Auburn senior with quadriplegia graduating with mother by her side

By Sylvia Masango

Published: May 3, 2019 9:43:00 AM

When Auburn University students cross the stage at Auburn Arena during graduation, they normally do so with their support group of family and friends cheering them on.

Industrial and systems engineering senior Anna Wilson is no exception; the only difference is that her mother will be crossing the stage with her, just as she has been by Anna’s side throughout her entire college journey.

Anna is a quadriplegic, but she has never let her disability hold her back. Even as a wheelchair user, she has enjoyed activities such as scuba diving and zip lining.

A native of Clanton, Alabama, Anna was accidentally shot by one of her siblings 15 years ago. The bullet went through her skull, barely missing her eye, and lodged in the C2 and C3 vertebrae.

Even when faced with life’s most difficult challenges, Anna remains optimistic and is appreciative of the opportunities she has been afforded.

“What keeps me going is that there is someone always worse off than I am,” she said. “So thinking small and considering what I have in life, there is nothing to complain about. I have my days where it is like ‘poor pitiful me,’ but I have so much to be grateful for. I’m just always looking forward to the next day and try to live life to the fullest.”

Since the accident, Carla Wilson has been by her daughter’s side and was with Anna all through her Auburn experience. Along with assisting Anna in all her day-to-day needs and pushing her wheelchair around campus, Carla also functioned as Anna’s note-taker in class.

“I am really glad the professors were supportive of me going in and taking her notes because I really enjoyed some of those classes,” Carla said. “I may not have understood it all, but I liked experiencing the different atmospheres and teaching styles.”

Graduation holds extra special meeting for the Wilson family as Anna will be the first one in the family to graduate from a university.

“I am so proud of her and I can’t wait to see what the next adventure holds,” Carla said.

When it comes to her time here at Auburn, Anna said it was much smoother than she had expected, as everyone has been so accommodating and friendly.

“I was not expecting this journey to be so easy with a disability,” she said. “All my professors and the Office of Accessibility made it really easy when it came to doing schoolwork, taking tests and other things. That was one of the main reasons why I had chosen Auburn in the first place.”

Thinking back to some of her favorite courses and moments in the classroom, Anna highlights her newfound passion for lean engineering. She said her favorite classes were Lean Production with Tom Devall because of her experience in the Tiger Motors Manufacturing Lab, as well as Safety Engineering with Richard Sesek.

“I have really enjoyed the program. These past two semesters I have taken classes focused around lean engineering,” she said. “I have come to enjoy those fields, as they break down industrial engineering to more problem solving and continuous improvement.”

Anna is working toward a career in health care with a research focus on lean engineering. “I want to go into health care and lean is a newer field that has been used within health care over the past 10 years so it has solidified my interest in the field and the direction I would like to go in,” she said.

Beyond the classroom, Anna has also been active around campus during her time at Auburn. She is a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and served on its cabinet as an awards director. Anna has also been involved with Auburn’s chapter of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers and helped start the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in 2016. She is also a member of the Society of Women Engineers and two other honor societies.

Reflecting back on some on her fondest memories with her daughter, Carla mentioned that being inducted as an alumna member of Kappa Alpha Theta, participating in her Spanish Study Partners class and developing lifelong relationships with people of the Auburn Family was most memorable.

“I have really enjoyed going to the Office of Accessibility with Anna and just meeting everyone there. One person I am grateful I had an opportunity to meet was Scott Renner,” Carla said of the former assistant director of accessibility, a fellow quadriplegic who passed away in 2018. “Another professor I really enjoyed was Dan Savu in Calculus III. I really loved how much he cared about the students.”

Following graduation, Anna plans to attend graduate school at Auburn. After completing her master’s degree, her goal is find a job relating to health care in industrial and systems engineering where she can ultimately pave the way forward and help others the way people have helped her throughout her life.

“I’ve always told Anna that money isn’t everything,” Carla said. “I want her to find a job that she is going to enjoy, that makes her happy and proud to get out of bed every day.”

As Anna looks forward to the next chapter of her life, she is thankful for all the people who have helped her along the way—from her family and friends to the supportive faculty members.

“One of the things I have learned at Auburn is that it’s not about how smart you are, but it’s about how dedicated you are,” Anna said.

Auburn University will confer 4,474 degrees on its new graduates during the institution’s spring commencement ceremonies May 4-6. Anna and Carla will cross the graduation stage during the 10 a.m. ceremony on May 4. More information about Auburn’s commencement ceremonies can be found at auburn.edu/graduation.

Media Contact: Chris Anthony, chris.anthony@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447

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