American Association for the Advancement of Science
Roadmaps & Rampways

THE PINBALL EFFECT

Nothing on the great web of change exists in isolation....the pinball 
              of change works its magic, bouncing here and there across time and 
              space. There is no single, correct pathway on the web, or in life. 
              Mistrust anybody who tells you so. - James Burke in The Pinball 
              Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible 
              and Other Journeys Through Knowledge.

Disability is sometimes inherited, but even then it is mostly chance. One-in-four chance that an infant will carry a syndrome. One in 33,000 that a child will present with a rare eye disease. One in 500 sunlit dives that hits the rock bottom of the lake. Eight minutes without oxygen to alter forever the brain connections of a baby.

Decisions about education and careers are sometimes programmed. Curriculum vitae of engineers and scientists often look well planned and structured. But the reality is that chance and luck may have sparked the career interest, provided the opportunity, changed one plan, and offered up another.

Students with disabilities are particularly affected by the throw of the dice. First comes the disability or the change of status caused by disability. Then an out-of-school science experience, a summer program with new ideas, a mentor with enthusiasm for computers, a relative who offers support, frustration from a dead-end job, a brochure lying on a desktop, an internship, changes everything.

The unpredictable becomes a direction. The old rejection letters no longer matter. The impossible becomes a sure thing. But nobody ever said it was easy.

Meet: Ashwini Deshpande, Jessica Mahood, Tim Scamporinno, and Rodney Stewart

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Ashwini Deshpande

Mention the science - engineering pipeline, and most people visualize an idealized pathway in which a parent or dedicated teacher nudges the student on those first steps along a road that culminates in a degree and career. For many individuals, however, that linear process never occurs. Rather, students ricochet dizzyingly from place to place on the billiard table of career preferences - like a steel pinball navigating the game-table landscape of flippers, bumpers, elevated rails, sink holes, and ball locks. Some nudges speed the ball toward a score. Others push it away.

Thus it was for Ashwini Deshpande, who received an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in atmospheric science from MIT.

She will be pursuing a Ph.D. in oceanography at Oregon State University and is currently employed as an image scientist for Kodak in Rochester, NY.

Those direction-pointing, pinball-like impacts included family members in the medical and engineering fields. Parents who encouraged their daughter in out-of-school science experiences, including a critical summer at Harvard University. An intense childhood interest in writing and literature that beckoned toward a career in the arts. Ashwini published poems, attended a summer creative writing workshop, and was co-editor of the high school newspaper. Yet she was a whiz in science and math courses who received trophies for high science and math grades and was bumped ahead to more advanced classes. Ashwini attended a college that lacked the engineering program that she wanted, but she had a mentor who provided honest guidance and urged her to transfer to another school. Then there was a physical disability that limited Ashwini's mobility and made it difficult for her to take notes or write. But accommodations leveled the playing field and helped her succeed.

Interviewer: "Why are you succeeding?"

Deshpande: "A lot of it has to do with chance, and luck."

Varied childhood interests

Ashwini was born in India in 1977. Her family immigrated to the United States and settled in a small university town in upstate New York. Dad, Ganesh, practiced pediatrics, and mom, Maneesh, managed his medical office. Ashwini and her older brother developed an early interest in science, thanks in part to the construction sets and other science and engineering-oriented toys that their parents chose. Yet Ashwini had plenty of other childhood interests, including writing, poetry, and the piano.

"As a child, I was a very literary-oriented person and wrote lots of poems and played piano and read all the time. The only science that I ever really did was watching videos on hematology with my father. I thought I might like to do a lot of things and made sure I was well prepared for all of them," Ashwini said. "I'm still a strong proponent of keeping your options open - always."

One out-of-school science experience helped to consolidate the young girl's interests. She was among about 1,000 highly motivated high school students selected to take eight weeks of summer courses at Harvard University. The Harvard Summer School program allows juniors and seniors in high schools around the United States and about 90 other countries to take courses with undergraduates, earn college credit, and learn from one another.

Ashwini took philosophy and astronomy. "The astronomy class was incredible," she said. "Math wasn't required. It was all very intuitive. That class really got me interested in a science career." She learned from other students as well as the classroom.

"I learned that many of these high school students were already conducting research. These were the students I'd be facing as competitors in college, graduate school, and in getting a job. I realized I had to obtain additional skills."

