time at UCF are what made my transition to law school so seamless."
— Jacqueline Iaquinta Touro Law Center student; B.S. in legal studies ('10)
As an inaugural graduate of the M.R.A. program at UCF, I can attest to the outstanding curriculum developed for research administrators. "
— April Heyward Post Award Services Coordinator, University of South Carolina; Master of Research Administration ('13)
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— Richard "Ben" Hagen Research and Communications Associate, New Economy Project, New York City; B.S. in public administration ('10)
I am excited to be able to give back to the program that invested so much in me. It is truly and honor and a privilege."
— Carlos Gual Instructor of Athletic Training; B.S. in athletic training ('09)
The faculty advisor [at my medical school] was amazed that I had the opportunity to truly participate in the full spectrum of research as an undergraduate. "
— Chase Cavayero, medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicince, B.S. in health sciences - pre-clinical ('13) 
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