Eli Bergstein’s path to college was a lot like every other student’s in many ways. In one important way, however, he was walking his own path.
Bergstein, a senior studying communication sciences and disorders, has muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that causes progressive weakness and degeneration of skeletal muscles. During the September meeting of the Arizona Board of Regents, held at NAU, he shared his experience living with the disease, how the NAU community has supported him during his time here and how he plans to give back to a community that helped him.
Bergstein’s path to university began like most college student—excited, but unsure of the future and apprehensive of his chosen major. He is a second-generation college student; his mother attended college later in life, beginning in her 30s. Today, she holds three degrees, setting an example for Bergstein and his siblings. As for Bergstein, he came to NAU and declared marketing as his major.
During his second year at NAU, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Coursework moved online, classrooms became computer screens and students were faced with new challenges. As the quarantined days continued, Bergstein realized the path he had envisioned for himself in marketing wasn’t meant for him.
For some college students, changing their major is essentially inconsequential; however, for many students, it can cause financial stress, as adding new courses add time and expenses. For Bergstein, switching majors caused a lot of anxiety.
“My family was much less financially stable than most,” he said. “Thinking about switching my educational focus was a serious decision I had to make.”
These life-changing decisions caused him to experience doubts and considered moving back home and potentially withdrawing from NAU. Instead, encouraged by his mother, Bergstein chose a new major that felt like a better fit.
“Shout-out to my mom for telling me it was OK to change my major,” he said. “I remember I was super hesitant because I did not know what would transpire. In my head, I asked myself so many questions: Is this going to set me back? How much more is this adding financially?”
The Arizona Promise Program made his goal of finishing his bachelor’s degree a reality. This program is a state grant for Arizona residents that helps fill in the remaining tuition and fees not covered by other aid.
“It was the grant that allowed me to stay at NAU. I was not sure if I would have the money to keep going, but the extra funds assisted with college fees, and that was a big deal for my parents,” Bergstein said. “Having fewer loans to take out is always a win.”
As for his new major and his future, he looked to his past. Growing up with muscular dystrophy, Bergstein attended an annual camp organized by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) for children ages 5-17. MDA Summer Camp gives kids the opportunity to engage in activities that allow them to gain self-confidence and a sense of independence while away from home. Every activity is adapted to meet the needs of each individual at the camp. Bergstein attended for many years, and even after aging out of the camp, he attended another camp for young adults with muscular dystrophy. Furthermore, Bergstein has two adopted siblings with disabilities, so when faced with declaring a new major, he knew his path. He had been around helping hands his whole life. Without question, he made the switch to pursue a degree in communication sciences and disorders.
“It’s a way of giving back to the community that gave me so much,” Bergstein said.
Bergstein plans to graduate in May and eventually get a master’s degree to pursue his speech pathology career goals, helping people of all abilities with speech, communication, feeding/swallowing and more.
Gabriela Monterroza | College of Health and Human Services