Empowered at Adtalem: Grace Pechman

May 17, 2024
Two women wearing masks, one of them saying "I love you" in American Sign Language

How the founder of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine’s student club for deaf and hard of hearing students is making a difference with an Empower Scholarship. 

Grace Pechman was diagnosed with moderately severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss four years ago at age 21. At the time, she was working for BluePearl Emergency and Specialty Pet Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, pursuing her dream to become a veterinarian. It’s a dream she has chased since she was 6 years old and is currently pursuing as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Ross Vet).

For Pechman, living with hearing loss is often difficult to explain. Daily occurrences like the lack of clarity in speech, sensitivity to loud noise, and exhaustion from heavy bursts of communication are misunderstood, downplayed, or even ignored.

As a veterinary student, she requires accommodation like clear masks for procedures so she can read lips, an amplified stethoscope, and surgical tables and surrounding care providers to be positioned in such ways that sound and directives Pechman follows come from one direction rather than all over the room. Studying lecture recordings often takes at least twice as long as she pauses and rewinds to understand everything she’s reading through closed captioning.

The official cause of her hearing loss is still unknown to her audiologists, but they do know it is progressing. 

Grace Pechman signing "I love you" in American Sign Language
It is believed that I will be completely deaf at some point in my life. However, this doesn't scare me.

Empowered to Advocate for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Veterinary Students

Her disability and the possibility of completely losing her hearing have not deterred Pechman from her veterinary journey. Instead, it has turned her into an advocate for herself and other students like her.

Pechman created the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Veterinary Students (DHHVS) organization at Ross Vet in 2022 to address inclusivity, accessibility, and accommodations for people with hearing loss in veterinary schools and clinics. The organization is the first of its kind for deaf and hard of hearing students at Ross Vet.

“We recognized the importance of making necessary changes for future veterinarians with disabilities,” said Pechman. “The deaf community is larger than most people realize and deserves recognition. We stand up for a community that is heavily marginalized and stereotyped and break down communication barriers between the hearing and non-hearing worlds.” 

At Ross Vet, DHHVS has worked with administration to improve captioning, communication, and accommodation systems along with recommending training for faculty and staff to better work with deaf and hard of hearing students. 

Basic changes to communication really go a long way for someone with hearing loss.

Ross Vet has more than 25 student clubs recognized by the Student American Veterinary Medical Association.

About the Empower Scholarship Fund: A Beacon of Opportunity  

Since its inception, the Empower Scholarship Fund has been a beacon of opportunity for students striving for academic excellence and personal growth. With a total of 2,731 scholarships amounting to over $5.13 million offered in the past seven years, the fund has been instrumental in shaping the futures of aspiring scholars.

Pechman received an Empower Scholarship funded by Banfield Pet Hospital, a leading provider of preventative veterinary care. For Pechman, it’s more than just a financial impact.

“Recognition like this shows others living with disabilities, invisible or not, that just like me, they are capable of anything they put their minds to,” says Pechman. “No one should ever have to give up their dreams because they have a disability. I am proud of who I am and the veterinarian I will one day become.”

Pechman will return to her home state to complete her clinical rotations at the University of Wisconsin before she graduates from Ross Vet in 2025. She is actively working toward DEI certifications alongside her DVM degree.

Learn more about the Empower Scholarship Fund.  

For more information, email the Adtalem Global Communications Team: adtalemmedia@adtalem.com.