Scholarships awarded to legally blind student for study at State College of Florida

(Bradenton, Fla., August 11, 2015) – Bradenton resident Michael Griffin, 37, recently was awarded two prestigious scholarships to assist in his pursuit of an associate’s degree in computer information technology at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

The scholarships recognize Griffin’s accomplishments, which include being named to the Dean’s list three times since enrolling at SCF in Spring 2014. He also has designed software programs to assist in his studies, been inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and served as a mentor to younger students. Funded by the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the Sarasota ACB, the awards also acknowledge Griffin as legally blind.

Griffin travelled to Dallas in early July to accept the $2,500 James R. Olsen Memorial Scholarship during the annual ACB convention. While there, he was able to meet other students and ACB members from around the country as well as attend a number of informational sessions. Griffin also received a $500 award from the Sarasota chapter of the ACB.

“It was a great experience and an honor,” Griffin said of receiving the national scholarship, adding that it was inspirational to hear about the accomplishments of others with vision loss like himself. Ultimately Griffin would like to add his success story to theirs, by earning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and landing a job that involves building electronic devices.

Originally from Palmetto, Griffin worked for the city’s Public Works department for 11 years as a Service Worker II, which included some work with computers, before coming to SCF. While at the College, his interest in technology has grown. He even has utilized this passion to help with his studies in other disciplines.

This includes writing a computer program to aid in learning Spanish. “The class was moving very fast and I needed a way to help me keep up,” Griffin explained. While he regards his first effort as “pretty simple,” Griffin improved on his database for Spanish II. He ended up with an A in the course.

His effort made a lasting impression on Professor Elizabeth Dowdy, who retired this spring from SCF’s Language and Literature department. Dowdy recommended Griffin for the ACB scholarship.

“Michael was very creative as he studied Spanish by developing and designing his own software program to learn the vocabulary,” Dowdy wrote in her letter to the American Council for the Blind. Noting that he did not allow himself to have obstacles and limitations, she added, “He used everything available to him or if he didn’t have something he needed, he created it.”

Griffin also receives assistance from the SCF Disability Resource Center (DRC).

“When I first got to SCF I tried to manage on my own,” he said. But when that became difficult, he turned to the DRC. “It is really comforting to know that someone is there to act as a liaison with a professor or assist in other ways.”

Patricia Ann Lakey is the coordinator of the DRC. According to Lakey, there are about eight students currently registered who, like Griffin, have some degree of vision loss or blindness. The DRC also assists about 500 other students with physical disabilities, hearing loss, learning disabilities, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, traumatic brain injuries and psychological disorders.  Academic accommodations are individualized to meet the needs of each student, and may include classroom and testing accommodations, academic modifications, adjustments or assistive technology.

Lakey and her team also alert students to the availability of scholarships like the one Griffin received, as well as community resources such as the Division of Blind Services and Vocational Rehabilitation. Lakey noted that while the DRC has guided Griffin to assistive services, he also has helped them do their jobs better.

“Michael test piloted some video magnification equipment being demonstrated by a vendor,” she said. “His input proved invaluable and we went with his suggestion. When the magnifiers arrived, he worked with us to learn how to use them properly.”

Lakey also wrote a letter of recommendation for Griffin in which she called him “a perfect example of an individual who has not allowed his visual disability to hinder him from moving forward in achieving his goals.

“He is a role model to other registered DRC students and has served as a mentor to a younger student with a similar disability,” she added.

Griffin is proud of the mentoring relationship he forged and has stayed in contact with the student over the summer.

“I saw him right before I went to Dallas and encouraged him to apply for scholarships and to stay motivated,” he said. “He’ll sometimes call and ask questions. I’m happy to help since at my age I have already been through much of what he is experiencing. I didn’t have that kind of support and for a long time I tried to keep my condition hush.”

Griffin’s vision began to deteriorate while he was in high school. “I didn’t tell anyone for as long as I could keep it secret,” he admitted. A football player, he was able to continue to perform on the field, but his classwork soon suffered. He was eventually diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration, a retinal disease. Although classified as legally blind, Griffin is able to navigate campus without the aid of a cane or service animal and uses a Mac computer with a built-in screen magnifier.

Griffin is exploring his options for transferring to a university after earning his degree at SCF. Because of his reliance on public transportation, he is exploring schools with larger, accessible campuses including Columbia University in New York City.

For now, he is relishing the personalized attention he receives at SCF where, he noted, class sizes are small and professors like Dowdy take a special interest in their students.

“Dr. Dowdy taught me a lot,” he said, “and not just about Spanish. She cared about me as a student and as a person.

“There are some truly great professors at SCF,” he added. “The kind you would expect at a much larger university. Hopefully they will stay because their presence helps make SCF such a great school.”

Wherever the future takes him on his quest “to be successful in life,” Griffin said that he always will know that SCF is where he got his start.

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