Wise grad paving the way for disabled students
Photo by Dan Addison
By Jane Meade-Dean
Bobbi VanHuss was never expected to graduate from college. In fact, the young woman, who was born with spina bifida, was never expected to live beyond childhood.
But when VanHuss crosses the stage on May 21 to receive a bachelor’s degree in business administration from U.Va.’s College at Wise, she’ll be doing what she does best — overcoming obstacles.
“I know I’m going to be setting the stage for others to come after me,” VanHuss said. “If I can do it, then other disabled students can do it, too. That was very important to me, to show people it can be done.”
When VanHuss arrived at U.Va.-Wise in 2001, she was the only student in a wheelchair. The hilly campus presented daily challenges, as did a few of the older classroom buildings, which lacked full handicap accessibility.
VanHuss never let difficulties navigating the campus deter her. In fact, she used her experiences to help administrators find solutions to accessibility problems. She also worked as an advocate for disabled students in her job as a mentor and tutor in U.Va.-Wise’s Office of Student Support Services.
Narda Porter, a counselor in Student Support Services, describes VanHuss as “a rolling miracle.”
“She’s positive, dependable, joyful, efficient, dedicated — I can go on and on.
“It will be incredibly difficult to find someone to replace Bobbi,” Porter said.
“Within disability support, sometimes you have to be very discreet, and you have to learn to work with students who learn in very different ways. Bobbi has helped coordinate testing and notetaking for students with physical and learning disabilities. She’s a wonderful advocate for students.”
VanHuss also has excelled in her studies at U.Va.-Wise. During convocation on May 20, she will receive the first David W. Roane Award in Business Ethics, which recognizes a graduating senior who has exhibited the highest level of integrity and honesty in interactions with the business faculty, staff and students, and who displays a deep understanding of what it means to be ethical. A music minor, VanHuss has been a member of the college’s concert choir for two years. Her mezzo soprano will be part of the commencement choir performance during the graduation ceremony.
Graduation day will be bittersweet for VanHuss, who lives with her parents in the nearby town of Pound. After she works through the summer in Student Support Services, VanHuss will leave her surrogate family of faculty, staff and students. “It’s going to be hard to leave the people at the college,” said VanHuss, who plans to remain in Southwest Virginia and perhaps work as a paralegal.
She says her family, friends and Christian faith give her strength to keep going, to keep conquering new obstacles. “My parents always reassured me that God made me this way for a purpose, and that I just had to find what that purpose is,” VanHuss said.
Many would contend that is a purpose VanHuss is already fulfilling.