Campus Celebrity: Leah Gilbertsen

Meet this week's Campus Celebrity, Leah Gilbertsen, is the Co-Coordinator of the UW-Madison chapter of Eye to Eye! 

Year: Senior

Major: Psychology

Tell us about Eye to Eye:

Eye to Eye is a national nonprofit with a vision  “To create a world in which people with LD/ADHD are fully accepted, valued, and respected – not just by society, but also by themselves.” We work to achieve this by pairing high school and college age students with middle school or elementary school aged kids (all having a label of LD/ADHD) to work together on craft projects in an after school setting. The projects are designed to stimulate conversation about tough topics like school, individual differences, accommodations, and metacognition. Many people are uninformed about learning disabilities, so I’ll briefly explain… Learning disabilities have nothing to do with intelligence or IQ. People with learning disabilities are equally as smart as their peers and sometimes gifted in certain areas. However, because of the way their brains are “wired” they experience substantial difficulty in a given area such as math, reading, writing, processing, or recall. This can make standard education very challenging and frustrating. Eye to Eye hopes to remind students that they are smart and capable people with bright futures! And I have witnessed first hand how empowered our young students feel with the support and encouragement of their mentor.

What is your role in the org:

I work as a co-coordinator of the UW-Madison chapter with another, amazing, student coordinator, Madison Eckle. Together, we run an afterschool art room at Wright Middle School with about 20 UW mentors and 20 middle school students. As coordnators we do a lot of coordinating… making sure mentors are trained, informed, and excited about what we are doing and assuring that middle schoolers are attending and paired with a mentor who is the best fit for them. During the art rooms, we enjoy the freedom to walk around and check in on each pair, listening to the conversations and watching the creativity flow. I enjoy my role, because I get to know each student a watch them gain confidence over the course of the semester and year.

How did you first get involved in Eye to Eye and how long have you been involved: 

My mother, a first grade teacher, came home one day from a conference where Eye to Eye founder, David Flink, gave a presentation. She told me, “Leah, you have to contact this program! It is so perfect for you.” I’ve always been passionate about art and, as a psych major, I appreciate how therapeutic it can be to express yourself. Growing up with dyslexia, I wish something like Eye to Eye’s had been around when I was young… but I realized it wasn’t too late to get involved! UW-Madison did not yet have a chapter, so I got in contact with the national Eye to Eye office and asked to start a program! It took some time to get the funding and university approval, but this is our second year running and it is going so well! As a senior, I just wish I could stick around to see how much more UW can accomplish with Eye to Eye.

How can other people get involved in Eye to Eye:

Each semester we welcome new volunteers, with LD/ADHD, to mentor with us! We have an awesome group of UW students seem to really value the experience. If you are interested, please email [email protected] or [email protected] for more information. In the future, we hope to create involvement opportunities for students who do not have an LD/ADHD but still want to promote education around the issues!

Do you have any personal goals for the organization:

Right now, we are very much on track with what my past goals have been. My goals for the future are to simply keep heading in the same direction and continuing to get lucky with amazing volunteers!

Unanticipated Favorite Part:

I was inspired to start a chapter of Eye to Eye because I was motivated to make a difference for kids encountering the same struggles that I did. What I did not expect was to be so impacted, personally, by the experience of an LD/ADHD community. I find myself feeling very understood and supported by the group of strong and intelligent people that volunteer with us and by the young students that we work with. There is something powerful about a shared experience and I feel very lucky to have found that in Eye to Eye.