Tsering Shola never imagined childhood hearing loss would lead to national accolades.
The 16-year-old Camas High School student is one of 12 people across the country honored by the 2017 Oticon Focus on People Awards, a competition that recognizes those who are changing society’s idea of what it means to live with hearing loss.
The public has been invited to cast their votes for Shola at www.Oticon.com/FOP now through Thursday, Aug. 31.
The total number of votes received by each finalist will help determine who will be the first, second and third place winners in each category. Shola is one of three finalists in the student category.
Earlier this year, Shola finished first in the biomedical and health category at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair, then won a coveted spot at the 2017 Intel International Science Fair. ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, according to its website. Each year, approximately 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions and territories earn the chance to showcase their independent research and compete for $4 million in prizes.
“When I qualified for Intel ISEF at the regional science fair, I started to cry onstage,” Shola said. “Attending ISEF has always been a dream of mine, and when I qualified, I was ambushed with emotions. In that moment and even now, I’m still in complete shock. I’ve dreamt about attending, and to think that I was a part of it this year is still hard for me to process.”
Oticon, Inc., a hearing aid manufacturer, created the national awards program in 1997 to honor hearing impaired students, adults and advocacy volunteers who drive awareness and understanding that can change attitudes and open doors of opportunity for all people with hearing loss, according to a press release from the organization. It notes that hearing loss is the third most common physical condition, after arthritis and heart disease, and has been shown to affect physical health, cognition, social skills, family relationships and self-esteem.
Shola, the daughter of Chukie and Ugyen Shola of Camas, became intrigued by hearing loss research after being diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss as a young child. She approached different departments at Oregon Health Science University until she connected with a volunteer position at the Hearing Research Center.
Now, she views her hearing loss as a “blessing in disguise” that has led her to opportunities she only dreamed about.
Shola’s research helped develop a process that will save scientists substantial amounts of time during their research process — taking the wait time spent validating machine results, from two hours to two minutes — and will give scientists more time to focus on other tasks related to hearing loss.
“It feels reassuring to know that lots of hard work and effort finally paid off,” Shola said.
The Camas teen said she was in “complete shock” when she found out that she’d been named a finalist for the Focus on People award.
“I got the email while I was calling my mom, and started to scream into the phone,” she recalled. “My first hearing aid was from Oticon, and to be considered for this award is humbling, yet being named a finalist leaves me in utter disbelief. Even to this day it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
In her downtime, Shola enjoys the outdoors, and recently summited Washington’s Mount Baker with a team of young women through the Girls on Ice program, a free wilderness and science education program for high school girls.
“The program allowed me to not only learn about science and applying scientific inquiry, but it also gave me the opportunity to grow mentally, emotionally and intellectually as an individual,” Shola said of Girls on Ice.
She plans to attend a four-year college or university and major in a field related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Shola is not sure exactly which field she’ll go into, and hasn’t counted out medical school, but says being a part of the Oticon awards program has helped her realize that her future will include science in some way.
“Being involved and interacting with other finalists has caused me to see the true potential of our generation and makes me want to be a part of the scientific community in the fullest way possible,” Shola said.