Angell Lu-Lebel and her guide dog Koby. Photo credit: Dale Northey

learning

Love of learning helps science grad surmount challenges

June 08, 2015
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By Justin Wong

Fluent in English, French and Mandarin, science graduand Angell Lu-Lebel earned an invitation to the Golden Key International Honors Society after finishing in the top 15 per cent of her class.

While this is a significant achievement for any student, what is truly inspiring is her determination to never let anything hold her back from learning. Not even Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a rare inherited eye disease that has left her 100 per cent blind since birth.

Navigating her classes and the campus was challenging, but with assistance from her guide dog Koby, a half Golden Retriever/Labrador who has been piloting her around campus for the past seven years, and from several of her professors, she excelled.

One of Lu-Lebel’s biggest challenges was learning calculus, a subject that is designed around visual learning. To help Lu-Lebel overcome this issue, her professor, Natalia Kouzniak, and teaching assistant Poojay Pandey, integrated flexible, wax-coated strings called ‘bendaroos’ into their teaching. Kouzniak used the strings to lay out graphs, while Lu-Lebel used them to plot curves and understand the geometrical set-up of problems.

In addition to excelling in academics, Lu-Lebel is also an accomplished athlete. She is a six-time Canadian National Championship medalist in goalball—a sport for the visually impaired in which two teams of three take turns throwing a ball with bells attached into each other’s net.

Lu-Lebel credits her achievements to the guidance she received from mentors as she grew up. Now a mentor at Blind Beginnings, she is paying it forward.

“I mentor visually impaired children and their parents because a lot of the time parents are just finding out that their children are blind,” she says.

“It can be a stressful experience. Parents don’t know what to do and they panic a bit.”

She will attend the Professional Development Program in SFU’s Faculty of Education in the fall, with a plan to teach students with special needs.