Cal State LA student doesn’t let limited vision define him
He will join the Teach for America program in the fall.
By Jourdan Pineda | Cal State LA News Service
Ozro Hepworth walked into a local Department of Motor Vehicles office on his 32nd birthday for what he thought would be a routine driver’s license renewal. After an eye exam, he left with news that changed his life: He was legally blind.
Hepworth was diagnosed as having retinitis pigmentosa, a rare eye disease in which degeneration of the retina causes severe visual impairment.
At that moment, Hepworth realized his physical limitations. But the revelation was a motivator. In the following year, he set himself on a path to pursue higher education and become the best version of himself.
“[Being legally blind] helped me create this inner strength to move forward no matter what,” he says.
The 37-year-old Alhambra resident graduated from Cal State LA’s College of Business and Economics with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems with honors on May 22. He plans to become a high school math teacher.
Going to college wasn’t something Hepworth learned about while growing up in Panguitch, Utah, a town with a population of about 2,000.
But in the year after his visit to the DMV, Hepworth, a massage therapist, started noticing the success that some of his clients were able to achieve through education.
He then decided to become the first in his family to attend college, enrolling in Santa Monica College before transferring to Cal State LA.
Hepworth experienced some challenges in school due to his limited vision. Unable to drive, he relied on ride-share apps for transportation. Although he sat in front of the class, he couldn’t see what was on the board.
Hepworth developed other strengths.
He honed his listening skills, paying more attention to what his friends were saying and asking more detailed questions. He started to feel more emotionally connected to what people were saying.
As an older student, he struggled at first to connect with classmates who were much younger. But before long, he found a second home and lasting friendships within the Business Honors Program, a highly selective program of the College of Business and Economics and the Honors College for students who generally have a 3.5 GPA or higher.
During weekly business honors workshops taught by Professor Veena Prabhu, Hepworth learned the skills to network, pitch, lead and communicate. Activities such as role-playing provided him with practical lessons important in the business field and for developing as a leader.
Hepworth discovered his strengths as a leader in a high-performance personal skills class taught by Professor Santor Nishizaki. In the class, students with varying skillsets were grouped together so they could learn how to work well within a diverse classroom environment and the real world.
These experiences at Cal State LA motivated Hepworth to create new events and programs focused on helping other students.
Hepworth founded Network Like a Pro, an event that teaches students how to network with professionals, and the Business Honors Association, an organization that helps facilitate professional development.
Giving students the quality experiences of the business world was an essential goal of Hepworth when he created the programs.
“I want to help improve the next individual that might create the next big thing—to be able to say I was that person’s coach,” he says.
Hepworth received the Best and Brightest Scholarship from the Millennium Momentum Foundation, a scholarship awarded to students pursuing careers that impact the public good. He also fostered a relationship between the Business Honors Association and the Your Turn Intern Expo and Celebrity Fest, an exhibition that connects students with businesses for internship opportunities in the Los Angeles area.
After graduation, Hepworth will join the Teach for America program, teaching math in an underserved high school in Los Angeles. He hopes to become a teacher who motivates students and their parents to see the possibilities and opportunities in education.
Nearly six years after his trip to the DMV, Hepworth walked across the Commencement stage in his cap and gown.
Reflecting on his journey, Hepworth offers advice to future college students: “In addition to striving for your degree, strive to take a new perspective on life.”