Worldwide Student Pursues Degree Despite Setbacks

When Heather Taylor began the Master of Science in Leadership at Embry-Riddle Worldwide, she needed flexibility to complete her degree from home while taking care of her newborn daughter.
Taylor was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tacycardia Syndrome (POTS), a form of Dysautonomia. This rare disorder, which involves failure of the autonomic nervous system, has left the 32-year-old completely dependent on a wheelchair for mobility.Her pregnancy was marked with many complications, and Embry-Riddle gave her the ability to pursue an online degree while she recovered at her own pace. When symptoms she had previously experienced with pregnancy became worse, she knew this was not the typical recovery of a new mom.

Despite her health challenges, Taylor was determined to continue her degree program at Embry-Riddle. She reached out to her professors, who offered her support and accommodated her needs so she could remain in her classes.

Taylor is one of 200 students at Embry-Riddle Worldwide who receive disability support services. The university is committed to assisting these students by providing additional time for quizzes and tests, software for the hearing impaired, recorded class sessions and ongoing individual student support.

Through this journey, Taylor has been especially appreciative for mentoring and support from faculty members like assistant professors Benno Hoffmann, who’s based in Germany, and Matthew Earnhardt.

“I have never had a professor who cared for me as much as Mr. Earnhardt,” Taylor said. “He made me feel like I could be successful.”

For Earnhardt, helping students find a way to succeed in the face of adversity makes his job rewarding.

"Heather, and students like her, inspire me on a daily basis. Graduate school is not easy, yet students make incredible sacrifices to succeed,” Earnhardt said. “Heather and her classmates are making a significant difference in the world, and I am honored to be part of that journey". 

Recently Taylor had the opportunity to meet Earnhardt and other classmates during an informal gathering.

“If it weren’t for Worldwide and going to school online, I don’t know if I would have been able to continue to my education,” Taylor said. “But the faculty at Worldwide helped make this work and it’s been amazing to have the support of my family and classmates.”

In addition to her classes, Taylor was recently crowned Ms. Wheelchair Florida. In this role, she hopes to inspire others who may be going through similar challenges and be an advocate for those seeking resources to meet professional or educational goals.

“Life has taught me that you are given many different opportunities — some you may like and some you may not. This disability is not the end of my life, though it does change it quite a bit,” she said. “While Dysautonomia and POTS are challenging to overcome, I view POTS as a ‘Perfect Opportunity To Shine.’”

Taylor also won Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2016: Read "Ms. Wheelchair Florida Takes Flight: A Ten-Day Tour of Florida, Turning Obstacles into Opportunities."



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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 80 baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through the Worldwide Campus with more than 125 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and through online programs. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit erau.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.