NJCTS announced their annual scholarship awards this week and Tess Kowalski, a Rutgers graduate student studying neuroscience, was awarded the Faith W. Rice Memorial Scholarship, named after NJCTS founder and former executive director.
Tourette Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by uncontrollable movements and sounds known as tics. As many as 1 in 50 school-aged children show signs of TS or other tic disorders, which are frequently accompanied by mental health disorders including ADHD, OCD, and anxiety. For some, about 1/3 of those affected, the disorder will become more manageable in adulthood, but for the other 2/3’s, the tics will continue as is, or worsen. There is no cure for TS, but there has been recent, significant advances in discovering the combination of genes thought to be the cause.
Kowalski is from Plainsboro and is currently residing in Highland Park, close to school. She is pursuing a Ph.D. at Rutgers and is already working with top researchers in Dr. Max Tischfield’s lab where she studies the underlying neuropathology of Tourette Syndrome. The work is personal to her as Kowalski, and her sister Paige, were both diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as children. When she was 12, she started volunteering with NJCTS as a Youth Advocate. In that role she visited elementary and middle schools and spoke to the students about living with TS and why it’s important to be accepting of others’ differences.
“As an awkward 6th grader who was struggling with my disorder and the acceptance from others, seeing Tess on the stage speaking her mind truly inspired me,” said Kyle Swords, who is currently a high school senior and a Youth Advocate himself. “The days after her presentation felt different. I not only felt accepted by others, but almost felt cool in my own way.”
Kowalski also spoke to healthcare professionals and community groups and met with legislators to advocate for NJCTS and the TS community. As she got older, she became a mentor to other teens with TS, including her sister. She would sit on panels and answer questions during the NJCTS Family Retreat each year, she chaired a fundraising walk in Princeton, and participated in the Tim Howard Leadership Academy.
“Our founder, Faith Rice, was well-known for her commitment to advocating and educating others about TS and Tess has followed in her footsteps,” said Patricia Phillips, Executive Director of NJCTS. “She has made a difference in the lives of so many children with TS through her advocacy and now she is on track to impact the TS community through her life’s work. We congratulate and thank her.”
NJCTS is a not-for-profit organization committed to the advocacy of individuals and families affected by Tourette Syndrome and its associated disorders. Dedicated to delivering high quality services, the Center recognizes the importance of educating the public, medical professionals, and teachers about this disorder through programs and affiliations with schools, health centers, and the community. To learn more about Tourette Syndrome and the programs available from NJCTS, visit www.njcts.org.