A mentor's influence

The opportunity arose for Ashwini, thanks to a program offered by the State University of New York at Fredonia. It was an early admissions program in which high school seniors took a joint senior year in high school and freshman year in college and got an undergraduate degree in three years. Ashwini graduated with her high school class and was valedictorian. In the program, Ashwini met Daniel Jelski, a chemistry professor who encouraged her to conduct independent research in chemistry. Jelski also became an inspirational mentor for Ashwini's science career.

"It's hard to pin down why Dr. Jelski had such a huge influence on me," Ashwini said. "I think a lot of it was that he had high standards, and he wouldn't compromise. He was the first real scientist I ever met who treated me as though I could accomplish something in the field. He also provided me with a lot of honest advice."

One piece of Jelski advice: Transfer to another school that offered more appropriate science and engineering courses. Ashwini took it and enrolled at MIT.

Fibromyalgia

During her first year at MIT, Ashwini began to experience fatigue with muscle and joint pain. It was profound fatigue and agonizing pain that interfered with Ashwini's courses. A few minutes' work at a computer keyboard, for instance, resulted in severe wrist pain. Grasping a pen for long periods to take notes in class became impossible. Short walks across campus resulted in severe pain and fatigue. Ashwini was unable to finish exams and lab assignments in the allotted time, and it affected her grades.

Sophomore year she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that involves widespread musculosketetal pain, fatigue, and tender points in different parts of the body. Fibromyalgia affects 3 - 6 million people in the United States, according to the American College of Rheumatology.

MIT's Student Disability office arranged a few accommodations that quickly put Ashwini back on course: extra time for exams, a note taker, and access to the disability computer lab. Ashwini purchased her own copy of DragonDictate™, the widely used speech recognition software that allows an individual to orally input data and commands to a computer.

ENTRY POINT!/ACCESS

Ashwini completed an ENTRY POINT!/ACCESS internship in 1997 at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia and followed that with 1998 and 1999 internships at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

"The NASA experiences allowed me to explore alternative careers to electrical engineering," Ashwini said, noting that it was influential in her career shift to atmospheric sciences. Her first summer at NASA, she participated in research on how the Earth's cloud cover influences global climate change. Ashwini wrote computer programs that improved the quality of data obtained with lidar.* She continued that interest at Goddard, working on the SeaWiFS (sea-viewing wide field-of-view sensor) Project, which provides quantitative data on global ocean bio-optical properties to the Earth science community.

"The mentors that I had, thanks to ENTRY POINT!, were great and helped me make contacts and keep me focused on my career," she added. "I also learned a lot about dealing with different kinds of people in a real-world workplace environment."

Ashwini regards enthusiasm as one of the key skills for students with disabilities. "When I'm enthusiastic about doing something, I notice that people try hard to make it possible for me. They make all sorts of accommodations and arrangements.

If I'm not sure I want to be doing something, the people who have the power to help me aren't sure if it's worth their time to go out of their way to make something possible."

*The acronym for light detection and ranging. Lidar is similar in principle to radar. A lidar transmits light to a target (e.g., the atmosphere), which scatters a small portion of the light back along the line of sight. The lidar is able to infer several characteristics of the target, which subtly alters the incident light.

Photo of Ashwini Deshpande

Ashwini Deshpande

 


Jessica Mahood

Like many other girls, Jessica Mahood got turned off to math in elementary school. Things just didn't click in 5th-grade math. As a 20-year-old biology major at Butler University, Jessica still remembers failing a 5th-grade quiz on fractions. "I was devastated, so embarrassed. I ripped the test up in little pieces and threw it away. Math was slow going for me, and I had a lot of problems with it then."

However, her mom stepped in, taught Jessica fractions, and kept the ball rolling.

A whole series of other positive and negative factors figured into Jessica's own personal equation in the years that followed:

No out-of-school science experiences for years. Then, at age 12 in Girl Scouts, Jessica attended a Scout workshop, "Girls Plus Math and Science Equal Success," which paired each girl with a female professional. Jessica got to know a female pharmacist, and it was one of those watershed events that influenced Jessica's first career choice: pharmacy. "For the first time, I had a sense of what I wanted to do," Jessica said. "Make people better, people with illnesses."

No outstanding middle or high school teachers. Then Bonnie Redmer appeared as a biology teacher. Mrs. Redmer was the kind of person who Jessica and her classmates had never known before. A real, live scientist! A scientist who inspired Jessica.

Those early years of math angst continued in high school. Then an influential geometry teacher who recognized and encouraged Jessica's talent. An opportunity to attend the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a residential high school for promising students that the late Carl Sagan once described as "a gift from the people of Illinois to the human future." But a physical disability not addressed by curb cuts, accessible classrooms, and other traditional accommodations that made it seem impossible.

