Allysa Dittmar '10 is a woman of integrity, personal character and faith. She credits her Stuart education for instilling in her these core values, and equipping her with the career and business development and leadership skills she has utilized in the creation of the ClearMask, the first, patent-pending transparent surgical mask with full-face visibility. Allysa, who has both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University, has been deaf since birth, and happened upon the need for The ClearMask after a very harrowing personal experience as she was heading into surgery and couldn't read lips and see facial expressions of her medical team. (Read more about Allysa's personal story and the ClearMask.) Her years at Stuart prepared her well to always strive to make a difference in the world and help others, so she's not surprised by her new titles of inventor, entrepreneur, and public health advocate (although she would have never imagined it)! She also describes her journey as, "a testament to how one's life experiences influence who you are and what you do."
Throughout Allysa's academic and entrepreneurial careers, some mentors stand out to her as having had the greatest impact on her through their guidance, their belief in her and her ability to make a difference, beginning with her Stuart teachers. Allysa's incredible advisors and mentors at Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, just like her teachers at Stuart, "strove to ensure [she] was able to access knowledge as a deaf person and succeed."
Allysa continues to strive, but this time instead of seeking knowledge, her goal is to reach as many people who can benefit from the ClearMask as possible. She has found great support and a positive reception not only in the deaf community, but also from so many others with different circumstances: "caretakers and immunosuppressed patients who can't see the smiles and faces of their loved ones, parents of anxious children at the hospital, and older people who struggle with communication due to confusion and dementia." Despite such a diverse customer base, marketing has been surprisingly simple because of the universal design and the fact that "everyone benefits from visual communication and gets why we do what we do."
Allysa's success as a young deaf woman, however, is far from the norm of those with similar circumstances. According to Gallaudet University, there are only ~450 deaf-owned startups worldwide, despite 10% of the global population and 20% of America's population having some form of hearing loss. Due to many communication and economic barriers, 80% of deaf individuals are either unemployed or underemployed. Even for Allysa and her team, it can often be extremely challenging to access even basic resources or financial assistance because of the communication barriers they experience. "Besides grit and determination not to give up, accessible community support and mentorship is extremely critical for us. It requires a significant amount of my time, energy, and effort to educate others about myself and how I communicate and access information. Accessible and inclusive environments are so important in this day and age, as the entrepreneurship, innovation, and tech fields become more diverse."
When asked about any advice she could share with those who are facing similar difficulties, Allysa had the following to share: "You will always make mistakes. It's very important not to define yourself by your mistakes, but instead to focus on what you can learn from the past. For every crisis, lies an opportunity. Always ask yourself, 'What can I learn from this?' Growth often happens when we experience crisis, or when we are out of our comfort zones."
Allysa Dittmar '10, co-founder of ClearMask, attended Stuart from kindergarten through graduation. During her time at Stuart she excelled in the classroom and beyond. Allysa was the recipient of the Janet Stuart Scholarship, a four-year merit scholarship presented to two rising ninth grade students, based on academic accomplishments, teacher recommendations, and standardized test scores. Allysa was also awarded the Yale Book Award for her "outstanding personal character and intellectual promise," and she was the recipient of the English Department Prize upon graduation. Allysa was also honored with the Janet Erskine Stuart Award in 2010, one of five prestigious senior awards: Allysa is "renowned for her curiosity, intellectual passion, and sharp wit. She has tackled an exceptionally diverse range of subjects in her time at Stuart, even adding electives to her course load when they were not required. Her genuine zeal for learning and enthusiasm in class is inspiring and contagious."
For more information on the ClearMask and links to articles from Johns Hopkins University and Forbes, visit the ClearMask website.