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Technology student loses sight but not focus

man using a computer with people watching
July 24, 2013

Each student faces individual struggles that can lead to roadblocks in their college journey, but the growth and learning that comes from overcoming those struggles plays a major role in the student’s college experience. College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) junior Bryan Duarte experienced his own life-changing struggle that had the potential to stop him from growing, but instead he decided to face his challenge head-on and make his dreams happen.

In 2004, Duarte was involved in a major motorcycle accident that caused severe injuries and stopped his heart three times, putting him in a coma. Although he was able to recover from those injuries, he was unable to regain eyesight after the accident. Now, nine years later, he suffers no physical effects from the accident except for his blindness.

A software engineering major at CTI, Duarte landed a prestigious internship with Lockheed Martin, a leading defense, aerospace and technology corporation with locations worldwide. During his internship, Duarte is creating a program for helicopter pilots that generates three-dimensional audio to convey 360-degree situational awareness. The software will allow pilots to have awareness of their surroundings even when they cannot see because of clouds, fog or smoke.

“I’ve enjoyed working on this project since the program has the potential to help the visually impaired,” said Duarte “It also allows me use a special skillset of sound and touch, two things that have become more refined and essential since my accident.”

Duarte was led to the internship with the help of Entry Point!, an organization that recruits STEM-related majors who have a disability and recommends them for internships around the nation. The representatives at Entry Point! were impressed with Duarte’s 3.95 GPA, involvement as a student senator and founder of the ASU Polytechnic club Disabled Athletes and Allies.

“They made me aware of internships at Lockheed Martin and I didn’t think I had a chance,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m a student, I’m blind, they’re not going to take me.’”

Sure enough, Duarte received four offers for a paid summer internship with the company. He decided on Lockheed Martin’s Florida location, as it aligned with his professional interests more than the other offers. 

Due to the size and culture of the College of Technology and Innovation, students are able to receive individual support to achieve their educational and professional goals. When applying for his internships Duarte sought the resources of the Career Center on the Polytechnic campus, as well as the professional advice and support of Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean; Aaron Krasnow, dean of student affairs; and Garret Westlake, assistant dean of student affairs.

“There have definitely been people at this campus who have been encouraging and supportive,” Duarte said. “They’ve made me realize that many things are possible.”

Perhaps the most important skill he’s gained at the college is how to learn, he says.

“CTI has fitted me with the ability to learn, and learn fast,” he said. “I hit the ground running with this internship without much experience, but because CTI has taught me how to be an efficient learner, I was able to be taught many skills in a matter of weeks.”

Duarte says the internship experience has been life-changing. Employees at Lockheed Martin made sure Duarte and his guide dog, Dixon, felt accommodated by installing speech-recognition software on his computer and Braille elevator signs and markers to direct him toward various parts of the building.

“Lockheed Martin has been so great,” Duarte said. “They’ve been pretty remarkable in accommodating me in so many ways, and they’re so willing to help. They always make sure I am taken care of. My co-workers even take my guide dog out to play."

Written by Sydney B. Donaldson