Recent Ogden International High School graduate Nia Spencer refuses to let her hearing loss prevent her from doing what she wants, which is to become a world-class chef.

Beginning this fall, Nia will attend New York’s Monroe College on a full tuition scholarship, and has already earned a spot on the school’s elite competition team. She received additional scholarships from the Boys and Girls Club and the Illinois Restaurant Association, which she will use to earn her degree in the culinary arts, with the dream of one day opening her own restaurant and bakery.

During high school, Nia was an active participant in both Southside Chefs and the Careers through Culinary Arts Program (CCAP), where she learned to use her knowledge of flavor combinations to create unique and delicious cuisine. A talented visual artist, Nia also uses the skills she honed in the IB program at Ogden to incorporate art into her cooking, visualizing various options for her food and letting her creativity guide its presentation. She credits much of her success to her culinary mentors, as well as to the teachers and counselors at Ogden, all of whom empowered her to become an independent learner with confidence in her abilities.

Nia was a part of Ogden’s Hard-of-Hearing Program, which meant that she spent a portion of her day in traditional classes, and the rest in classrooms with other students who are hard of hearing. These classrooms include a sign language interpreter, and provide students afflicted with hearing loss the specific supports that they needed to be successful academically, socially and emotionally.

Nia uses a variety of tools to cope with her hearing loss, including sign language, lip reading, and amplification devices. She admits that at times, her hearing loss has presented communications challenges, especially in kitchens that often operate at a frenetic pace. But her array of tools, as well as encouragement from culinary mentors who have helped her learn how to overcome these obstacles, have convinced Nia that when it comes to cooking, creativity, and communicating with others, she has the ability to shine.

Known for her skill and independence, Nia has become a mentor to younger students in Ogden’s Hard-of-Hearing program. Her advice to these and other CPS students coping with a disability is this:

“Do whatever it takes to reach your full potential. Pretend that your life depends on it. Show people what you are made of, and believe me, you’ll become somebody, because you’ll be giving people something to look at other than your disability.”