After navigating the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus together for the past five years, it was only fitting that nontraditional special education major Ann Mittelstadt, of Beaver Dam, would want her service dog, Tory, to accompany her as she walked the stage at spring commencement.
“She’s not just a service dog, she is my best friend. She is my left hand and I couldn’t have done any of this without her,” she said.
Mittelstadt began her educational career years ago, earned an associate degree, spent some years working in various jobs and in 2012 came to UW Oshkosh to conquer a bachelor’s degree. In May she graduated with more than 1,500 others—joining more than 90,000 UW Oshkosh alumni worldwide.
During her years at UWO, Mittelstadt found ways to adapt and succeed. She used magnified readers to navigate her Axenfeld Reiger Syndrome and secondary glaucoma—two conditions affecting each of her eyes. She also relied on her professors from the College of Education and Human Services (COEHS).
“It’s sometimes hard because I am disabled, but I really wanted to do this,” she said of completing UW Oshkosh’s education program, which she calls “one of the best programs in the state.”
“She entered our program having been told by many others all of the things she could not do, and I think the thought of completing a bachelor’s degree was a bit daunting, but she has worked very hard to meet all of the requirements,” said Stacey Skoning, chair of the Special and Early Childhood Education Department—and influential professor in Mittelstadt’s life.
Skoning said the presence of a service dog with a student was a learning experience for faculty and students in UW Oshkosh COEHS classrooms. It’s a situation she believes speaks to the inclusive nature of the people at UW Oshkosh—and to the kind of special education teacher Mittelstadt is trying to become.
Skoning is proud of the student she’s sending into the world.
“Supporting Ann has pushed the skills of many of our faculty, myself included. While we all supported students like Ann in our K-12 teaching backgrounds, we don’t often have students with her level of need in our college classes,” Skoning said. “While Ann has a visual impairment, she also is a visual learner, so in my class I had to really think about how I presented concepts and made materials accessible.”