Among the "invisible" disabilities, Jessica's is one of the least apparent to other individuals. She has celiac disease, or celiac sprue, which causes digestive tract damage whenever she eats certain foods. Just try to eat for a few days like Jessica eats every day - without encountering food containing gluten, the collective term for proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and certain other grains.

That's the challenge for the 1 in 300 Americans diagnosed with celiac disease, a hereditary intolerance to gluten that causes immune system attacks and damages the small intestine. The symptoms number about two dozen, including diarrhea, bone pain, fatigue, mouth ulcers, and a painful skin rash.

Eating without bread

It's not just a matter of avoiding bread, bagels, pasta, and other obvious sources of gluten. The food supply is filled with invisible sources of gluten* that can make the quest for a gluten-free life seem like a walk through a dietary minefield.

"This disability can have an effect on every part of your life," Jessica said. "Where you go to school. Where you live and work. How you travel and where. What you can do socially. Going to parties means bringing your own food, and lunch or dinner in a restaurant means putting faith in the chef's knowledge about gluten sources.

I was the kid who was not eating cake at the birthday party. I'm in a good space now, with the situation in control. Having to alter my diet is something that I don't often think about. I've been eating gluten-free foods for so long now. There's only one accommodation I need in college now. I bring my own lunch. But at first, it was a problem."

Just getting the diagnosis was a problem. Mom and dad, Susan and Paul Mahood, took their little kid to numerous doctors, who were unable to put a diagnosis on the strange symptoms. "I really owe my parents my life." Jessica said. "Health care providers told my mother she was crazy. Some suggested that she was "overly concerned."

I couldn't say much at that age - only that my stomach hurt or my head hurt. She persevered to get the diagnosis, when I was four."

Those multiple counter-currents have put Jessica on course for a planned Ph.D. in microbiology/immunology after graduation in 2001 from Butler's Indianapolis campus. Jessica chose Butler because it wasn't far from her hometown, St. Charles, IL, and the only college in the area that then offered a degree in pharmacy.

Jessica later changed her major to biology, as those childhood influences - female pharmacist in the Girl Scout workshop and Mrs. Redmer, the biologist - continued their ebb and flow.

Inspirational professor

When Jessica was at Butler, no one was more influential than one professor, Dr. Jim Shellhaas. "He has been my professor, lab instructor, and thesis mentor. He really helped me to have the confidence to succeed. He is also the professor who taught me my first microbiology and immunology courses, so he solidified my interest in the subject. He is the person - other than my parents - to whom I owe most of my success."

At Butler, the Disability Support office worked with Jessica and the cafeteria on the preparation of gluten-free meals. The university also put a refrigerator in Jessica's dorm room so she could store some of her own foods that were known to be safe. Problems eased when Jessica moved to off-campus housing where she could prepare her own meals.

ENTRY POINT!

Jessica described the summer 2000 ENTRY POINT!/ACCESS internship as "one at the best opportunities of my undergraduate career." She worked in the Muscle Research Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The lab, directed by Dr. Daniel Feeback, investigates ways to minimize the loss of muscle tissue that occurs when astronauts enter the low-gravity environment of Earth orbit. Left unsolved, the problem could require astronauts on long-duration space flights - to Mars, for instance - to spend big parts of each day on devices that sustain muscle mass and are also efficient to use in space.

The internship gave Jessica her first real contact with scientific research. It hooked her on a possible laboratory career. "After the summer, I know that I enjoy the challenge of research," Jessica said. "It is difficult to understand that in a college environment, particularly at a small college where research opportunities are scarce. This had an incredible impact on my career."

Jessica also got valuable guidance from mentors at NASA - Dr. Feeback, Dr. Mark D.F. Clarke, and especially Dr. Dianne Hammond, who worked with Jessica daily. Jessica was invited to return to Johnson Space Center in the summer of 2001 before entering graduate school. She decided instead to stay home and regroup before her next big challenge: the microbiology doctoral training program at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She also has been given an NIH-sponsored biotechnology training grant that will fully fund her studies for three years, so she can pursue both microbiology and immunology.

