Honors College student overcomes learning disability to graduate with a perfect 4.0. grade point average

Thursday, July 27, 2006

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Laura Danyel Rios has been consistently named to the University of North Texas Dean's List and President's List for maintaining a high grade point average. An anthropology major from Edgecliff Village near Fort Worth, she spent part of this summer in Chan Kom and Cancún on the Yucatan peninsula, where she researched public health in rural communities.

When she receives her bachelor's degree on Aug. 12, Rios will graduate as a Distinguished Honors Scholar in UNT's Honors College -- despite having a learning disability from a young age.

"I always struggled with math and spelling. I was reading at a high school level in the fourth grade, but I could not identify the difference between ‘where' and ‘were' in my writing. And beyond adding, subtracting, some multiplication and some division, I was lost," Rios says. "It seemed odd that a child who could read ‘Moby Dick' in two weeks could not multiply fractions and would sometimes misspell her own name."

Rios, the daughter of Rosie and Louis Rios, is a 2002 graduate of the High School of Medical Professions at North Side High School. She was taking all honors classes at her school and had a perfect 4.0 grade point average when she was diagnosed with a learning disability and asked to enroll in special education classes.

"My teachers and I all agreed that putting me in special education was not the way to go," she says. "I decided that now that I understood what my problem was, I would take it upon myself to plan my studies accordingly. Instead of staying up all night stuck on one problem, I would spend my lunch going over the assignment with my teacher."

She remembers that if she had to do a written report for school, she would "always type and have it edited at least three times: once by my mom, once by a friend, and sometimes by a teacher or coach in exchange for helping to grade papers."

"I knew that if I did really well on written reports and presentations, I could flub a bit on the in-class writing assignments and my grade would not drastically change," she says.

After graduating from high school with honors, Rios attended Tarrant County College for two years before transferring to UNT in August 2004. She says she's struggled with schoolwork at both TCC and UNT.

"It is very frustrating to have to omit certain words in my in-class writing assignments because my spoken vocabulary is much bigger than my written vocabulary. It can be quite embarrassing to not be able to calculate simple equations, recall a phone number, or to have to watch TV with captions or subtitles so I can better understand the show," she says. "However, I also know that through sheer determination, and with the constant support of my parents, my family, and my friends, I can continue to defeat this disability."

At UNT, Rios has been a member of the UNT Anthropology Student Association; Lambda Alpha, the national collegiate honors society for anthropology; and Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for students who attended two-year colleges. She was also vice president of the UNT Aikido Club.

Earlier this year, she was one of four UNT students to receive an award from the national Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Considered the premier national scholarship agency for sponsors of scholarships for Hispanic students, HSF was founded in 1975 to double the rate of Hispanic students earning college degrees. The agency's college scholarships range from $1,000 to $3,000 and are open to undergraduates of Hispanic heritage who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

This fall semester, Rios will enter the master's degree program in medical anthropology offered jointly by the UNT Department of Anthropology and the School of Public Health at the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth. She will earn both a master 's degree with a major in applied anthropology and a master of public health degree. She plans to work in medical anthropology for nonprofit or government agency such as the Centers for Disease Control or Doctors Without Borders.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108