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Meet the 2020-2021 CSP Mentors Part 1

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired

Compiled by: Kristen Witucki, College Success Program Curriculum and Content Editor

The College Success Program is pleased to introduce our 27 mentors for the 2020-2021 academic year, and what better time to do it than during Meet the Blind Month! Our mentors represent a variety of interests, personalities, experiences and knowledge. Read on to learn more about a few of them in Part 1 of this blog series and see if you have anything in common. You never know when or where a connection can be made! 

If you are a college student who is blind or low vision, and who is interested in working with one of our mentors, please email us at csp@learningally.org.

Abigail Shaw, College Success Program Mentor Coordinator and Learning Ally Production Coordinator
Education: BS in Music Industry Studies from Appalachian State University; Currently pursuing a MSW from Fordham University

Abigail Shaw was raised in North Carolina but now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She strives to educate the public on persons with disabilities through her hobbies and work.

At Learning Ally, Abigail serves as the College Success Program's Mentorship Coordinator for college students who are blind and contributes her skills with audio and recording to the production process of Learning Ally's audio books.

As a long-distance runner, Abigail is a co-captain of the New York City chapter of Achilles International, an organization promoting mainstream athletics for people with disabilities. She has competed in several national half and whole marathons and triathlons.

Since June of 2019, Abigail has been on the Advisory Committee on Transit Accessibility for New York City Transit, and currently acts as the co-chair. Whether traveling by plane, train, or automobile - Abigail's preferred method of transportation is with her yellow lab guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind by her side.

Amanda Baker
Education: BA in History and BS in Mathematics from Binghamton University; MLS in Information Science and Digital Data Curation from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Amanda works as a young-adult librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. While in college and graduate school, Amanda has served in several leadership roles, such as Vice President of Academic Affairs of her student association at Binghamton and President of the Special Libraries Association at UNC. Outside of school, Amanda loves to cook, read, and go horseback riding and rock climbing. Although blindness is a large component of her life, she strives not to make it the most memorable part of her identity but rather, thinks of it as a unique way to perceive the world.

Anthony Butler
Education: BFA from The New School; MSW from New York University

Anthony Butler was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. He lived with both of his parents and always found himself in trouble as an adolescent. He attended 5 high schools in the greater NYC area before dropping out at the age of 17 and getting his GED. Growing up, Anthony knew the value of hard work. The day after his 8th grade graduation, he began working at McDonald's with his father on the weekends and always held on to a job throughout high school and beyond. In the summer of 2008, he was the victim of a shooting that resulted in the loss of his vision. After problems with his family and nowhere else to turn, Anthony moved into a homeless shelter. While residing in the shelter, Anthony was introduced to his mentor. He credits this relationship with changing the entire trajectory of his life.

Since graduating from his social work program, Anthony has held a number of positions in the workforce, including as Social Worker for Young Men of Color at the Kings' County District Attorneys' Office in Brooklyn, New York from 2016 to 2018 and a Recovery Specialist with Community Access from 2019 to 2020. After leaving Community Access, Anthony relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota with his girlfriend where he works as a therapist for offenders of sex crimes. When Anthony is not working, he often participates in multi-sport endurance competitions which afforded him the opportunity to travel to over 6 countries and half of the United States. As a social worker, Anthony strives to be an advocate for the underserved and to help people navigate the hardships they may endure on a daily basis.

Brianna Murray
Education: BA in Psychology and English from Winthrop University; MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Winthrop University

Although she grew up in South Carolina, Brianna relocated to New Jersey in 2019 to pursue her passion of working with students with disabilities. Along with working as a mentor for several years, Brianna works as a program coordinator for the EDGE program, a pre-employment program for blind and visually impaired high school students in New Jersey. She has experienced varying degrees of vision from birth due to LCA (Lieber's Congenital Amaurosis).

In her spare time, Brianna enjoys reading, writing, and playing with her retired guide dog, Hopps, and her working Seeing Eye dog, Belle. She also enjoys helping others, and utilizes her life experiences, both positive and negative, to improve the educational opportunities for students with visual impairments.

Brilynn Rakes
Education: BFA in Dance and a BA in Communications and Media Studies from Fordham University; currently pursuing a graduate certificate in Business Administration from Foothill College

Brilynn grew up in the small town of Visalia, California and found her passion for dance performance when she was eight. For fourteen years, Brilynn trained and performed in various dance styles including classical ballet, pointe, pas de deux, Horton, Graham, Limon, contemporary, and jazz. Brilynn was also the AT&T Spotlight Performer on ABC's Dancing with the Stars; she performed alongside Emmy nominated dancer and choreographer, Derek Hough.

After completing her undergraduate degrees, Brilynn relocated to Palo Alto, California where she is interning with Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and pursuing a certificate in Business Administrations from Foothill College. In her spare time, Brilynn enjoys Pilates, yoga, and long walks outside with her fiancé, Albee.

Bryan Duarte
Education: BS in Software Engineering from Arizona State University; MS in Computer Science from Arizona State University; currently pursuing a PhD in Software Engineering from Arizona State University

Bryan is a native of the warm state of Arizona. He became blind at the age of 18 as the result of a motorcycle accident. Bryan received training at the Colorado Center for the Blind where he gained the skills necessary for living a life of confidence and independence. Following his training, he returned to Arizona and spent the next 3 years as a stay-at-home father to his daughter, Chloe Luvlynn, and his twin boys, Xander and Seth.

Bryan currently works as a research student at the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC). He is also a member of the ASU IGERT program, as well as the Alliance for Person-centered Accessible Technologies (APAcT). Bryan's research interests span the following areas: sensory substitution/augmentation, human-computer interaction, haptics, and assistive technologies. He is currently researching how haptics can be used to augment the way non-visual travelers access details of their immediate surroundings through the sense of touch.

In addition to mentoring students with Learning Ally, Bryan co-facilitates weekly Meet Ups with students as well as a mentor small group. You can also hear him as co-host of the CSP podcast, College Knowledge.

To read the biographies of the rest of our mentors, click here.