*Gluten may occur in beverages, including malted milk, certain commercial chocolate milk, nondairy creamers, flavored coffees, beer, whiskey, gin, and herbal teas; prepared meats; tuna canned in vegetable broth; Roquefort and certain other veined cheeses; creamed vegetables; vegetables canned in sauce; commercially prepared salads and vegetables; some canned baked beans, soups, and gravies; thickened or prepared fruits; chip dips; soy sauce; condiments like catsup, mustard, and horseradish; some alcohol-based flavoring extracts; prepared puddings and cream fillings; and flavored syrups. Butterscotch and other commercial candy may even be dusted with wheat flour.

Photo of Jessica Mahood

Jessica Mahood


Tim Scamporinno

Apply the knowledge and skills from college courses in practical ways in a real-world corporate setting. Get a summer job that has a real impact on other people. Acquire business knowledge. Earn a few bucks. Test the career you're considering after graduation. Get a foot in the door toward a full-time job after graduation.

You didn't have to lecture Tim Scamporinno on the benefits of a summer internship. He applied for three internships in 1998 during his junior year as a computer science major at Sonoma State College in California. None came through, and it seemed like he'd never get his wheel in the door and that extra edge toward a full-time job.

The fourth try succeeded, however. Tim interned in the Systems Applications and Data Processing (SAP Systems Management) Department at IBM Global Services in San Jose, CA. The internship involved UNIX programming, database management, and shell scripting.

Did the axiom that internships can open doors to full-time work prove valid in this instance? Well, in 2000, IBM promoted Tim to manager of the department in which he interned.

Tim's internship put his wheel in IBM's door because of a spinal cord injury from a diving accident. "I broke my neck diving into Lake Beryessa," Tim said. "I was on a small cliff of fragile shale. When I pushed off to dive, the rocks broke from under my feet, and I landed in shallow water." After hospitalization and rehabilitation, Tim regained partial use of his hands and arms.

"Make the best of what you have. Make the best of what life hands you." That is Tim's advice for the 11,000 people in the United States who develop paraplegia*, quadriplegia, and other spinal cord injuries every year. With that philosophy, Tim's post-accident life and career took a much different direction that led from automobile repair shop to IBM manager.

Tim had been interested in mechanical things from early childhood. He used to watch a family friend tinker with old automobiles and trucks. There was a garage full of tools and auto parts. Engine blocks. Carburetors. Transmissions. Tim was given an old electric starter motor, for instance, which he took apart and reassembled. By junior year in high school, Tim's career and future seemed clear-cut. He entered a two-year occupational program for auto mechanics, graduated, and began working in a local auto repair shop in Napa, CA, his hometown. In his spare time, Tim enjoyed playing the guitar and drums in a rock band.

What now?

The spinal cord injury, which occurred in 1985 when Tim was 20, left him in a wheelchair. He moved back home with his mom, Antoinette Ammons, to heal and take a fresh look at the future. "That first year I was pretty secluded. It took a good 3 - 4 months before I felt comfortable going out in public and interacting with others." His friends were supportive, and they often came to visit and take him places. Tim saved state disability money for about a year and bought a wheelchair-accessible van, which he drove back into an independent life.

What now? There were those dual interests, mechanics and the creativity of music. Tim decided to try a new career in music. In 1986, he entered community college and took a recording class to see how he could function in a recording-studio environment. It seemed to click. With encouragement from friends who worked in bands, Tim set up his own recording studio, where he worked as a sound engineer for six years. "Although my work was fun, I realized that it was not going to be a reliable source of income. In 1991, I met Loni, my girlfriend, who became my wife. She really inspired and encouraged me. I began to realize that I wanted to provide stability and a strong financial future for both of us."

"Things just took off"

Tim entered Napa Valley College and discovered math. He enjoyed the math courses, and after two years, he transferred to Sonoma State University as a mathematics major. A few twists and turns in his road toward that management position at IBM lay ahead. At Sonoma, Tim met people who ran a college radio station and a video production studio. Tim changed his major to communications, hoping to apply those interests in music and media in video production and radio broadcasting. "I soon learned, however, that finding a job in these fields was difficult and salaries were low. Gradually, I realized that with a degree in computer science, I could still use that creativity - maybe in graphic design or multimedia design - and there would be plenty of jobs. I transferred into the computer science program, and things just took off from there."

Sonoma State lived up to its reputation as one of the most accessible campuses in the nation. Tim encountered no barriers on the campus, classrooms, or labs. He used few accommodations. The Disabled Students Services office, for example, arranged extra time when Tim took exams. Without full strength in his hands, Tim writes slowly, and he uses an ink pen - which requires less pressure than a pencil. With a pen, however, mistakes can't be erased. Tim would write out exam answers on scrap paper, and then recopy the answers onto the test paper.

