Senior Doesn't Let Brain Injury Get in the Way of Success
Final exams aren’t meant to be easy.
But for Nebraska Wesleyan University student Vanessa Ventry, they’re extremely hard. In fact, it took her a half-day just to finish one. And it zapped enough life out of her that she typically needed several hours of sleep afterwards.
Sound like a typical college student? Ventry is no ordinary college student. She is missing 30 percent of her brain as a result of a few surgeries performed after ventricles in her brain were crushed during her birth. It resulted in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
“Students on campus know me as the kid who asks a lot of questions in class,” she proudly admits.
She has to. Her injury makes it difficult to process classroom lectures and textbook readings. She makes flashcards to help memorize concepts and tries to apply real-life examples to her lessons in an effort to better comprehend the subject.
“She puts in three times the amount of effort that most students dedicate to their coursework,” said history professor Meghan Winchell. “She never gives up and does not settle for mediocre work.”
Ventry graduated on May 14 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She has been accepted into Nebraska Wesleyan’s forensic science master’s degree program and already has a few forensic science courses under her belt.
She was also recently honored with the Kenneth Holder Memorial Award, which is awarded each year to a senior who has overcome significant challenges in attaining a bachelor’s degree at NWU.
Ventry doesn’t deny it’s been a long, tough road. She met frequently with the coordinator for students with disabilities and each semester she discussed her challenges with her professors. Her professors were accommodating. They allowed her to take untimed tests, for instance.
“I love the faculty here,” she said. “They check on me and make sure I’m o.k.”
That was particularly important her sophomore year when life seemed more overwhelming than usual.
“I was overreacting to everything,” said Ventry. “I felt overwhelmed by everything.”
She was diagnosed with depression.
“My professors and my mom are the ones that kept me going,” she said. “They kept telling me that I’ve made it this far, keep going.”
And she did.
She switched majors from business administration to psychology. It provided her the opportunity to learn more about depression, which later became the subject of her senior research project. She traveled to Costa Rica and England for two academic trips, and she competed on Nebraska Wesleyan’s tennis team.
She pushed herself harder than she thought she would. For example, last year she enrolled in Winchell’s “Voices of Slavery,” a demanding upper-level history course designed for history majors. The psychology major didn’t need the class, which included several writing projects. But Ventry saw it as an opportunity to learn more about her own African American heritage.
Ventry admits writing was one of her biggest challenges in college. Knowing that, she often asked professors to review draft after draft of her research papers and she utilized the Cooper Center, which is staffed by faculty and trained student consultants to help with speaking, writing and research skills.
Now Ventry will spend the next two years in the forensic science program and will specialize in the behavioral sciences track. She hopes to counsel juvenile delinquents someday.
“She will succeed in her chosen field because she has tremendous empathy for those from troubled environments, but she does not believe in coddling anyone,” said Winchell.
Ventry admits heading into the real world is intimidating. She knows she needs to take things one day at a time so that her depression doesn’t stand in the way of success.
“I’ve been given so many opportunities to succeed in life,” she said. “So many others haven’t.
“I want to make people better individuals,” she said of her career path. “I will show them the right way.”