Jessica Patterson is a volunteer, student, and role model. She has recently been crowned Ms. Wheelchair New York 2013, will compete in the national competition next year, and is a Client Relations Representative for Key Bank in Central New York.
Ms. Patterson is studying to become a Child Life Specialist. She earned an associates in social sciences and humanities from SUNY Morrisville, bachelors in sociology from SUNY Oswego, and studied Child Life Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Following a motor accident ten years ago that left Ms. Patterson an incomplete paraplegic, she utilizes the unique perspective in volunteering at the Child Life Department at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital once a week, where she plans to become a Certified Child Life specialist in order to further help children cope with hospitalization and disability.
1. You have been crowned ‘Ms. Wheelchair New York’. What is the competition, and what does the title mean to you?
I was crowned Ms. Wheelchair, NY 2013 on August 10th in Troy, NY. The Ms. Wheelchair program was developed to recognize the achievements, success, volunteering, advocacy, and overall lives of women who live their lives in wheelchairs. It is a celebration of the unique lives we, as disabled women, have. Becoming Ms. Wheelchair, NY 2013 has given me the overall satisfaction that the life I have is what was meant for me. It has proven to me that everything I have accomplished and everything I give is truly recognized by those around me.
2. Why did you choose to study humanities at SUNY Morrisville and sociology at SUNY Oswego?
Growing up I had always wanted to become an architect, but after the motor vehicle accident in 2003 that left me paraplegic, I wanted to go into a profession where I got to work with children who were experiencing the same things I had as a child in the hospital and disability.
Choosing to study humanities at SUNY Morrisville was my way of opening up to many different professional fields that included disability and children. Studying humanities and social sciences can lead you into psychology, sociology, child development, and so many more areas of study. It eventually lead me to the path of sociology at SUNY Oswego. Becoming educated on society and the “why’s,” “what’s,” and “how’s” of humans and their interactions interested me. I have gone on to pursue the Certified Child Life Specialist profession and currently am an active volunteer in the Child Life Department at Golisano Children’s Hospital. I hope to obtain a practicum and internship there in 2014.
3. Did you participate in any clubs or activities while at either school?
I was highly focused on my studies as a college student at both SUNY schools. At SUNY Morrisville, I was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society and also the 2007 Social Science Student of the year. Those were both great honors that I worked very hard at scholastically earning. At SUNY Oswego, it was a little bit tougher to include myself in extra curricular activities since I had a job to support myself living off campus. Although I do not regret being so focused on my studies, looking back now I wish I had become more actively involved in campus life, clubs, and activities.
4. Despite a full workload, you choose to volunteer at SUNY Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital every week. Why?
Although I am a very busy young woman, I cherish my volunteer work at Golisano Children’s Hospital. First off, I am a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason. Since I spent the better part of two whole months in the hospital after my accident, I feel as though being there every week, I can give back to those who gave to me.
Also, since I plan to obtain my Child Life Certification in the next year, I felt as though getting to know what the profession is all about was crucial. I get to see what the Certified Child Life Specialist’s deal with on a daily basis while I volunteer. However, I also get to play with the children and put smiles on their faces. I know all too well that being a hospitalized child is not fun or easy. At Golisano, the Child Life Specialists help the children to cope with hospitalization, medical procedures, and also create fun activities like BINGO to help ease the pain of being there. I hope to someday be as good a Child Life Specialist as the women at Golisano.
5. How has SUNY impacted your life and career so far?
The friends I made throughout college, I say have to be one of the best things that came out of both SUNY Morrisville and SUNY Oswego. College isn’t only about getting an education these days. It is about experiencing life and making yourself better along the way. Education is something that no one can take away from you, and you carry everywhere you go. Learning about society and the way people function that I obtained in college, has helped me bond more with those around me and understand better why people do and say the things they do. This has dramatically helped me to understand the way society treats those who are disabled and how to deal with the negativity that can sometimes come my way.
6. What advice do you have to share with SUNY students?
For current and future students of the SUNY school system, I would urge you to carefully choose a major that you feel could better you and those around you, when it’s time to enter the “real world.” Study something that you are truly passionate about and can see yourself doing for the next 40-50 years. Take time to enjoy your college experience by joining clubs, activities, sports and most importantly, make great friends that you will have for the rest of your lives.
Maxwell is the Coordinator of Digital Engagement for The State University of New York.