Eye on the Prize Winner: Josh/Nicholls State University
DIY Campaign Success Stories
This year, the Foundation created a new fundraising initiative called Eye on the Prize, influenced by March Madness. The winner of the inaugural Eye on the Prize competition was Nicholls State University, raising $2,428. This winning team was led by Josh Cogswell, an assistant professor of management at Nicholls State University, who has his own personal connection to the Foundation’s mission.
Earlier this year, the Foundation Fighting Blindness created a new fundraising initiative called Eye on the Prize. This fundraiser, influenced by March Madness, was designed for college and university students, faculty, and alumni from across the nation to compete in a unique bracket-style challenge to raise awareness and funds to benefit the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
The winner of the inaugural Eye on the Prize competition was Nicholls State University, raising $2,428 for the Foundation. This winning team was led by Josh Cogswell, an assistant professor of management at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, who has his own personal connection to the Foundation’s mission.
In 2018, at 38 years old, Josh was living in Mobile, Alabama, and started feeling like his eyes were not adjusting to differently lit environments. He would come inside from the bright outdoors and keep blinking, thinking the spots in his vision would go away, but they weren’t. So, Josh decided to visit his primary care doctor, who then sent him to an optometrist, and after taking some images of his retinas, the doctor was quite concerned.
“I remember the doctor whispering to his nurse a lot in a very urgent voice,” Josh recalls. “He sent me to a retina specialist right away.”
After further testing at a retina specialist in Birmingham, Alabama, they finally told Josh he has Stargardt disease but recommended genetic testing to confirm with certainty. The doctor also put him in touch with the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and Josh connected with Michelle Glaze, director of professional outreach, who also happens to live in Alabama.
At the same time, Josh was in the middle of moving to Louisiana for his new job at the Nicolls State University’s College of Business Administration. So, Michelle helped Josh find a new doctor in the New Orleans area, and he ultimately received his genetic testing results to confirm his Stargardt disease in May 2020.
“Initially, my diagnosis was discouraging and very scary,” says Josh. “I was also curious; I had never heard anything about Stargardt disease or known anyone who has it. I don’t even know anyone in my family that’s had it.”
Currently, Josh is 41 years old and lives in Thibodaux, Louisiana. Since his initial diagnosis, Josh has learned how to use assistive technologies, which have helped in his everyday life, especially with his career.
“My vision is still frustrating at times, but I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with some of the challenges,” says Josh. “It’s also helped me learn more about perception in general. As a scholar, I’m an organizational psychologist, and I study perceptions in the workplace. We speak about blind spots in decision-making metaphorically, but now I can illustrate some of those ideas in a very realistic way, giving me a new perspective.”
Josh’s “blind spot” metaphors help teach his students as well. In certain lighting, Josh cannot recognize individual faces, so he’s open and tells his students about his diagnosis.
“I want my students to understand that if I just pass them in the hallway without acknowledging them, it’s not on purpose,” says Josh. “I also hope by sharing about my Stargardt that it raises awareness for my students, so they can learn that blindness doesn’t mean I can’t see at all or that it’s all black; it’s a spectrum. Typically I’m not the type of person to put myself out there and share a lot about myself, but it’s worth talking about so others understand.”
Besides sharing with his close family, colleagues, and students, until recently, Josh had never openly talked about his Stargardt with his entire network. So when he decided to participate in the Foundation’s Eye on the Prize fundraiser, Josh posted about his diagnosis for the first time on his personal Facebook, also asking for donations and support.
“I saw it as an opportunity to finally share with people but also do some good by fundraising in the process of opening up,” says Josh. “I appreciate what the Foundation Fighting Blindness is doing on the research side, but also on a patient side. The Foundation provided me resources and connections when I was first diagnosed, and the community that the Foundation has created is really important to people going through any stage of their disease.”