- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Mollie Schaefer could not read until she was 9 years old.

The youngest of six siblings watched as her family members amassed shelves full of books and cultivated a love of reading. At that time, she could not read a menu and could hardly spell her name. The closest she got to reading a children’s book was reciting the words she memorized from being read to by her mother.

“That involved a lot of humiliation and self-doubt,” Schaefer said. “A big thing about dyslexia is dyslexic people have big wide minds that can understand a lot of bid ideas.

“One of my mom’s favorite stories about me was when I was about the age of 4. I was sitting in our minivan and looked out the window and said, ‘But mom, who made God?’ She was like, ‘What do you say to that?’

“I had a lot of people saying I was 3 years old going on 30, but I couldn’t read anything.”

Now, Schaefer is the University of North Alabama’s first student Fulbright Scholar award winner. The determination she showed in fighting through her dyslexia to be a high achieving student played a key role in her securing this national academic honor.

Schaefer will graduate in May with a degree in visual art and a minor in public communication. The Birmingham native will leave in August for the Czech Republic, where she — with the financial assistance of the Fulbright grant — will be an English teaching assistant.

Schaefer came to North Alabama after being rejected by other Alabama colleges. Her score on the ACT test, the timed, wordy standardized test used to determine college admission, “wasn’t great,” she said because of her dyslexia. Her mother, Gladys Schaefer, found North Alabama online and encouraged Mollie to visit and apply.

She did and fell in love with the university.

“I was determined,” she said. “I wanted to go to college because I was really stubborn and decided (after being rejected by other schools) I was going to go to some other school and be awesome.”

She’s been that and more, her adviser, Matt Price, said. Price is director of premier national and international awards and learning support at the university.

Mollie volunteers with dyslexia service groups to help younger students who remind her of herself. She’s been paired with students who are grade-levels behind in reading because of her ability to relate to those students, and help them achieve.

Mollie said she knew about the Fulbright program because a peer at another institution had received the award, but she did not necessarily see herself as a fit for the program.

Price thought otherwise, and planted the seed during Mollie’s junior year.

“She’s fearless,” Price said. “She does all this volunteering. She has this passion to help other dyslexic people succeed. She’s tireless and absolutely fearless.”

Mollie does not know yet where in the Czech Republic she will be assigned. She said she will spend the summer learning to speak and understand Czech, which she admits will be an intensive undertaking because of her dyslexia. However, she said learning the language is important in her role as an ambassador for the United States and U.S. culture.

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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