RiSE Scholarship Foundation, Inc. Awards 5 Scholarship Winners 


Chandler Cook of Tyler, Texas 

Chandler Cook is headed to Texas A&M this fall to join his sister and major in Mechanical Engineering.  As a well rounded student and  athlete, he enjoys baseball, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity  and four wheeling on ATV”s. Chandler is graduating number 17 out of 222 seniors in his class of 2012. His mother, Dr. Donni Cook is the superintendent of schools for Chapel Hill Independent School District.

Although Chandler makes everything look like it has been easy, it has taken much perseverance.  Chandler was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD when he was 7. Although he disliked being different and being pulled-out for specialized reading help, he has since realized as he states “being properly diagnosed with my learning difference was the best thing that could have happened to me…it allowed me to get the assistance that I needed to be successful.” Dyslexia has made schooling more difficult for Chandler, but as he explains, he “remains dedicated to my studies and has found areas that I excel in, despite my difference.”

 In order to achieve this success, Chandler had to become a fierce advocate for himself. He goes out of his way to make sure teachers and school faculty understand his learning disability so that he receives the necessary accommodations. Above all, he says that “perseverance has been key to my success,” and he would tell any student facing a learning disability that “they, too can be a success by facing their challenges with a positive attitude and determination”.

Cole Little of  Abbott, Texas 

Living in Abbott, Texas, Cole Little spends much of his time playing on his high school football team, running track, and serving on the student council. His interest in agriculture is evident, as he is a member of the livestock show and judging teams, and a delegate to the Texas Farm Bureau Youth Leadership Conference. This interest, coupled with what he has learned since freshman year have allowed him to excel in the career and technology classes. Cole enjoys working on farming projects that showcase his learned skills, such as welding and using a cutting torch. Recently while making panels for deer feeders, he used his geometry and algebra skills to entice the client to place an additional order for his product. Additionally Cole has discovered how his biology and chemistry classes can be applied to animal science and will help him pursue agri-science classes in college. “They have helped me have a better understanding of genetics, crop analysis, soil conservation, and veterinary medicine.”

Cole was in 6th grade, when a special teacher, Mrs. Tufts, helped answer the question why school was so frustrating. She urged him to be tested for learning disabilities. He says that, at the time, he would’ve rather his teacher “dig me a hole and bury me in it” than be tested for LD. At the same time his mom was having some health related issues, “she said that there were going to be challenges in our life and we can learn a lot from them.  Cole said he took what she taught me (about getting through tough times) and applied it to my schoolwork.”

The testing and then implementing the accommodations, turned out to be a relief to Cole and his family. He saw a huge difference in his grades, and his accomplishments. Today, Cole is heading to Hill College for 2 years and then plans to head to a larger University and major in Agriculture.  He says that “life if full of choices and those choices determine where you are going and how you are going to get there.”

Leah Gilbertsen of Camp Lake, WI

A creative and compassionate student, Leah Gilbertsen enjoys her musical talents as a soloist, member of the school choir and volunteers both for the elderly as well for preschool children. Growing up, Leah traveled extensively with her parents who are artists. These travels introduced Leah to many different situations which have put her at ease with people. These experiences and her passion for service have lead her to pursue a nursing degree.

            This compassion may have stemmed from Leah’s past. In 4th grade Leah was not able to read, although her oral vocabulary was “way beyond her years”. This discrepancy  lead to testing to determine why her performance in school was not matching her intellect. Like many with LD, the testing revealed that she has a processing speed deficit. “This lit a spark in me”, Leah remembered and she began to embrace the support from her IEP. She was able to overcome her disability and become a more confident student. Leah has had to discover her strengths, such as critical thinking and looking at the “Big Picture”, which she thinks is a unique talent which makes her different.

Leah appreciates the positive side of her learning differences and “the special talents that her kind of mind offers”. She would tell another student with a learning disability to love their “different kind of mind”.

To read more about Leah, please see the article, “A Different Kind of Mind” on the RiSE website.

Charlie Robertson of Atlanta, Georgia

About Charlie  – Playing defense on his high school’s football team, Captain of his tennis team, a Wyldlife leader for the Young Life Club and basketball on his church league, are just a few of the many things that keep Charlie Robertson busy. His senior class voted him “Most Entertaining” which seems to ditto the remarks by Mrs. Stroman, the Upper School Learning Specialist, who says, Charlie has a “fun loving spirit and a fantastic sense of humor”.  All of this success has not come to Charlie as easy as it may seem. As a first grader, Charlie was tested and received a diagnosis of ADHD and auditory processing disorder.  Ultimately he was transferred to the Wardlaw School at the Atlanta Speech School where he was able to receive remediation for his learning challenges.  At first, “I felt like the reason I was being forced away from my friends was because I wasn’t smart.” It was hard for him at that time, being that “there is one stress that terrifies kids of all ages more than anything, and that’s being different.” The time at the Wardlaw School became a turning point for Charlie, where the instructions and small class sizes provided “an intimate learning environment that did wonders for my confidence”.

Today as he reflects on that time in his life he says, “The diagnosis of my learning disability offered me my first test in an unfamiliar environment, and I feel like my success fueled my current love for taking risks with new experiences”. Once he returned to HIES, Charlie was able to take advantage of his school’s “strategies for success” program that is supportive of individual learning needs of their students. He has been able to “embrace the uniqueness surrounding the way he learns.” Using accommodations such as extra time for tests, and speaking with teachers during office hours every week, has helped him maintain his solid B average and excel in English and History where he can bring forth his individuality.

His experiences and early frustrations have made him who he is today, a strong advocate for himself, as well as an empathetic person. He feels a responsibility to “lift the spirits” of people in need and is active in community service. He has participated in two mission trips to Costa Rica that helped underprivileged families, has provided aid to tornado victims in Tennessee, as well as tutored children at the La Amistad program, at Peachtree Presbyterian Church. He has a positive attitude, and offers encouragement to others with the similar diagnosis, “There is no magical formula, advice, or procedure that can cure you or me of a learning disability It takes a willingness to open up to learning something new about oneself each day by being prideful, proactive, and persistent in regards to the adversities that come our way.”

To read more about Charlie, please read the article under the “press” icon on the RiSE website.

Kids Enabled featured this remarkable young man. He is currently a student at UGA.

Sedona Tuss of Davis, Ca.

“”I am different, not less”, a quote by autism advocate Temple Grandin is a favorite saying of Sedona Tuss. This line seems to sum up Sedona’s sprit. A ballet dancer, partial owner of a chocolate candy company, a fencing enthusiast and a student with a 3.28 GPA are a few of Sedona’s attributes. Born with Spastic Cerebral Palsy and secondary expressive Dysfluency, fine motor dyspraxia and gross motor dyspraxia, she remembers her ability to perform in school getting worse as she got older. At 8 years old, she was not able to swing her arm while she ran, and the physical and learning challenges were causing her to feel “stupid” and inferior. At one point she “fantasized about being stolen as a baby from the fairy world, as I was much more comfortable in fantasy life than in real life”. This changed as her testing and diagnosis revealed her learning needs and she began to receive one on one support for reading and being able to receive help from the resource room at school. “I started to become successful in school and started gaining confidence.”

At college, Sedona is prepared to ask for extra time, repeated instructions, calculators, and open book tests that she will need to be successful in college. Sedona describes her learning style as slow and meticulous which is why she is leaning toward studying art restoration or manuscript preservation.

Her advice to students with learning disabilities is to “find something you are passionate about and love to do”. Beyond everything else, “don’t try to fit a square into a round hole – think about what you can realistically do and work with your strengths.”

Sedona is currently attending college successfully in Northern California.