Most 17-year-olds think about their future in terms of possibilities. Dream jobs. New adventures. Doors opening.

In one moment, 17-year-old Sarah Hogan saw all those doors slam her face.

After years of unexplained aches and pains, Hogan was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a common and complex chronic pain disorder that makes even mundane tasks excruciating. In an instant, she saw her lifelong dreams of serving in the military or in law enforcement vanish.

“Our students realize there are individuals out there who support their goals, who believe in students with disabilities.” —Ann Caldwell

“That took a big toll on me,” Hogan said. “I thought, how am I going to change the world now?”

Two years later, Hogan is now a freshman psychology major at Illinois State. She’s charted a new plan to change the world—one person at a time—through a career in substance abuse counseling.

And she’s not doing it alone. This year Hogan was chosen as one of eight scholarship recipients by Disability Concerns, which provides accommodation services for students and guests with disabilities. Its scholarship program, now in its 11th year, awarded $12,000 for the 2015–2016 school year.

For Hogan, the $2,000 award is almost an entire summer’s worth of work, which is challenging for her due to her disability. More so, the scholarship is a show of support—from Disability Concerns and the scholarship supporters—for her dream of helping people who are struggling too.

“I’m not going to let this (disease) hold me back,” said Hogan. “I’m so motivated to do what I want to do.”

Disability Concerns offers three scholarships each year, with varying eligibility requirements.

Sarah Hogan poses with Ann Caldwell

Scholarship recipient Sarah Hogan, left, with Disability Concerns Director Ann Caldwell.

Applicants for the Educational Enhancement Scholarship and the Will to Succeed Scholarship must be enrolled as an undergraduate student at Illinois State. Applicants for the Smithson Scholarship must be enrolled in a graduate program at Illinois State. Recipients of all three scholarships must be willing to serve as a spokesperson for Disability Concerns.

Hogan, from Glen Ellyn, received the Educational Enhancement Scholarship, which is funded by an anonymous donor. As a Disability Concerns client, her accommodations allow her to be excused from class when extreme weather would cause discomfort walking to class.

She’s also able to use her laptop worry-free in every class and type out assignments, saving her the pain of using her often shaking hands. She can’t even read her own handwriting.

“Even typing this, my hands are shaking and cramping because of this disease,” Hogan said in her scholarship application.

The scholarship program started in 2005 with an anonymous donor and has grown since. Next year, nine students will receive an award, said Disability Concerns Director Ann Caldwell ’74, M.S.E. ’96.

“Our students realize there are individuals out there who support their goals, who believe in students with disabilities and their ability to attain a college education,” Caldwell said.

Hogan plans to put her scholarship award toward graduate school so she can become a substance abuse counselor. She was inspired after helping a friend through his drug abuse recovery.

Hogan and the other 2015–2016 recipients were honored at Illinois State’s Disability Awareness Month kickoff celebration in October. An emotional Hogan shared her story at the event.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Caldwell said.

Hogan praised Disability Concerns, a unit in the Division of Student Affairs, for making her transition to college easier from day one. It’s one of the reasons she chose Illinois State.

Last August, she was supposed to move into a room on the 21st floor of Watterson Towers. But Disability Concerns worked with University Housing Services to move her and her roommates to a converted room on the 3rd floor, with direct elevator access.

“They went above and beyond for me,” Hogan said. “They’re absolutely fantastic.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at

One thought on “Disability Concerns scholarship helps student ‘change the world’

  1. Kim Hogan says:

    I would like to thank you for your story on Students with Disabilities. Sarah is my daughter, but that night was an amazing night for all. Thank you for writing a piece that not only brings awareness, but also brings support and encouragement to people. Your article very well might be read by the fearful senior in high school who isn’t sure they can tackle college due to some disability. It very well might help the freshman who realizes there is no shame in getting support where support is needed. An accommodation -even just one ,can change a persons life. So thank you and congratulations on writing a
    piece that can actually better some people’s life with the awareness your article has provided .

    Warm Regards,

    Kimberly M. Antos-Hogan,Ph.D