Young Alumna Funds Scholarship for Students with Disabilities

“It’s important that people with disabilities have access to higher education,” says Laura Mackenrot. “It’s important to be able to support yourself and your family. It’s important to feel like you have something to contribute.”

As a disability advocate and graduate of the Sauder School of Business, Laura is shattering physical and conceptual barriers when it comes to disabilities. She recently established the Laura Mackenrot Award in Commerce for Sauder students with disabilities, and is pleased to be giving back as a young alumna.

“I was diagnosed with severe arthritis right after birth and had to use mobility devices until I underwent surgery,” explains Laura. “I knew from the beginning that my life would be different than most women. I knew I was probably bound for a desk job, so I thought I better get a good one—I better go to university!”

Laura decided her goal was to be a commerce student at UBC. Her father was also a UBC business graduate, and she had often heard him reminisce fondly about his experience. “I always had an interest in business. And,” she adds, “I wanted people to recognize I had what it takes to get through one of UBC’s hardest faculties!”

Attending UBC also meant Laura could stay close to her health care providers, but there were still many obstacles to overcome: “I started liaising with the Disability Resource Centre at UBC back in high school,” she explains. “We had to make sure the buildings and classes were accessible, and work out an optimal class schedule.”

Laura moved into the Walter Gage Residence and attended classes for about four months before suffering a terrible relapse: “I could barely move. I couldn’t write. Sometimes I had to miss class. Most professors hadn’t dealt with many students with disabilities. They ended up making copies of their lecture notes for me, so I could keep up.”

Despite all her challenges, Laura was determined to make the most of the university experience: “I’m a Leo—I’m a lion,” she exclaims. Laura even joined the yearbook committee and surprised classmates by creating a stunning section of 3D photography for the yearbook that she entitled “Visions – Seeing the Possibilities.”

“I’m really proud of that yearbook,” says Laura. “I learned how to do the 3D effects by reading about it on the Internet, and my dad helped me take the pictures. Ironically, I didn’t get to enjoy it much, because, due to complications with my condition, I started to go blind after graduating in 2004.”

Today, Laura is actively building her career as a financial planner. She is involved in numerous fundraising and charitable initiatives, and one of her personal goals is helping people with disabilities recognize UBC as an option for higher education: “In my two and half years at UBC, there was nobody I could tell who had a visible disability in the faculty. I have yet to meet another Bachelor of Commerce graduate with a physical disability.”

As a financial planner, Laura is adamant that anyone can contribute to UBC at any stage of life: “I established this award because I wanted to help students with disabilities now. $25 a month is not even a coffee budget for most people, but it could be a $300 scholarship that means a student can get a new interview suit, or go out with friends. I want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. I want to make it easier for students with disabilities to achieve their dreams.”

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