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Since its founding, Maryville College has invested in the mission of doing good on the largest possible scale. To this day, this goal is exemplified by the incredible students, alumni, faculty, and staff who make up the college community. 2019 is our bicentennial year, and we are taking this opportunity to highlight some of the most notable individuals and the work they do to make our college and the larger community a better place.
This month we are pleased to highlight an impressive alumna - Molly Ridgeway Anderson, class of 2018. Molly goes above and beyond the call of duty for the disabled community both through public advocacy and one-on-one coaching and support of high-school teens with disabilities!

Molly Ridgeway Anderson, Class of 2018

Molly Ridgeway Anderson

Who is Molly Ridgeway Anderson?

Molly is a Project Search Manager and Disability Job Coach at The Access in Blount County as well as a 2018 alumna. She majored in Child Development and was actively involved on campus as a student-athlete, running cross-country all four years, a member of Mountain Challenge, a student ambassador, and student body Vice President during her senior year. Outside of class, she volunteered for East Tennessee Technology Access Center (ETTAC) and was awarded the Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award in Spring of 2018 for her service.

Molly Ridgeway Anderson was nominated by her friend and Director of Alumni Affairs at Maryville College, Angie Harris, who said that she was impressed and inspired by Molly from the moment they met. Molly was coaching a high school clerical intern at Willard House while working with Project Search; there she was introduced to Angie, 

I could see the energy and love for her job and the College radiate from Molly in everything that she did. I also respected her roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do work-ethic and attitude, as there was not any job that she felt was out of reach for her or her intern. I couldn’t help but want to know more about Molly.  

Molly's former classmate, Emma Schwarzmann, echoed these sentiments about her character, integrity, and personal resolve,

When Molly sees an obstacle, she finds a way past it and will put her mind to solving a problem until there is a solution. If you know Molly, you know that she has a heart for service, the desire to make a change in our world, and is an advocate and a voice for those who do not have one.  

Molly has been non-verbal since birth, but for those who know her, she is anything but quiet. She knows first-hand the challenges of being different than the majority and is determined to help others realize their potential. She explains, simply,

I have a disability, and I won't let it stop me. I want others with disabilities to not just exist, but thrive and go on to live successful lives! This is what drives my work.

Molly said that because she uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, most people think she is deaf or hearing-impaired. She says she always has to explain her abilities, but this is how she has met some of her closest friends and advocates - even her husband, Joshua Anderson, '18. They met at an event hosted by a cross-campus student group called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, he explained, 

I immediately took notice that she was signing. I decided to introduce myself to her. At first, I thought she was deaf . . . She let me know real quick that she was not.

He said he was drawn to her and knew that it was important to the success of the relationship for him to learn to sign as well. After two years at Pellissippi State Community College, he transferred to Maryville College to pursue a degree in Political Science, and also to be closer to Molly. Joshua said,

The process of getting a glimpse of the world through the eyes of Molly was an amazing experience. I soon learned that disability really is not being disabled at all, but 'differently abled.'

He said that knowing Molly exposed him to the various challenges of individuals that are "differently abled," and transformed him into an advocate for creating an equal playing field for everyone. This dual passion led him and Molly to pursue the creation of legislation that would allow ASL to be taught as a foreign language in Tennessee schools.

While still students at Maryville College and as a part of the 2016 Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL), Molly and Joshua drafted a bill and lobbied state lawmakers, testifying before both the State House and Senate Education Committees.  The bill required the board of regents, each state university board, and the board of trustees of the University of Tennessee to adopt policies allowing American Sign Language courses to satisfy foreign language requirements for undergraduate degree programs by July 1, 2019. It passed unanimously, and two years later, the movement is still growing. Joshua reports, 

 Our efforts led to the successful passage of the bill, which was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, and since we have heard very good reports about the implementation of the ASL legislation. School systems throughout the state have begun to offer this as an option for high school foreign language credits, with many others are currently considering doing so.

 Joshua also mentioned that an attorney recently informed them that the ASL Law was being used as the basis of accommodation for several deaf students in one Tennessee school. He said that he and Molly continue to be committed to doing everything that they can to advocate for individuals with disabilities to have equal rights and fair treatment at the local, state, national, and even the international level. 

Molly explained that the next legislation that she would like to see pushed through is a method of texting 911 for emergencies. 

If I called 911 right now and I was alone, because I am non-verbal, I would just have to wait on the phone until someone arrived. I have no way to communicate what is happening.

Molly expresses how this is problematic not just for individuals who are non-verbal, deaf, or hearing impaired, but for others who may not be in a safe situation to speak. She mentioned that in this scenario, the emergency protocol would be to dispatch all first-responders. If the call was traced to an address, the police, the fire department, and an ambulance would all arrive to assist.

It's better than no help at all, but obviously not the ideal scenario.

Molly said. When asked what others can do to help, she exclaimed that everyone should get involved in their local and state government. 

Call your senator or your representative and tell them why these issues are important to you and to all of us to build a better world.

Molly's work and inspiration are certainly not sequestered to, as Joshua called it, the "differently-abled" community, she reaches out to everyone. Emma said it best when she said, 

Molly is constantly putting others before herself and is a supporter and cheerleader for her friends as well as her students. Her encouragement and belief that anything is possible if you put your mind to it have been a motivation to me and others here at Maryville. She is an advocate, a change-maker, a role model, and a friend to all.  She is truly a blessing to her community.”

Molly's advocacy, outreach, and change in educational opportunities for individuals and communities who use ASL will impact thousands and will empower many individuals, families, and communities forever, and she says she is not stopping anytime soon.

In April, she was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the Maryville College Blount County Alumni Association (BCAA).  Molly said that it was important for her to serve on BCAA because she wants to help others have the opportunity to attend Maryville College by helping raise funds for scholarships, which is the core mission of the BCAA.  According to Molly,

If my husband was not awarded a scholarship, he wouldn’t have been able to transfer to Maryville College. Scholarships change lives.  

The Maryville College community is fortunate to have Molly as part of the local alumni community. Thanks, Molly, for going above and beyond and “doing good on the largest possible scale.”