Fussell fuels Faulkner students’ desire to achieve their goals
For years, Faulkner University Director for the Center of Disability Services Nichole Fussell faced an uphill academic battle. Now, she is able to promote the services that helped her earn college degrees and open doors for others facing similar challenges.
Unlike some students with learning disabilities, Fussell was able to push through high school and enter college before she realized she needed assistance. She said she was tested for learning disabilities at a young age but did not receive accommodations because she was on track.
It was not until she was a 19-year-old member of the Troy University track team and struggling in the classroom that she was tested again.
Fussell said she initially thought the pressures of being a student athlete were to blame, but a closer evaluation revealed she needed accommodations for ADHD and a learning disability associated with reading.
The Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services provided documentation and testing for Fussell, who transferred to Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., as a sophomore. She received textbooks in an alternate format, extra time for tests, and was allowed to take tests at the testing center. Because of these accommodations, Fussell said she was able to avoid medication.
Throughout her journey, Fussell said she was eager to show her gratitude to her Vocational Rehabilitation Service Counselor Gloria Dunn and prove to herself that she could excel academically. She did both.
“(Gloria Dunn) pushed me to make sure that my grades were high, and so it really helped me and motivated me to try harder so I could come back to them and say, ‘Hey! I made a great grade! What you are doing is helping me,’ ” she said.
Dunn had a family connection to a Fussell, having worked with her great-grandmother, Pat Morrow, who served for more than 20 years in the position now occupied by Nichole.
The first step toward success for Fussell, Dunn said, was restoring her confidence.
“Nichole was challenged with her ADHD in terms of believing that she could not learn,” she said.
Fussell did not stop with her bachelor’s degree. After graduating from Lipscomb in 2013, she entered graduate school at the University of Alabama, where she earned her master’s degree with a 3.8 GPA. Fussell is currently working on a graduate certificate in postsecondary disability services from the University of Connecticut. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA.
She said the accommodations were again a big factor in her success.
“The testing (accommodations) was the biggest thing for me, just because I have difficulty concentrating at times,” she said. “That helped me the most and being pushed to do the best that I can.”
Fussell began her career in maternity care before moving to hospice. She worked at Crossbridge Behavioral Health in Montgomery as a therapist before coming to Faulkner.
She said it is exciting to pass along her knowledge to students who are facing similar struggles.
“I think my background, with everything that has happened throughout my education, has really helped me to empathize with the students,” she said. “I am able to meet with them and try to figure out their unique needs. I understand the importance of that, because it does make a huge difference in your education. When I have students in here talking about their struggles, crying, upset, and not able to understand why they are not able to do it, it helps to be able to come from a place where you do understand. I am able to tell them that they can do it with confidence, knowing that the accommodations will help.”
To say Fussell is a multitasker is an understatement. She makes sure legal aspects are followed, works very closely with the general council, meets with students and families, reviews accommodations and paperwork, and then pieces everything together to formulate accommodations.
In addition, she creates memos for students to present to professors and works with members of the faculty to make sure accommodations are understood.
Fussell’s programs cover undergraduate, graduate, and law students.
Dunn said she always believed Fussell could accomplish great things if she put her mind to it and is excited to see how far she has come.
“The sky was the limit for her,” she said. “She learned step by step what she could achieve, and now she is helping others to do the very same thing. I am excited for her. When you see someone like her come so far and now be in a seat to help many others achieve their goals, it is great.”
On several occasions, Dunn said Fussell called her to tell her how well she was doing, which she said motivates her to help even more consumers.
“You are there to make sure somebody’s life is a little bit better, and you can’t do that unless you care about people,” she said. “You have to find those special characteristics (in each consumer). We talk about individualizing, and it truly is that. It isn’t something where you can place them all in one box and say they are all the same. There may be many similarities, but everyone has their own uniqueness. You have to find the right path for them.”