RIGHT: Martha Arguello, in Margaret Fowler Garden, her favorite place on campus. She stands next to the entry to the oratory, with the Della Robbia-style Madonna sculpture on the wall.
By Lindsey Galloway ’07 Fascinated the intricacies of genetics in her high school biology class, Ronit Ovadia wanted to learn more. After shadowing a genetics counselor during her senior year, she knew her college major. “There were a few people who didn’t think I could do a biology major, who didn’t even mention the available possibilities,” said Ronit, who has been blind since birth. “It’s too visual, they would say, it would just be too hard.” Ronit hasn’t let anyone stop her from achieving her goals, especially on account of her blindness. After working with her professors and putting in long hours, she has successfully graduated with a major in human biology, a major that combines elements of psychology and biology—the perfect fit for her ambition to be a genetic counselor. Her road hasn’t been without challenges. “Organic chemistry was hard. It’s a very visual subject and involves a lot of drawing.The professor draws a lot of diagrams on the board and the students usually draw concepts to show they understand them,” said Ronit. “Luckily, I had a great professor who was willing to work with me.We had to figure out a way to get these concepts across to me and a way that I could relay back to him so that he knew I understood. We just had to be creative!” One solution was to build three-dimensional models that could tactilely convey the concepts to Ronit; another was to hold one-on-one discussions after class. Creativity has served Ronit well during her college career.When books weren’t available on tape from the library, she contacted the publishers in order to get electronic versions of the texts.When thesis time came and she wanted to work on a project about genetics and autism, she didn’t hesitate to start an Internet search for professors who could assist her. During her search, she discovered Scripps Alumna Maricela Alarcon ’92, genetics researcher at UCLA.Though Ronit had the option of doing a library thesis, she wanted to include an experimental component, and Maricela was able to provide statistics on autism for her to analyze. “Everyone else was doing an experimental thesis—I wanted to do it, too! I didn’t want to take the easy road,” said Ronit. “I could probably get away with doing less, but I want to have the same opportunities. People expect that I may not excel or do well, but I don’t want to perpetuate those stereotypes about disabled people.” Though the appropriate statistics software was extremely limited, Ronit worked through the statistics on her own and incorporated them into her final project. Her thesis, titled “Assisted Reproductive Technology: An Environmental Factor Possibly Involved in the Cause of Autism,” is being sent to the co-founder of Cure Autism Now and “will
serve as an example to other students seeking to work in this area,” according to Alarcon. Ronit is the first fully blind student to graduate from the newly established Joint Science Program, but not the first blind student to attend Scripps. Juliet King Esterly graduated in 1934 and established a Scripps scholarship that Ronit received. Ms. Esterly recently passed away before Ronit could meet her in person, but memorial donations will continue to go to the Esterly scholarship fund to benefit future visually impaired students who choose to attend Scripps. This fall, Ronit will enter Northwestern University to pursue an M.S. in genetic counseling. Though she’s excited about starting another adventure, like many seniors, she can’t believe college has gone by so fast. “I’m sad to be leaving my home,” she said. “I feel more at home at Scripps than I’ve ever felt anywhere else.” ■
ABOVE LEFT: During her four years at Scripps, Ronit lived in Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Hall, the College’s newest residence hall, completed in 2001.
Scripps Magazine is published quarterly by Scripps College, Office of Public Relations and Communication.