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Picture of Ross BakerLast week I had the pleasure of talking with Ross Baker, a current graduate student at the University of Minnesota who's studying to be an Architect. Ross, who happens to have dyslexia, spoke candidly about his experiences in school, and beyond. He had a lot of great insight to share! 

The world of architecture is fascinating in so many ways— what initially made you so drawn to it before applying to grad school?

While I was in undergrad I started environmental science, so I was heavy into the math and technical sciences such as biology and chemistry. Although I also really enjoyed working with my hands, specifically in the Ceramics studio in seeing the tangible results of an idea manifest themselves in an object that could be used. I bounced around so many different interests and hobbies that I had a hard time zeroing in on something I wanted to study in college. Although I decided on environmental science, I continue to take classes in a variety of subjects. Ultimately, in my senior year while taking an art history class I was exposed to some of the great American architects and realized that that might be a profession that allowed me to combine my wide range of interests and continue to learn even after school. Ultimately I was excited about architecture because it gave me an opportunity to continue to learn, work with the team, and ultimately build something that was tangible, and can be used by many people.

As an individual who identifies as having dyslexia, have you noticed any aspects of your grad program where that gives you an edge?

I am not sure if I have any visible edge in grad school, because I have always struggled with the formal structure of school. Now with that being said I do think I have strengths such as thinking outside the box, or simply thinking slightly different than others which certainly has its benefits and opportunities, but it also can have its drawbacks when in school. One strength that often comes with dyslexia is a heightened sense of spatial awareness which I have found to be certainly applicable to architecture. It is quite easy for me to imagine space in the building, or a three-dimensional object and be able to manipulate it in my mind to see it from multiple angles. It is important to note that I have heard from other architects that they are quite good at this as well.

What challenges have you faced so far in your schooling?

School is certainly a journey when you have dyslexia. Although I have found that it becomes increasingly easier as I have moved from middle school to high school, high school to college, and College to grad school. I have found that not only have my strategies for getting around the barriers that come with dyslexia improved, but the institution of school allows me to use the necessary tools to succeed as I have moved farther along in my education. I would say the biggest challenge I have faced in school is time. Because I will listen to all of my books, or dictate all of my papers, homework assignments simply take longer for me than they might otherwise for another student without dyslexia, or not relying on technology to help them.

Have there been any moments of great triumph and accomplishment?

There certainly have been moments of triumph and accomplishment in my life, and it is important to recognize as someone with dyslexia, or another disability, that triumphs and accomplishments do not always have to be something others recognize you get an award for, or even can be understood by others. For example, I still have goosebumps thinking about the fact that I was even accepted into graduate school, or the fact that I have finished my first year of graduate school. Now many people would view this as an accomplishment but these two things are a major source of pride for me — knowing where I came from and all of the struggles and tears that came with understanding myself and how I can learn with dyslexia. Having finished my first year of graduate school and reflecting on the fact that I had a low 2.0 GPA in high school makes me very proud.

What advice or wisdom would you like to impart to our readers?

I personally have found it very important to be transparent and honest about my dyslexia and how it affects me when I meet with teachers, or others. Not only am I putting my cards out on the table, but I am also opening myself up to being vulnerable which allows me to foster a more productive relationship.

Another important lesson I have learned is that by being transparent and making yourself vulnerable you have explained your weakness, so now you can have an honest conversation about your true strengths..

One last thing that I I always share with others is that I have found with a learning disability, dyslexia, school only gets easier. Once you are out of school the struggle is no longer the same because of two reasons. Employers will give you and help you with any tools for you to be the most productive you can be. And the other reason is that you will gravitate towards a job, hobby, or profession that you are interested and passionate about.

Many thanks again to Ross for taking the time to chat with me and share his story!

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Comment by Nikki Abramson on July 22, 2018 at 9:54pm

Inspiring and thanks for sharing your story. I find school a journey as well with a disability. I am glad you have found both triumphs as well despite the challenges. I love your advice on being transparent. This is something I struggled in school with, but learning more how to become better at as an adult 

Comment by Erika J. Kluge on July 1, 2018 at 10:42pm

Ross is a true inspiration! Great interview and insights for others to know!

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