Cam and Liz met while living on the same floor in Bailey Hall in 2012. Their chance meeting led to a shared journey with a common goal – promoting resiliency despite disability challenges.
Liz majored in Environmental Economics and Policy while Cam majored in Packaging. However, both MSU students had a strong interest in sustainability, so they applied to be a part of the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment, also known as RISE. According to the MSU website, RISE is an interdisciplinary living-learning program focused on sustainability and environmental stewardship.
“I knew Cam was interested in dating when he showed up with friends to my outdoor “build a composting worm bin” workshop when it was 40 degrees out and we were filling a large composter with worms by hand,” Liz said.
Besides composting together, the couple also became RCPD students together, and five years later were married. Both Cam and Liz received services and accommodations from the RCPD for four years, specifically from Ability Access Specialist Darryl Steele.
Cam’s disability was a cognitive learning disability diagnosed during childhood, which meant he needed extra tutoring time to improve his reading and comprehension skills. Cam graduated from MSU in four years with honors from the School of Packaging. He is currently employed by Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, Indiana as a Packaging Engineer.
Liz discovered her disability during her first year at MSU when she noticed that her answers were transposed from the written work on exams to the scantron. Her RCPD specialist helped her figure out good strategies to review answers on math-based and exams and helped her receive extra time to take her exams.
She graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Economics and Policy and a master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies. While she was a student at MSU, she was a recipient of the RCPD Samaritan Scholar Award in 2015 (which awards scholarship funds to high achieving students with disabilities) and even represented MSU as one of Glamour Magazine’s Top Ten College Women in 2015. In 2016 she was selected as the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Outstanding Leader and spoke at their commencement that year.
The couple went to Los Tres Amigos on their very first date, and it’s where they celebrated graduation with both of their families four years later. Liz and Cam still make it a tradition to go there whenever they are near East Lansing. The couple loves being near the ocean and got married on July 29, 2017, in Malibu, California.
Both work in their respective degree fields, however, they continue to advocate disability awareness in their spare time. In November of 2017, Liz joined the Joseph Maley Foundation in Indianapolis as a Program Assistant for the HOPE Program, which directly supports disability and mental health and wellbeing.
HOPE is a curriculum program created by the Joseph Maley Foundation which helps students between preschool and twelfth grade. It is designed to help students develop tools and strategies and to advocate for their personal mental health.
“As my commitment to the Joseph Maley Foundation mission of serving children of all abilities grew, I wanted to pursue the support of children and their families through the Joseph Maley Family Support Program,” said Liz. “When a role within that program became available, I knew I wanted to use my personal experiences in the education system and my interest in family advocacy to help parents, children, and siblings.”
The most important thing that Cam and Liz want to focus on is that “we don’t want kids to think that having a learning disability means they are not smart but equally we don’t want kids to think intelligence is a marker of value.”
Liz has created a children’s book collection on mental health which she hopes to get published one day. Together, Liz and Cam go to different schools in their area to promote resiliency and advocate for learning disabilities. “We think that talking about concepts like extended time, the resource room, and testing accommodations will help kids with learning disabilities feel comfortable sharing this with their friends if they want to. We also help it will make all classmates aware that everyone learns differently, and for some people that will mean extra time, different tools, or a different testing room”, Liz says.
According to Liz, Cam says that “Learning to not give up on hard subjects could be like a hammer. Maybe you learn that one year when you really commit to learning your spelling words, you make flashcards, post-it notes, and draw a picture for each word. Then, as you go through school, you keep finding new tools and adding them to your toolbox.”
Liz explained how Cam ends each of his talks with an analogy of a toolbox. “It is the idea that each experience and opportunity, each challenge and lesson is like a tool. The longer you try hard in school, the more tools you find. I like to emphasize that being smart is not the most important thing you can be. The most important thing you can be is to be kind and to work hard. If you are kind and work hard, that is more valuable than being smart or athletic. That means you can treat others with respect, make others see what is special about them, and you do not give up even when you face challenges.”