Starting and Building a Student Division by Katy Olsen

From the Editor: Katy Olsen is from Iowa and she currently serves as president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. Here is her story:

My name is Katy Olsen, and I am the President of the Iowa Association of Blind Students. In 2016, a group of college students and I who were new to the NFB of Iowa, saw what great things the NFB had to offer to us, and we didn’t want to keep it to ourselves. We knew that we had strong supportive mentors from our affiliate that would support us along the way, but we also recognized that if we wanted to start a student division, it would take some work.

Fortunately, we had a very strong core foundation from the start, that eventually turned into the student board that we have today. We came from different backgrounds and were at different points in accepting our blindness, but we all had the same goal and worked together to reach it. Just as expected, many people questioned whether we knew what it would take to start a division and warned us of the challenge we were entering. After some conversations as a group, we decided that we wanted to start an NFB of Iowa “student group”. To begin, we formed a group of leaders, much like a board and we took turns leading conference calls each month. At first, attendance was low and sometimes we questioned whether the time spent planning was worth it. As the year progressed, more and more students started coming to our calls. We improved our marketing strategies and found that personal invitations were extremely valuable. We would set up themed panels for our calls, comprised of both Iowa and outside students. Topics included internships, scholarships, budgeting and many other topics geared towards students.

After our first year of piloting our student group, we felt that we were ready to take the next step and form the official Iowa student division. In October of 2017, our division took off. Since then, we have implemented new programs and strategies to meet the needs of even more blind students in Iowa. To build our division we have contacted college disability offices and aim to host socials at least 4 times each year in different regions of Iowa. This month, we are excited to be starting our member spotlights on our Facebook page. We will be featuring a new student from our membership each month to emphasize their accomplishments and help our community get to know one another. We have come a long way from the initial idea to form a student division and look forward to our future as the Iowa Association of Blind Students.