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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

URI student awarded $30,000
Truman scholarship for leadership

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 11, 2003 -- When University of Rhode Island student Gregory Hughes speaks to parents of children with disabilities, he quickly breaks down their assumptions and allays their worries. "Parents often fear that their child won’t complete high school and won’t have a normal job, he says. "Somehow they, like many people in our society, associate physical impairment with a lower mental capacity."

Hughes, who is legally blind, now has even more ammunition for shooting down stereotypes and parental concerns. The computer science honor student was just named a 2003 Truman Scholar. Established by Congress in 1975 as a memorial to the 33rd president, Harry S. Truman, the highly competitive scholarship provides $30,000: $3,000 for Hughes’ senior year at URI and $27,000 for graduate study.

"Greg has a breathtaking record of public service and a singular personal presence - I'd call it poise -both of which came out clearly in our campus nomination process," remarked Cheryl Foster, associate director of URI’s Honors Program and a 1981 Truman Scholar.

The Warwick resident is one of 76 Truman Scholars, selected from 635 candidates from 63 U.S. colleges and universities. Scholars are chosen on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability, and the likelihood of "making a difference."

Without a doubt, Hughes has been turning heads and overturning obstacles since he was born. He has always been a stellar student, writing computer software programs since he was in 7th grade. The 20-year-old knows six or seven computer languages.

Hughes hopes to earn a master’s degree in human computer interaction at Virginia Tech. After graduate school, Hughes aims to take his technological expertise and his talent for problem-solving to help bring the government into better compliance with Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. "Most people know that government buildings must be handicapped accessible, but few realize that this is true for the all of the technology within the buildings," the young scholar said. "There are a number of misconceptions about the law and how to implement it. For instance, some small businesses don’t realize they can get help from the federal government in terms of a tax write-off. It’s all about education."

Helping others comes both naturally and genetically. By the time he was 7, Hughes was pushing wheelchairs around for his mother who has volunteered at the Summit Association for the Handicapped for years. The association provides social outlets for people with severe disabilities.

Hughes has been a brother to 11 foster children with disabilities, helped Habitat for Humanity build a house in Patterson, N.J. during his spring break in his freshman year, and found volunteering at the House of Compassion for people with AIDS, a sobering yet invaluable experience. He earned his Eagle Scout distinction by coordinating a drive that produced more than 500 pairs of donated eyeglasses for the needy. For years, Hughes has also volunteered at his church, Pilgrim Lutheran in Warwick.

He also is an annual keynote speaker at Perkins Institute for the Blind and the Rhode Island Parents for the Blind, drawing from his experiences.

This May, Hughes will join other 2003 Truman Scholars for a weeklong leadership program in Liberty, Mo. "A great aspect of the Truman Scholarship is to be able to network and help support each other," Hughes says.

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