Tim heard a lot about the value of an internship, and junior year in 1998 he applied for several. "I had three interviews and was turned down by all three," he said. "I think that with two of them, the reason was discrimination. The other, I just didn't have the skill sets. I think discrimination, because one interviewer told me he changed his mind and didn't need an intern. It was an overall sense of knowing that someone is uncomfortable around you. I later found out that they hired another student in my class as an intern. At the other place, the interviewer didn't seem to think that I could handle attending school and a 20-hour workweek. I could have handled it. But I never got the chance."

Getting that first chance

Anne Swanson, then dean of natural sciences at Sonoma, told Tim about the ENTRY POINT! internship program. Tim found a more welcoming atmosphere. "I interned at IBM in San Jose, and I've been there ever since," Tim said. He still recalls, with obvious delight, the circumstances in which an internship evolved into a career.

"The internship was coming to a close after three months. I was sitting with several of my teammates when the manager walked in. She mentioned something along the lines of 'Wish you could stay.' I jokingly said, 'Oh, I can.' From that, it turned into a more serious conversation, and I was offered a full-time position in August of 1998."

Tim agreed to stay at IBM full time for one year and then return to school to complete his computer science degree. To his astonishment, IBM offered to pay for the remainder of his college tuition and books. Things got even better in August 1999, when it was time for Tim to leave IBM. He left, but remained on the books as a half-time employee, working 20 - 30 hours a week from his home computer, while putting in a full-time semester at Sonoma State.

"The internship opened the closed doors," Tim said. "I absolutely would recommend an internship to other students. I'd advise them to use every angle they can to open a door to a technical position. It is very difficult to break through the prejudice on your own. Sometimes it takes a kick in the butt to wake people up and look beyond physical limitations. Solid internship experience can be the boot to do the kickin'."

Keys to success

"I'd say something else to other students with spinal cord injuries. Your mind is not paralyzed. Exercise it and strengthen it. Don't be afraid of what people are thinking. If people treat you differently because of your disability, then what kind of a person must they be? They have a worse handicap than you."

Tim has difficulty quantifying the reasons for his success - aside from a supportive mom, Loni's encouragement, legislation that lowered barriers, and other common factors key to the success of individuals with disabilities. "I can only say that I had two choices. Give up and waste away, or make the best of what you have. I chose to make the best of what I have. I wasn't about to let ignorant, discriminating people get in my way. I bonded with people who had the ability to overlook my disability, and I ignored the others. This gave me a tremendous support structure."

Those interests in cars and music that influenced Tim's early career path? They remain, but they're not about to be career-changers. Tim has an electronic keyboard that interfaces with his home PC, and a huge collection of CDs, but little free time for them.

*Paraplegia is loss of movement and sensation in the lower body. Quadriplegia is loss of movement and sensation in both the arms and the legs.

Photo of Tim Scamporinno

Tim Scamporinno


Rodney Stewart

Rodney Stewart's dream of being an engineer started when he was a five-year-old kid growing up in Las Cruces, NM. It eventually led to a degree in mechanical engineering and a career with IBM. Rodney got a lift on the first part of that journey from an amazingly popular line of toy cars, tractor-trailer trucks, dump trucks, and other vehicles called Stompers. Marketed by Tyco Toys, Inc., Stompers were powered by a small electric motor that ran on one AA battery. Stompers got their name from the oversized, deeply treaded tires, which could climb over - and "stomp" - other vehicles and objects.

Like other mechanical devices, these cars sometimes broke or wore out. In order to keep his cars running, Rodney would almost instinctively fix and modify them so they would run again.

As Rodney grew older, he became interested in more complex mechanical devices. He soon learned to ride bikes and motorcycles like other kids. When the motorcycles broke down, he repaired them just as he had done with the toy cars. As time went on, Rodney's interest focused more on cars. Soon, he was rebuilding transmissions and engines and worked on electrical the system components. One of the projects that he is most proud of was a '76 Camero he fixed up. It had a small block 400 with 2.02 valves, 76 cc combustion chambers, 12:1 compression headers, glass packs, Edelbrock intake and carb, with solid lifters and rocker rollers and an RV cam.

Rodney credited those childhood interests with leading him to choose engineering as a college major and career. "My whole life, I have dealt with mechanical devices, and it just seemed natural that I would go into engineering." Other key influences in making Rodney a success story among Americans with physical disabilities were a persistent mother and aunt who encouraged him to go to college. And there was Ed Misquez, a valuable mentor for Rodney during his college years at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Ed was the coordinator of a project called the Regional Alliance for Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (RASEM) for Students with Disabilities, which is a National Science Foundation (NSF) and AAAS-supported program.

