Name: Elaine Wright
University: Princeton University
Major: Electrical engineering
Processor: Nucleus® 5, bilateral
Elaine is one of our 2018 Graeme Clark Scholarship winners! Elaine was born profoundly deaf. She received her first cochlear implant when she was 18 months old and her second when she was seven years old.
Growing up, Elaine said she struggled to learn how to advocate for herself and speak up when she needed assistance.
“A challenge I faced, and something I’m still learning to do, is advocate for myself and navigate disability services at the university,” she said. “Growing up, it was definitely a little challenging, being able to advocate for myself and tell people, ‘I have cochlear implants, I need this, this, and this.’”
However, Elaine said her support system of parents, siblings, teachers, and friends helped her realize what she needed to do to thrive in academic and social environments.
“My mom was a very big part of that. She really modelled self-advocacy,” Elaine said. “When I was too little, in kindergarten and first grade, to explain to other kids, she would come in at the beginning of the school year and talk to the class. It was nice to have her do that for me and have that as an example, this is something I need to be able to do in the future.”
Elaine did not let her hearing loss hold her back. Throughout high school she studied Spanish and French, was involved in varsity swim and varsity basketball, held a chemistry research internship, placed 4th in the world at the Shalheveth Freier International Physics Tournament, and was awarded a National Merit Scholarship.
She now majors in electrical engineering at Princeton University, where she also hopes to study foreign languages, history, and culture.
“What I love about Princeton is that it has very strong programs in both engineering and the humanities,” Elaine said. “Princeton was a place I could do both and be challenged.”
She said cochlear implants are a “perfect example” of how engineering can lead to technology that changes people’s lives.
“My interest in engineering stemmed from the fact that engineers create things, build things, do practical things, and apply what they know to make the world a better place and do good things for society,” she said. “I came to realize that the cochlear implant is the perfect example of that. It’s an engineering innovation. Its technology has changed lives—it changed mine— and that’s just really incredible.”
Elaine said her cochlear implants have taught her a valuable lesson in being empathetic and compassionate toward others.
“As I got older, I realized that everyone has their differences, and everyone has something different about them, something that’s part of their life that’s not necessarily part of yours,” she said. “So it’s really, really essential to practice empathy and be understanding to them. That’s something I really appreciate, when people are empathetic toward me.”
Her advice to others is to understand that learning to hear with a cochlear implant is a journey, but the end result is worth all of the work.
“It’s not like you put on a cochlear implant and it magically works,” she said. “If you are deaf and you haven’t ever heard sound before, then it’s very hard to process. It does take time and a lot of work. I went to speech therapy a lot when I was younger, but that has really helped me be where I am today. When most people talk to me, they don’t even realize I have cochlear implants, and that’s because I put in the time in at the beginning.”
The Cochlear Graeme Clark Scholarship is a unique award open to Nucleus® Cochlear Implant recipients around the world. It honors academic achievement and a demonstrated commitment to the Cochlear ideals of leadership and humanity.