DOWAGIAC – Earning a college degree can be a lot of hard work – long hours studying and learning new concepts – all of this can make most students question whether their commitment is worth all the extra application.
For Southwestern Michigan College student Allen Hood, earning an associate degree was just another hurdle for him to figure out how to get around or over.
Hood, 44, lost his sight three years ago on May 5. He graduated with honors May 5 from SMC with an Associate in Arts degree. This fall, he will complete a second associate degree in social work. He will begin working on a bachelor’s degree in human services through Bethel College in Mishawaka.
Hood will receive the Post-Secondary Student Award through the Michigan Occupational Special Populations Association on May 10.
Considered legally blind, Hood has some limited vision where he can see a small area very close up. Recently, his vision has started to return, but only allowing him to see shadows at a distance much like looking through a “thick fog.”
“The doctors don’t know why I lost my sight,” said Hood, who lives in Union with his wife of 20 years, Belinda. “They don’t know why it is coming back or how much of my sight will return.”
Hood lost his sight within three days. Probably the biggest hurdle he had to conquer was to come to terms with the loss of his vision. It took him the better part of a year.
“Yes, it sucks,” said Hood, who was an electrician and welder before losing his sight. “But I realized I had to take back what was taken from me. I had to get mad. Every time a hurdle in thrown out, I try to find a way over it or around it.
“Some things you learn to do differently. I can wire (electrical) better now than I did before,” he said. “I cooked 175 chicken halves for a party we had. I ride my own horse, take care of five horses, and I mow my own yard. But I shouldn’t fly an airplane anymore.”
Hood worked with the Michigan Commission for the Blind in Kalamazoo to learn typing and computer skills before enrolling at SMC in the fall 2010. At the start of each new class, he would tell instructors that he “didn’t need a handout.” He learned about the skeleton in biology by feeling each bone. He received help through the college’s Special Populations office that provides testing accommodations, adaptive equipment, and other assistive technology to persons with disabilities.
Students, while hesitant at first, have come to know Hood as a person rather than someone with a disability.
“People who have a disability shouldn’t be grouped,” Hood said. “When they think I have a physical disability, they are really dissing my abilities.”
According to Susan Sullivan, coordinator of Special Populations at SMC, “Allen has been a role model for some of our younger students with disabilities and he has provided hours of support to a group of young men who have benefitted from his encouragement and training,” said Sullivan, who was also Hood’s academic adviser. “When he teaches them how to be organized or how to study he has their full attention and respect. He will be missed greatly when he graduates, but he will make a fine counselor or social worker. We are grateful for the time he has given us!”
In his first three semesters, Hood acquired a 3.97 grade-point-average and last fall he completed an internship in the Special Populations office to fulfill a field experience required for an Associate in Applied Science degree in social work, which he will finish this fall.
Sullivan was so impressed with Hood and his determination that she nominated him for the Post-Secondary Student Award through the Michigan Occupational Special Populations Association. Hood will receive the award, which is given annually to an outstanding student in an occupational program, at the association’s annual conference in Bay Harbor, Michigan on May 10.
“My life has always been about work, but I also enjoyed helping others and, when I lost my sight, it was all taken away,” Hood said. “I have since realized that there are a lot of ways I can make a difference.”
Source: News release and photos from Southwestern Michigan College