Meet Odessa Marks
Odessa Marks, a doctoral student in NC State’s Comparative Biomedical Sciences program, discovered a passion for science when she was nine years old and found her grandmother’s explanation of how a cell exists on its own to be “insufficient.” This interest has stayed with her throughout her life despite the challenges that dyslexia brings to her studies. As Marks describes her disability, the main problem is that she flips letters while reading. This can cause it to take a while to get through all the possible combinations and make sure she is reading a word correctly.
Like many students with dyslexia, it took some time for her to be diagnosed. Her dedication to learning inspired her to develop several techniques on her own. The most basic technique is to “stare at the professor and memorize everything that they say without taking any notes.” This impressive feat of concentration has assisted with her learning, but also caused some unintended consequences. Some teachers would become upset at the unusual attention, while others saw this as a sign of boredom. As a result, Marks was skipped several grades and graduated from high school at the age of 16.
After being diagnosed, Marks was taught several other techniques. She explained that while some techniques are more valuable than others, she has found all of them to be of some use depending on the situation. One of the simplest methods that Marks still uses today is to concentrate on reading only four words within each sentence. In this manner, she can get the main concepts that the class is discussing without being left behind. Later she can reread the article more thoroughly.
Many of the accommodations that Marks uses are designed to work around the fact that it takes longer for her to read. She has extra time during her written exams and many times these are done in a separate location free of distractions. In the past, she has also taken oral exams. Marks said that she initially did worse on these, but they taught her to think on her feet. “You learn to answer the question and be precise.”
Although she had done well in her undergraduate studies at Eastern University (St. Davids, PA), she had questions about “how successful I can be in the more competitive environment of graduate school.” She spent the year between undergrad and graduate school attending the Duke PREP program. However, for her graduate school studies she chose to come to NC State. Upon arrival, she brainstormed with the Disability Services Office and the former Director of the Comparative Biomedical Science Program, Dr. Prema Arasu, in order to find the tools that would work for her. One of the most valuable tools is Kurzweil, a software solution that scans print documents and reads them aloud at a user-controllable speed.
During her first year at NC State, Marks saw her main challenges as “getting through papers, doing as well as her classmates and keeping up her enthusiasm.” This summer as she looks back on the previous year, she is much more confident in her abilities to complete her PhD. While the software tools have been very helpful to her during her time at NC State, she places a lot of credit with her dissertation advisor, Dr. Fred Fuller. He has not only been accepting of the necessary accommodations, but has encouraged her by providing additional software for her use. Odessa Marks is excited about the possibilities available today to pursue a career in academia and confident that she has chosen the right environment at NC State.