MACON – Campus Compact, a national nonprofit organization working to advance civic engagement and service-learning in higher education, recently selected Mercer University junior Johna Wright among the organization’s 2019 cohort of Newman Civic Fellows.
The Newman Civic Fellowship, named for Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, is a one-year experience emphasizing personal, professional and civic growth. Through the fellowship, Campus Compact provides a variety of learning and networking opportunities, including a national conference of Newman Civic Fellows in partnership with the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The fellowship also provides fellows with access to apply for exclusive scholarship and postgraduate opportunities.
Wright, from Thomson, is a first-generation college student carrying a near-perfect GPA. She is visually impaired and works to change the campus climate for students with disabilities and lobby for disability rights throughout the nation.
During her freshman year, Wright founded ABLE Mercer, a peer mentoring program that helps first-year students with disabilities to transition to residential campus life.
“ABLE Mercer has positively impacted many students with disabilities during its inaugural year through intensive and interactive instruction in areas such as self-advocacy, independent living skills and social skills,” said Wright. “ABLE Mercer is the first program of its kind at Mercer, and I am working diligently to add value to the project each year and make it into a sustainable program that can be adopted by universities worldwide.”
ABLE Mercer’s programming focuses not only on giving students with disabilities self-advocacy, but also on changing the low expectations and disempowering attitudes of the able-bodied toward those who have disabilities. Wright is currently conducting research on the efficacy of her curriculum and hopes to make the program available to other higher education institutions.
Wright’s advocacy extends beyond Mercer. She is the only student board member for the National Federation of the Blind, where she serves as vice president and social media coordinator, assisting the board and supervising chapters. She also serves as a communications team member and Outreach Committee co-chair for the National Association of Blind Students. In these capacities, she has lobbied members of Congress about disability rights.
Additionally, as a Mercer Service Scholar, she traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, where she learned about the country’s disability rights and laws.
“Johna’s passion and advocacy are contagious. Our society often turns a blind eye people with disabilities, thus many of our institutions, like higher education, are not accessible for this population. Participation in the Newman Civic Fellows program will allow Johna a chance to expand her advocacy reach and hopefully make the college experience more accessible for all students regardless of disability status,” said Dr. Sara Appleby, assistant professor of psychology and Wright’s academic adviser.
The Newman Civic Fellowship is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.