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Senior overcomes obstacles to earn degree
What words rhyme with bun?
Six-year-old Jaquayle Taylor takes a moment to think about the question.
Georgia College graduating senior Nicole Graduating senior Nicole Slifcak volunteers as a tutor for local students during an after-school program. Slifcak gives Jaquayle a few more minutes before jogging the kindergarten’s memory.
“What about fun and sun?” asked Slifcak. “We like to have fun after school. Don’t we Quay?”
Jaquayle smiles and nods her head while finishing her afternoon snack.
The senior psychology major tutors through Baldwin County Family Connection, helping kindergarten through eighth-grade students of Wray Homes in Milledgeville with their homework.
“Nicole loves to give back, and our youth gain extra help with their homework,” said Richard Hartry, program coordinator with Georgia College’s YES after-school program and board member of Baldwin County Family Connection. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Recalling information benefits Slifcak just as much as it does the after-school students.
Seven years ago, Slifcak experienced a traumatic brain injury during a car wreck. The injury continues to interfere with both her short- and long-term memory and other aspects of her life.
“A Ford F-150 broadsided my sedan on the driver’s sides, pushing my car into a pole,” said Slifcak. “My life turned upside down. I went back through early childhood stages to recover from my injury.”
Before her injury, the then-high school student took honors and advanced placement courses, played varsity sports and served on the executive board of several clubs. Afterward she had to relearn how to talk, walk, eat, dress and interact with people.
“One of my biggest problems,” she said, “is remembering where I put things and who told me certain information.”
Two months before the wreck, the honors student earned Georgia College’s $16,000 Presidential Scholarship — $4,000 per year — to study at the university.
Despite the hardships of her injury, Slifcak decided to advance her education at Georgia College. When she arrived on campus, Slifcak tried to adapt to college life alone.
“I did everything myself,” Slifcak said. “However, I was incredibly awkward and immature in my social interaction with colleagues. When you have a brain injury, you don’t have the same personality you did before.”
Slifcak connected with the university’s Disability Services to help her adjust to campus life.
Disability Services arranged for Slifcak to receive special accommodations, allowing extra time on tests and projects and learning computer programs to help her record and remember information.
“Mike Chambers, former director of Disability Services, helped me get to graduation day,” Slifcak said. “His and others’ faith in me is why I’m graduating with brain damage and honors.”
Slifcak also found the courage to study abroad in Belize in Central America since she enjoys learning about Latin American culture.
She chose to major in psychology to learn how the human brain functions.
“I initially wanted to learn more coping skills for my deficits,” said Slifcak. “The subject matter is fascinating anyway.”
Not sure exactly what her plans are after May graduation, the honors graduate considers graduate school for counseling or occupational therapy. She also contemplates working with disabled people.
“I might need a break first,” she said. “I now know, though, I can do anything — anything I put my mind to. I’ve formed so many connections at Georgia College with such fantastic people who have supported me throughout this experience. I’m so grateful."