Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Despite having a traumatic brain injury, student perseveres in studies to graduate

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His accommodation allowed Luke Nosack (center) to use his personal computer in class for note taking, which was a great idea because he can type faster than he can write.

It’s safe to say that no two PCC students are alike and Luke Nosack, who graduated from PCC in September with an associate degree in science, is as unique as they get.

“I’m not typical because I had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when I was five years old and was also misdiagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome a few months later when I started kindergarten,” said Nosack, who attended classes at the Rock Creek Campus. “It’s very common for people with TBI to be misdiagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome since some of the symptoms do overlap. I have a disability accommodation, and even though that is not exactly ‘typical’ for PCC students, there are still quite a few of us with a disability accommodation.”

A disability accommodation can mean the option to take a test in a quiet room or request help with note taking. It can also mean special tutoring or using technology to neutralize different types of challenges.

“The key to getting this help is asking for it and the two people who helped me a lot were Ruth McKenna and April Nording,” he added. “They told me what it takes to function at the community-college level.”

McKenna works in Disability Services at the Cascade Campus and Nording is an academic advisor and college study skills instructor at Rock Creek. They were the first to talk with Nosack about dual enrollment and finishing high school at PCC.

“I picked PCC because it offered a high school completion program and a disabilities program,” he said. “My disability support group gave me Ruth McKenna’s name. They said she was a great disabilities counselor at PCC, and she would help me and she really did. She walked me through all the complications of registration and getting me a disabilities accommodation.”

His accommodation allowed Nosack to use his personal computer in class for note taking, which was a great idea because he can type faster than he can write.

“It also allowed me to have a peer-note taker in the class,” Nosack said. “I was home schooled for my first two years of high school, but PCC would accept none of my home school credits and that was discouraging. Then, April told me that I could get both my high school diploma and my associate’s degree in a matter of three years. I just lit up.”

Nosack met with Nording once a quarter to ensure that he enrolled in all required classes. She also assisted him with his selection of electives.

“April and Ruth were always encouraging so it worked out really well for me even though I had to take a make-up class after my graduation,” he said. “Sometimes I had trouble keeping up with the lab work. Thankfully, I always had a partner or two to get me back on track. Taking notes wasn’t so easy either. There were times when I didn’t have all the notes typed down on my laptop. In some classes I had a peer-note taker who would find me after class and give me the notes I needed.”

Class projects tested Nosack. He could manage the research, but the creation of the required tri-fold display boards was difficult, especially those required in his chemistry class. But the projects did not top his list of challenges.

“Sometimes I had trouble comprehending what the instructors were saying and I had trouble figuring out how to express my thoughts,” Nosack explained.

Self-expression might actually be one of Nosack’s strong suits. Because he needed four more credit hours to graduate last summer, he picked an elective class titled “Music Fundamentals.” He plays classical piano and among his favorite musicians and composers are Yo Yo Ma, Adolph Sax, Wynton Marsalis, Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.

“Music fascinates me,” he said. “The notes, the rhythm are majestic, soothing and exciting. Music brings out emotions. Music and math both come easy to me.”

While some have suggested a career in computer programming, Nosack ponders his future in the arts.

“Right now I’m thinking about pursuing a career in television and movies,” he said. “I’ve been writing scripts since I was little but I never let anybody read them so I might think about taking a script writing class. I like to re-write scripts based on classic movies. I use the story line but I’ll create my own characters and plots Maybe it’s also time for some acting classes. I’ve been in several plays and I loved acting. I’m really relaxed and pretty good with words when it’s pre-determined what I have to say and when I have to say it.”

In this culture, less might be expected of you if you have a traumatic brain injury. Nosack is not buying that and hasn’t asked for a free pass.

“Luke is an exceptional young man with a bright future,” said Nording. “He doesn’t use his disability as an excuse or let it get in the way of accomplishing his goals. He is an inspiration for all students with similar challenges.”

When McKenna was asked to describe Luke, she said, “Luke is an extraordinary and engaging person. I am consistently impressed with his positive attitude and determination to succeed. It has been such a pleasure, and truly an honor, to have had the opportunity to work with Luke.”

What is his favorite memory while studying at PCC?

“When I was in my Hip Hop class, we got to perform in front of an audience,” he beamed. “We were full of energy and well rehearsed. I was thrilled to be dancing in front of those people. Hip Hop is not recommended for a guy with TBI, since the equilibrium and balance are issues. It’s true, I was literally drenched in sweat after every class, but I loved it and I did it.”

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