Prospective college students have many specific needs when looking for the right college to attend. For some it’s making sure the university has the right major. For others, it’s the right location or the right size—not too big but not too small. For Rachel Williams Belter of New Berlin, Wis., it was about finding a university that would be able to accommodate her needs.

“I was born with Ocular Albinism, a recessive congenital disorder that causes low-vision,” Williams Belter said. “I’ve been legally blind my entire life, and I knew that when choosing a university, I needed to select an institution with pre-existing disability services.”

When Williams Belter toured the WSU campus, she was attracted to the small class sizes, experienced faculty and beautiful scenery. But it was her meeting with WSU’s Access Services that confirmed Winona State was somewhere she could thrive.

“It was then I knew WSU was the place for me,” she said.

Like many 18-year-olds, Williams Belter was still deciding on a major when she enrolled at WSU.

“I was considering pursuing a degree in biology and then getting my master’s degree in genetic counseling,” she recalled. “But after taking a biology lab and lecture course my first semester, I realized that I wasn’t succeeding in lab experiments as my vision prevented me from performing precise measurements, examining cells under microscope, and other things of that nature.”

Luckily that semester Williams Belter was also enrolled in an introductory course for English Reading and Writing. After excelling in that class, she quickly signed up for another English class the next semester.

“My professor, Dr. Gretchen Michlitsch, encouraged me to declare an English major,” she said. “Ironically, I chose a double English major, arguably the discipline that necessitates the most eye-fatiguing work.”

Through the use of technology and with assistance from English department faculty, who provided support and printed enlarged text copies of supplemental classroom materials, assignments and exams, Williams Belter developed a system that allowed her to excel in her classes.

“If it wasn’t for my MacBook Pro laptop and Ramona Bartels and Nancy Dumke in Access Services, who provided me with electronic-textbooks, I wouldn’t have been able to graduate with a double major in four years,” she said. 

But Williams Belter also recognizes that none of this would’ve been possible without the courage to ask for what she needed, and she encourages others to be self-aware on the path to their own success.

“Be your own advocate. If you need something done differently to accommodate your needs, just ask for it,” she added. “Everyone learns differently and has various personal limitations, but nobody knows what you need besides you.”

Williams Belter will graduate this spring with majors in English Writing and English Literature/Language, and minors in Spanish and Applied and Professional Writing, and was also chosen as the Outstanding Student for English Literature and Language by her department faculty.

At the end of the day, she said she is proud to represent a program that promotes understanding and critical thinking.

“As a student in a Liberal Arts program, I’ve had the privilege of studying in a discipline that fosters exploration and discussion of social norms, structures, and both cultural and personal beliefs,” she said. “Through the opportunities to discuss and debate with my peers and professors in the classroom, I’ve refined my critical thinking skills, which I know will continue to serve me well into the future, no matter the job or career path I pursue.”

WSU Spring Commencement Ceremonies will take place Friday, May 4, in McCown Gymnasium on the Winona campus. The 9 a.m. ceremony will feature the College of Business and College of Science and Engineering. The 12:30 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts. The 4 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

For more information, visit or call University Communications at 507-457-5024.