Honors Program

Thomas Barnett "Breaking Down Barriers" Scholarship

Thomas Barnett was an Honors Fellow and a Presidential Scholar in the Elon University Class of 2007. His honors thesis was in digital art, and through his art he raised awareness about issues on campus for students with disabilities. His parents created the award in his memory, with $1,000 to be awarded annually to one Elon undergraduate who has successfully completed a high-quality project on a topic related to improving the university experience of students with disabilities.
Projects must have an academic component, broadly defined and including projects such as websites, creative works and research papers. The research process can include theoretical and/or applied scholarship and can relate to any aspect of the university experience, from the physical environment to academic experiences to social connectivity concerns. The projects can be part of a course or an Elon Experience.

The term “disability” has a variety of meanings, which often differ depending upon the person who uses the word as well as the context in which it is used. Most simply, “a disability is an inability to do something that most people, with typical maturation, opportunity, or instruction, can do” (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2010). It is therefore important for us to recognize that, while most people think of a person using a wheelchair, or a hearing aid, or a service animal as the prototypical person with a disability, the vast majority of persons with disabilities do not fit into those narrow categories. People with learning disabilities, emotional illnesses and other “invisible disabilities” are also included among the disabled.

Hallahan, D., Kauffman, J., & Pullen, P. (2010). Exceptional learners: An introduction to special education. Boston, MA: Pearson

Click here for the application

Past Winners

2017: Molly Bauer. “Equity through Technology: Mobile Friendliness, Usability and Accessibility for School Websites.” Molly is a Communications Fellow at Elon majoring in Strategic Communications. She is a member of both Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi Honor societies and Alpha Chi Omega Sorority. She is committed to her craft both in and outside the classroom, working as a Writing Center Consultant and serving as a copy editor for the Elon News Network. Her mentor Amanda Sturgill notes: “Molly is an excellent student, but much more. She approaches her inquiry in a measured, organized and tenacious way that leads her to thoroughly cover the range of what she is studying. She is then able to connect her findings to important, larger social issues. She has a joyous approach to learning that makes her a real pleasure to work with.”

In her research, Molly asked the following question: Are the websites for the 100 largest school districts in the United States, serving nearly 11 million students, equitably accessible for users in terms of both mobile friendliness and disability accessibility. She points out that with one in 5 Americans having a disability, and with the rapidly increasing dependence on the Internet for education, web accessibility is a dramatically important issue. Unfortunately, her research does not paint a pretty picture. 74% of these school websites have accessibility problems, deepening the education divide for disabled students. Molly’s work highlights the work ahead of us if we are going to fulfill society’s promise to provide quality education to all our children.


2016: Sophie Rupp. "Transition: The Role of Social Support in Self-Management Within Education and Employment Settings for Adolescents and Young Adults with End-Stage Renal Disease.Sophie’s project investigated the role of social support in self-management within education and employment settings for adolescents and young adults (AYA) with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) through the HCTRC Healthcare Transition Model. Interviews with 19 AYA with ESRD about the relationships they form within employment and education settings shed light on aspects of these environments that promote or hinder their ability to manage their disease and develop social connections. Findings indicated failure to establish support in educational and vocational settings often resulted in a lack of health-related accommodations or posed health dangers to AYA. Aspects of support included personal perception of their illness as normal, awareness of disclosure as a way to access accommodations and facilitate emergency situations, and discussing their disease with therapists or other patients. Sophie’s research resulted in recommendations to educators and employers of ways to be sensitive to the needs of AYA with ESRD to promote healthy development into adulthood and success in educational/vocational endeavors. Communication skills and increased autonomy in patients’ medical and personal lives are necessary to their survival and quality of life. Sophie presented her research at the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine and was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

As a well-rounded student scholar, Sophie has combined research, service and career interests throughout her four years at Elon. She was a research assistant on the Voices of Welfare project, a Teaching Assistant for the Elon College Fellows Junior Seminar and a member of Campus Kitchen all four years at Elon. She interned at two Cincinnati-based non-profits—The Center for Closing the Health Gap and Su Casa Hispanic Center—and volunteered at the Hospital Universitario Virgen del Rocio while studying abroad in Seville, Spain where she organized and supervised play groups for pediatric in-patients. In addition to being awarded the Thomas Barnett Breaking Down Barriers Scholarship Award, she was named a Provost Scholar for her work during Elon’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.


2015: Ashley Edwards. "Traumatic Brain Injuury and the College Experience: Preparing Disabilities Services for Assisting Students Suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries." This year’s winner of the Thomas Barnett “Breaking Down Barriers” Scholarship honors Thomas’s memory well, both in the focus of her work and the excellence she has achieved. Ashley's research into traumatic brain injuries among college students has important applications today. Ashley combined an extensive review of the current scholarship with in-depth interviews with undergraduate students who had experienced traumatic brain injuries, to develop recommendations to help improve student services not just at Elon but at universities across the country. In addition to presenting her work at the Southern Association for Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, she has published her findings in the national journal College and University.


2014: Bailey Nugent."Control your diabetes, Don't let it control you!" Experiences of College Students with Type 1 Diabetes. As a student with Type-1 Diabetes, Bailey Nugent has been all too familiar with the confusion and lack of knowledge and understanding of those around her. She found that others sometimes confused Type 1 diabetes with Type 2 diabetes and took liberties in telling her what she should and shouldn’t eat.  She wondered if other college students experienced the same. So Bailey proposed a research project to explore the experiences of college students living with Type 1 Diabetes and to offer recommendations both to those students for managing their illness in college as well as to the general university community to raise awareness and foster better communication and understanding. She interviewed 10 college students living with Type 1 diabetes about their experiences, advice, challenges, and successes. Based on the qualitative analysis of the interviews and her study of the scholarly literature, she developed a pamphlet to be shared with incoming students with diabetes, as well as their roommates. She is currently working with her mentor Dr. Cindy Fair in writing an article for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.


2013: Emily Steiner, Amy Zemanick and Amelia Maki with Jess McDonald and Katie Atkins. Accessibility@Elon is a student-led activist project completed as part of Dr. Stephen Bloch-Schulman’s Spring 2012 section of the Women’s/Gender studies capstone course, “Current Controversies in Feminism.” The project was informed by a class module on Disability Studies and group members’ personal experiences with disability, as well as conversations with Disability Services Coordinator Susan Wise, other students with disabilities, and professors invested in accessibility issues. The goal of the project was to raise awareness of disability, accessibility, and Disability Services on Elon University's campus. There were many facets to this project including a publicity campaign to promote Disability Services, which included table tents in dining halls, a Pendulum article, and a social media campaign; an assessment and evaluation of Elon’s accessible parking, resulting in new signage; a film showing of Neurotypical, a documentary made from the perspectives of people with autism; letters to administrators notifying them of our concerns related to accessibility on campus; and a “Challenge Ableism” photo and flyer campaign highlighting disability/accessibility issues on campus that was displayed in its entirety in Belk Library, the Center for the Arts, and Lindner Hall, with individual photo also posted around campus.

2012: Jamie AlbrightThe goal of this project is to support the emerging population of young adults living with perinatally acquired HIV (PHIV) in college as they navigate issues of planning for the future, relationships, and reproductive health in the context of a highly stigmatized illness. The primary goal of the project is to create a website that contains information based upon the needs of college aged PHIV identified through a cross-sectional study.