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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 12, 2009

PHOTO: UI President Sally Mason, Braverman Scholarship winner Kristi Starnes, and UI Student Disability Services Director Mark Harris

UI graduate student overcomes ADHD to perform and help the community

Kristi Starnes spent a long time thinking she was stupid. But after being diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she overcame her disability and now is pursuing her dream of teaching theatre to college students.

Starnes is thriving as a first-year Master's of Fine Arts student in the College of Liberal and Sciences' Department of Theatre Arts and is performing in "The Book of Liz" on the University Theatres Mainstage.

She recently received the David and Rosalie Braverman Scholarship, given annually to graduate students with disabilities who have demonstrated academic excellence and who have contributed to the betterment of their undergraduate institutions and communities.

Starnes came to the UI from Flint, Mich., where she was active in the local theatre community. An alumna of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and the Second City Improv Training Center, she graduated with honors from the University of Michigan-Flint with a bachelor's degree in theatre performance.

But academics weren't always her strength. In junior high and high school, she struggled with her studies and was once told she wasn't smart enough to attend college and was encouraged to learn a trade.

"I spent a long time thinking I was stupid. No one told me what was wrong," she said.

As a teenager, she also found that she had social anxiety disorder, which is characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. In junior high, she was diagnosed with a learning disability in reading, mathematical reasoning, spelling and essay formation.

Later in her high school years, with the support of her teachers and parents, Starnes found that she learned differently than others and discovered her love of acting. At 26, she was finally diagnosed with ADHD and started taking medications to treat it.

Starnes is also a playwright. While at University of Michigan-Flint, she wrote "The Copa," a play about the people who went to the Copa, a gay-friendly nightclub that flourished in downtown Flint during the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis. The play is based on interviews with people from around the country who created a special community around the club. It touches on the universal themes of coming of age and forging through personal struggle, told through monologues, stylized movement and multimedia. The play was nominated for a Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Paula Vogel award.

Throughout her theatre career, Starnes has used her talents to productions to help others and the community. Productions of "The Copa" were benefits for the Flint Chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG), and the Lansing Area AIDS Network. She was part of the organization and performance of "The Vagina Monologues" for three years in Flint, and proceeds were donated to the YWCA of Flint Battered Women's Shelter. 

Starnes has also shared her talents in a several community outreach activities. She was a guest speaker and summer program teacher for schools and community centers, and taught improvisational games, storytelling and music. She also organized book drives for shelters and renovations to the University of Michigan-Flint's Theatrical library.

"I'm passionate about taking the abilities that you have and doing something with them," she said.

After earning her undergraduate degree, Starnes was considered for seven MFA programs. But after talking with Associate Professor John Cameron the UI Department of Theatre Arts, she found the UI was the right fit for. She was accepted into the UI MFA program this fall and loves performing and studying here.

At the UI, she utilizes the Office of Student Disability Services for tutoring and alternative testing services.

Student Disability Services administers the Braverman scholarship program with private funds provided by the Braverman family. Braverman Scholarships are awarded to students with disabilities who are enrolled in UI graduate or professional studies. Since 1979, when the scholarship was first given, 99 Braverman scholarships have been awarded.

SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Mark Harris, Student Disability Services, 319-335-1462; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,