Steinert High School grad wins a state Hearing Loss Association scholarship.
By Jessica Oates
Like many high school seniors, Eric Fink combed the internet looking for scholarships and grants that would help pay for his college education.
The 2012 Steinert High School graduate applied for—and eventually won— one award that came with a $1,000 check, but it wasn’t earned merely by getting good grades or spending an evening writing an essay.
Fink’s scholarship was from the Hearing Loss Association of New Jersey, and he spent his whole life qualifying for it. Only high school graduates who have overcome hearing challenges or disabilities are eligible for the few scholarships the HLA awards each year.
Now 19 and entering his sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh, Fink was born with moderately severe hearing loss that worsens as he ages. He is able to hear a bit without hearing aids, but often relies on reading lips to follow a conversation. He also knows sign language, which he used mostly during early childhood, but usually utilizes oral speech.
He said technology continues to improve, though, which helps him in his studies at Pitt. Fink has not declared a major yet, but has had classes in economics, finance and law.
Fink seemingly has achieved academic success, and he has long earned praise for the attitude that helped him achieve it.
“Throughout his four years at Hamilton High East, Eric developed a reputation as a conscientious, sincere, hardworking student,” said Frank Gatto, Fink’s high school guidance counselor. “He has completed outstanding class work in a demanding curriculum, in addition to the many tireless hours he has spent on after school activities. Eric is self-confident, intuitive, independent and thorough in his approach to his studies. He requires little guidance and no prodding, as he is self-motivated enough to seek out academic problems and then develop solutions to them entirely on his own.”
Diagnosed with hearing loss at 2, Fink says that the challenges he faced in school were plentiful.
“I remember kids coming up to me in elementary school and asking me questions about the whole situation,” Fink said. “Sometimes this would upset me, but I came to deal with it maturely and use my difference as a personal advantage. My hearing loss gave me a strong desire to prove myself capable, while proving to those that doubted me that I could succeed despite my disability.”
As a shy child, Fink sometimes resented the extra attention he was given for his hearing aid and the special assistance he received from interpreters and speech therapists.
“Looking back on all of this, I realize how necessary it was,” he said. “Hearing loss meant that I might miss information that the teacher gave orally. I learned to pay extra attention to details while reading texts for class and taking notes. Classes like English and science usually took me longer to prepare for because they involved more extensive, specialized vocabulary words.”
Fink’s mother, Terry, agreed that for her son, keeping up with school work entailed more than it does for regular students. Because of his hearing loss, Fink had an obstacle to overcome in order to follow the class, particularly since students ask and answer questions aloud, she said.
She believes that it was her son’s positive attitude and motivated spirit that brought him success in high school and in his first year of college.
“I’m very proud of him,” Terry said. “The challenges Eric faced in college were bigger. The class sizes are larger, the work is more intense, and he doesn’t have access to all of the same services he had in high school. But he did well. I think I was most nervous about him being so far away.”
She said a speech therapist once told her that learning would always be a struggle for her son, but she was determined not to let it come true and encouraged him to work hard. They both have seen the work pay off.
Not only has Fink had academic success, his bright personality and positive spirit has helped him acclimate to dorm life at Pitt. He has found a circle of friends, a challenge for any college freshman.
After a successful first year of college, Fink looks forward to continuing work towards his degree—perhaps even studying abroad—and hopes to gain as much experience as he can along the way to help him choose a rewarding career path.
He said the best piece of advice he would offer to students with disabilities is to not be shy to make use of any extra help or assistance the school can offer.
“You can do anything you believe you can do,” Fink said. “You can learn any skill that any other person can.”