Jason Goldfarb has done pretty well for a guy who was told his learning disabilities would keep him out of college.

Starting when he was a baby, Goldfarb had several surgeries to implant and later lengthen a stent to drain fluid from his brain due to hydrocephalus from meningitis. The condition reduced his reading comprehension and made test-taking difficult.

He doesn’t know if his high school counselor really thought he’d never make it to college or if the words were meant as a wake-up call. Either way, the statement was motivation.

“It was a moment to try to work harder,” said Goldfarb.

Goldfarb graduated from University High School in Normal, where he played baseball. He earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from Millikin University in Decatur. His dad, Al, then-president of Western Illinois University in Macomb, gave the commencement address and handed his son his master’s degree at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston.

Jason’s thesis received the Adele Williamson Outstanding Master’s Research Award, and he was an academic adviser at Heartland Community College in Normal for about a year.

More recently, the now-doctoral candidate received a Syngery Fellowship from the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“My parents always raised me to think that even if I had to work a little harder, I could achieve whatever everybody else could achieve. I never felt that much different,” said Goldfarb, whose wife, Meghan, works at State Farm

Insurance Cos. The couple has an infant son.

Education beyond high school was assumed in Goldfarb’s home. His dad was a theater professor, dean of the College of Fine Arts and later provost at Illinois State University; his mom, Elaine, was an educator at ISU lab schools.

The elder Goldfarbs both were first-generation college graduates whose parents often told them they could succeed. That vision was passed to their son.

Still, they are a little surprised at times at how well their son is doing.

“He had great difficulty in terms of reading and writing when he was younger. The idea he was working on a doctorate is very miraculous. We think of him as our miracle child. He has overcome a great deal,” said the elder Goldfarb, who lives in Bloomington. 

Jason Goldfarb gravitated to math because his learning disability affects comprehension of written language, but not numbers and symbols. He liked statistics and the “more abstract concepts of math.”

For other classes, books were scanned into a computer and software “read” the material to him. He was given extra time to take tests.

Goldfarb thinks his dissertation will expand on work he began in his master’s thesis, on how fraternity membership affects the spiritual development of undergraduates. Early research showed fraternity members were more skeptical of religion than college students who weren’t members, he said.

“It’s a huge journey. You go to college with your parents’ beliefs but when you are dropped off at the door, you have to start fashioning your own beliefs,” said Goldfarb.

He plans to complete his doctorate in 2013. He’s sure he’s going to make it.

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