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Judy Faucett holding a crab.

Students with disabilities accomplish their dreams with Distinguished Alumna-founded scholarship

By Grace Peterman

Judy Faucett (Mathematics ’70), former senior vice president of Equitable Life Assurance, clearly remembers the hiring climate when she entered the actuarial work force in the wake of the Civil Rights Act. Some companies seemed more interested in demonstrating compliance over truly reforming their hiring practices, and one incident stood out. “A decision was made to 'hire one more woman,' and if it didn’t work out, then they could document that women just weren’t smart enough to be actuaries,” she said. “At that point, I was extremely motivated to prove that women could succeed as actuaries.”

Her tenacity, determination and success helped pave the way for more women to join the profession after her. Faucett is the recipient of the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award for her service to the actuarial profession that has brought honor, distinction and visibility to the College of Science.

"I wanted to do something for a group that didn’t have all the advantages that all the other groups have."

Having experienced challenges as part of an underrepresented group in her field, Faucett is passionate about empowering current students to achieve their dreams against the odds. She has founded the College of Science Rise Scholarship, the first scholarship at Oregon State University exclusively serving students with disabilities, and she finds joy and inspiration in hearing their stories.

“I wanted to do something for a group that didn’t have all the advantages that all the other groups have,” she said. “The folks in the College have done a wonderful job of administering the program and finding great students with needs. I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out.”

Breaking barriers towards success in science

The Rise Scholarship serves students with all kinds of disabilities, including physical, mental and learning disabilities. With eleven percent of College of Science students self-identifying as having a disability, the group is substantial and diverse.

One of the 2021 Rise Scholarship recipients is fully blind and facing challenges like finding accessible lab space and legible supplementary materials. “One of the requests we got was for a copy of the Periodic Table in Braille,” she said. “I do think that there are special [accessibility] issues in science.”

Being given a chance to succeed can be life-changing for students with disabilities. Faucett enjoys meeting with Rise Scholarship winners and hearing first-hand about their plans and ambitions. “I have such admiration for them,” she said. “Each one of these students has an incredible story to tell.”

A brighter future together

The Rise Scholarship is an important resource for students who may not qualify for most merit-based scholarships. Especially for students with learning disabilities, “getting a B or even a C is a significant effort for them,” said Faucett. “And so they may not think ‘oh, there's a scholarship for me.’”

“It seems so wonderful to see what these students are capable of achieving"

Reflecting back on her time at Oregon State, Faucett said that awareness and accessibility for students with disabilities has come a long way. In the past, “a lot of the learning disabilities hadn’t been diagnosed yet. There really wasn’t a lot of help for these people,” she said. Students with disabilities may have been labelled or labelled themselves as not smart enough for science. The Rise Scholarship is helping to re-write that story.

Students who identify as having a neurological disability have also benefitted from the scholarship. One recent recipient was brilliant at her lab job but struggled with time management. In decades past, getting to class on time or taking a timed test might have eliminated students who would be high-performing scientists with the right accommodations. The Rise Scholarship is creating a stronger science community through making a way for students with diverse abilities and perspectives.

“It seems so wonderful to see what these students are capable of achieving,” said Faucett.

“I read through some of their bios, and I'm just grinning from ear to ear. That’s what it's done for me.”

Read more about Judy Faucett's pathbreaking career.