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Columbia University student earns scholarship to help further his passions to help hearing impaired individuals

Photo courtesy of Young Jae Ryu

Columbia University student Young Jae Ryu is one of five college students who were chosen to receive the Graeme Clark Scholarship to further his studies. 

Ryu, 21, hails from Culver City, California. From a young age, Ryu required hearing aids, but in 2008 he made the decision to get cochlear implants.

“My hearing was continuously diminishing,” said Ryu. “That’s what motivated me to get the implants. I inquired about them and was approved.”

Throughout his life, Ryu was surrounded by society’s stigmas that because of his hearing, he needed extra care due to his disability. When it came time to start applying for colleges, Ryu knew he wanted to go away to New York City, but also saw it as an opportunity to be more independent. 

“Growing up, I was always seen as someone who needed special care,” said Ryu. “I’ve always tried to find my own independence and self-sufficiency. I knew that going away to college would allow me to explore that opportunity. I don’t see myself as disabled, just differently-abled. I still hear like everyone else, just in a different way.”

“Mainstream people can hear with ears, I use cochlear implants,” Ryu added. “I hear differently. It might not be conventional, but it’s viable.”

Ryu enrolled at Columbia University in their mechanical engineering program. What drew him in to Columbia specifically was that their research labs were already working on hearing technology. 

During his time at Columbia, Ryu heard about the Graeme Clark Scholarship, which is offered by Cochlear Limited.. The scholarship, named for the inventor and pioneer of the multichannel cochlear implant, awards each student $2,000 per year for up to four years at an accredited college or university, providing $8,000 to each student.

“I’m a user of their technology,” said Ryu. “When I came across the scholarship, I really wanted to apply for it with the intention to further my academic passions.”

Ryu initially decided to apply to help further his education (Ryu plans to use this grant to further his studies and earn a PhD in mechanical engineering), but now sees it as an opportunity for outreach.  

“I’ve been passionate about being a mentor for those experiencing something similar to what I’ve experienced,” said Ryu. “This scholarship will help me fulfill my dreams to one day develop new technologies to expand the horizons, hopes and dreams of others affected by hearing loss.”

Since word got out about his scholarship win, Ryu has received lots of messages asking him about his experiences. Ryu wants the world to know that there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to hearing loss, and that anyone can overcome life’s curveballs. 

“There’s hope for everyone. Just because you encounter someone in society that deems you “disabled” doesn’t mean you can’t overcome obstacles,” said Ryu. “At the end of the day, I can do the same things as everyone else, just in a different way. There shouldn’t be any shame in doing things a different way.”

Emily Davenport