Cerebral Palsy Can’t Stop This Night Owl from Pursuing His Dreams

Chris Cox

Every week, Chris Cox and his WGU faculty mentor, John Porter, fire up their webcams and log in to a video chat to check in on Chris' progress toward his B.S. in Information Technology degree.

The combination of voice conversation, text chatting, and face-to-face video communication has been a crucial part of their roughly two-year journey together—after all, Chris, of Atwater, California, has cerebral palsy, and John had just recovered from cancer-related surgery that had removed half his tongue and left him relearning how to speak.

Significant barriers to communication, yes, but no match at all, it turns out, for this pair's determination to learn and teach together.

Chris enrolled at WGU in fall 2012. Today, he is on track to graduate as soon as January 2015. He credits John's mentorship and the WGU model; John points to Chris' inexhaustible spirit as the reason for his success. (Certainly, it's a hefty dose of "all of the above.")

"Everyone who knows me academically knows that I put every effort into schooling," Chris wrote in sharing his story with WGU. "I have a disability that I do not let impact me too much. It's called cerebral palsy, which is like a random glitch of neurotransmitters that misfire unexpectedly."

Cerebral palsy means Chris' speech is strongly slurred, and it causes him some difficulty in moving around—but it has had no impact on his ability to learn nor his voraciousness for knowledge.

Chris had his associate's degree in Computer Networking Technology but was struggling in his job search. His representative at the California Department of Rehabilitation recommended that he consider WGU. With its unique, self-paced learning model and one-on-one mentoring support, WGU might be just the path Chris was looking for to earn his bachelor's degree.

"Way back in high school I didn't believe I was capable of earning a degree with all my challenges," Chris wrote. "I felt it was too hard to accomplish. Now I have a new understanding of the unique aspects in myself to conquer—to see myself succeeding with this degree. WGU's system is one of the best I've seen—and it's the cheapest tuition."

At WGU, Chris studies on his own, getting as-needed help from John and from the course mentors who provide subject-matter expertise. As soon as he knows the material well, he takes the assessment, passes the course, and moves on. No sitting in class; no being held back by others who are learning slower than he is or falling behind when the rest of the class is moving faster than he can. "I learn more when it's independent," he said.

And WGU's focus on using technology to improve learning—and to provide flexibility in faculty-student communication—gives Chris access to a learning experience he couldn't find elsewhere.

"Without support and the determination of my immediate family and the WGU team I wouldn't be in this position," Chris wrote.

In fact, WGU's approach to the faculty-student relationship is so personalized that a coterie of about a dozen WGU faculty and staff members make up what Chris and John call Team Cox.

"We are now in the final semester of study for Chris, and Team Cox is looking forward to his graduation as he is a very deserving, smart individual who now includes seven IT certifications in his portfolio with another to come soon," John wrote. "I feel quite blessed to have the privilege to work with and know Chris, and will do whatever I can to help him secure his ultimate dream job: working in IT for the Disney Corporation!"

Chris' commitment to power through to graduation has been tested over and over again, including recently when his father passed away unexpectedly. Team Cox offered Chris the opportunity to take a break from school, but Chris steadfastly stuck with it.

"We all have difficulties in life and in school, but I am in my final year of my bachelor of science degree," Chris wrote. "I earn this with my team. My father passed away this year, but he knew that I wanted this degree. Some students who have struggled with this and with hardships like this can't even imagine why I want to work and focus on my education. When I graduate with this degree, I am going to be dedicating this degree to my parents and surrounding family because it took so long to get me to this point in time."

He said that good teachers who have believed in his potential have been an essential part of his success, ever since high school, when he was inspired by "every teacher who wanted me to explore the shot of going to college."

Chris currently volunteers for a church, and he plans to complete his capstone project based on that experience. He said he shares his story as much as possible because "I want people to know me and what I'm capable of."

He doesn't know what the future holds for him, but he does know what he'll be doing immediately after graduating:

"Spend three days at Disneyland. Sporting a WGU T-shirt."

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