Focusing the interest

Rodney might have applied his interests and skills in auto repairs, modifications to motorcycles, or other fields despite a physical disability. This disability, however, made Rodney realize that many tasks were more difficult for him and that he would not be doing a lot of manual labor throughout his life. Rodney was born with a condition in which one leg grew more slowly than the other. When Rodney was just four years old, his right leg was amputated above the knee. After several years on crutches, he began physical rehabilitation and later was able to use a prosthetic leg.

The prosthetic leg soon became Rodney's most useful tool. "My prosthetic allows me to get around quite well," Rodney said. "But it can be difficult to do things that people take for granted, like remaining in one position for a long period of time. Sometimes, my prosthetic will bother me, and I'll need to take a break - either to sit down if I've been standing too long or stand up if I've been sitting too long. Walking up or down hill is a real challenge, and I can only walk up stairs by use of the handrail."

When Rodney was younger, he often enjoyed his elementary and high school math and science courses. His mom, Merlinda Stewart, and his aunt, Pamela Archuletta, encouraged his interest in science and math. They also encouraged him to get a college education. Rodney was familiar with NMSU because Pamela was a student there and always seemed to be talking about her courses and professors. Pamela and his mother encouraged Rodney to apply his mechanical interests with a major in mechanical engineering technology at NMSU.

Mentor/mentor

During his second semester at NMSU, Rodney joined RASEM, a consortium of 16 educational institutions in New Mexico, west Texas, and Oklahoma that provides mentorships, stipends, and other support for students with disabilities. RASEM was just getting under way when Rodney accepted a mentorship and became one of its first mentors. He worked with high school students, encouraging their interest in science, engineering, and mathematics careers. He involved the students in such activities as rocket launches and science fairs hosted by RASEM.

"RASEM really helped me," Rodney said.

"I found that by being a mentor I could encourage other young people, which helped to encouraged me. Helping others reinforced my own career goals. By interacting with students and motivating them to stay involved with science,

I was making a difference."

Rodney the RASEM mentor had his own RASEM mentor in Ed Misquez, a program coordinator and associate project director. "Ed is a great individual," Rodney said. "He is an excellent motivater, as well as a mentor. I turned to him for advice about academic matters, as well as concerns dealing with my own personal life."

What made Ed a good mentor? Ed, of course, was a role model and good listener who provided support, counsel, friendship, and reinforcement. He did it from a wheelchair - the result of a 1983 spinal cord injury in an auto accident. "I believe that in some cases, it is easier to relate to an individual who also has disabilities," Rodney said. "Most people who are able-bodied can relate to only what they see and often overlook the deeper issues. My disability is not apparent to most other people. If I were to tell a person who is able-bodied how difficult it is walking, climbing stairs, and doing other simple activities such as getting dressed in the morning, they might not relate to the real inconvenience, discomfort, and extra time involved in just attempting these activities. Ed has been there for me, and I feel that I can turn to him when I need someone to talk to."

ENTRY POINT!

Rodney learned about the ENTRY POINT! program at RASEM and did internships in 1998 and 1999 at the IBM facility in Research Triangle Park, NC. During the first internship, he worked in the IBM help center and had responsibility for quality assurance services. The next summer, he did database configuration and programming. "The internship was a major plus in my career," Rodney said.

"It helped introduce me to the corporate workplace in the real world. The challenge of the program was one of the benefits for me. I gained a lot of self-confidence.

Individuals with disabilities sometimes need a little help to get them headed in the right direction. In opening a door, maybe. ENTRY POINT! did all that."

As sometimes happens, the internships opened the door to a full-time job. After getting a B.S. degree from NMSU in mechanical engineering technology with an emphasis in manufacturing and design in 1999, Rodney accepted a job as equipment engineer in the metal-masking department at IBM's Poughkeepsie, NY, facility.

Photo of Rodney Stewart

Rodney Stewart


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Profiles: Assistive Technology | Persistence | Beyond All Expectations | Late Diagnosis | The Golden Door | Informal Science and Popular Culture | The Pinball Effect | Families

Additional Materials: The Roadmaps Game | Afterward | Students' Backgrounds | Assistive Technology | Notes on Disabilities | 1990s Profile of Students with Students in Higher Education | Acknowledgments | References

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