Fresh Sight

Ever since Marcie Beare was in high school, she’d wanted to be a doctor. But the first time she studied at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., she followed the path laid out for her and prepared to become a social worker.

Marcia Beare receives help with her pre-med classwork from a fellow Calvin College student.

“The ‘professionals’ told me that it was a socially acceptable job for a blind person,” said Beare, who lost her sight at age 2 as the result of a rare childhood cancer.

Following that advice, she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and went on to get her master’s degree in social work.

After graduation, she took a job, only to realize before long that social work was not really what she wanted to do.

So last spring, Beare returned to Calvin to study to become a doctor. She enjoyed the classes. But after diving into math and science courses, she quickly noticed a gap between her comprehension and that of her classmates.

In Beare’s statistics course, mathematics professor Thomas Jager asked if anyone would be willing to help her outside of class. Junior Ryan Burkhart volunteered.

As Burkhart threw himself into it, the “full gravity of Marcia’s blindness became evident to me very quickly,” he said.

The first time they worked together, he guided Beare’s hand over a graph to help her understand its shape, but didn’t feel certain that he was truly being helpful.

Beare also had questions, thinking, she said, “that there was just a tremendous amount of communications barriers the first time we tried to work together.”

In time, the two learned how to work together, and soon other students joined in.

Junior Amanda Doyle tutors Beare in physics and uses a computer program to record chemistry exercises as audio files. Sophomore Andrew Hess and junior Christian Woolley are often available to help when Beare stops by the physics reading room.

Beare especially remembers Hess’s step-by-step support in solving equations, and Woolley’s mentoring in the department’s regular physics help sessions.

“Never once have they ever been upset because I asked them a question,” Beare said.

But the encouragement goes both ways.

Among the long list of attributes the other students said they value in Beare are her stick-to-it attitude and her willingness to share her experiences.

“Marcia has such a rich life story,” Burkhart said. “And it gets richer every day.”

It's a story physics professor Loren Haarsma has watched unfold through Beare’s participation in his courses. “I’ve seen her make amazing progress,” he said.

Along with students, Haarsma has helped, regularly recording additional information and explanations for Beare’s audio assignments. This assistance ensures that Beare’s software reads complex equations correctly. Haarsma also spends extra time grading Beare’s specially formatted homework.

While he has been more than willing be of assistance, he is especially grateful to see how Calvin students have pitched in, Haarsma said.

Thanks to all of the support, Beare is progressing through the undergraduate work. As he watches, Haarsma is convinced Beare is headed toward a career in the medical field.

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