Blind FAU Student Graduates With Music Degree

Ndjuma Joseph becomes the first blind student to graduate from FAU’s Department of Music within the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters.

By kelsie weekes | 5/9/2017

When Ndjuma Joseph lost her eyesight at 7 years old, her mother often sang to her to make her feel better. Now Joseph, 28, is using her own voice to inspire others. On Friday, May 5, Joseph graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in music from Florida Atlantic University. She also becomes the first blind student to graduate from FAU’s Department of Music within the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters.

Joseph’s life wasn’t easy from the beginning. She was born in New Jersey with hip dysplasia that left her wheelchair-bound her entire life. After an accident in elementary school caused her to lose all of her vision, there was nothing that could help her cope with this devastating setback, except for music.

 “Music soothed me as my condition got worse and worse,” she said. “My mom would sing ‘Unforgettable’ by Nat King Cole and my worries would disappear.”

After deciding to pursue a career as a music teacher, the Port St. Lucie resident reached out to FAU’s Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to see if they could help make her dream become a reality. After a year of research between SAS and the Department of Music, FAU found a way to teach Joseph by using Braille music notation and adapted all of her courses to that system. Through many extra hours of instruction and independent study, Joseph completed the music curriculum.

Stacie Rossow, Ph.D., associate director of choral and vocal studies and a senior instructor in FAU’s Department of Music, said Joseph has been an inspiration not only to other students, but faculty as well.

“As her professor and the person who found a way to teach her music in Braille, I can honestly say that she has impacted my life and has opened my eyes to new possibilities,” she said. “I am forever grateful she chose FAU.”

Joseph said Rossow was not only her instructor, but a friend and mentor.

“Dr. Rossow didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she first reached out to me,” she said. “But she gave me everything I needed to be successful and never let me down.”

Outside of the classroom, Joseph has been impressing audiences with her talented vocals, a trait likely passed down from her mother. She often sings in choral concerts on campus with FAU’s Women’s Vocal Arts Organization, and in 2015, she performed solo for the FAU State of the Student Body Address. She’s currently the music chair for Sigma Alpha Iota, a professional women’s music fraternity. She said her involvement in these organizations has helped to build up her confidence.

“These women don’t treat me like I have a disability,” she said. “They have helped me with my self-esteem and taught me how to be more sociable.”

Following graduation, Joseph will work with the Industry for the Blind and the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind to help other students who are visually impaired find the proper resources they need to follow their dreams. She hopes to eventually return to FAU and build a music program for the disabled, giving others the same opportunity she had.

“FAU has given me everything and them some,” she said. “I’m ready to go out there and face life head on.”