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spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer May 18, 2007

RIT grad is study in the power of determination


After surviving a major automobile accident and suffering brain trauma, Kevin Rollins is now in a place few, other than himself, thought possible: finishing up a co-op at Critical Link in Syracuse and preparing to graduate.

Submitted by Kevin Rollins

Kevin Rollins woke up and had no idea where he was. It was dark and his surroundings were strange. He tried to get up. Suddenly a team of nurses rushed into his room and restrained him.

Rollins had just emerged from a two-week medically-induced coma. Two metal plates had been inserted in his jaw. A hole was drilled into his skull to relieve brain swelling. He couldn’t hear out of his left ear.

And yet those physical ailments were nothing compared to the hurdles he would have to conquer in the years to come.

On March 1, 2001, Rollins was a passenger in a friend’s 1999 Ford Explorer. He was home in Canastota, N.Y., on break, having just completed his second quarter at RIT.

Rollins doesn’t remember where he and his friends were headed. In fact, he doesn’t remember anything from that week. He’s been told that it was a snowy night. At least six inches covered East Hickory Street that evening when the truck spun out of control and smashed into a tree.

After spending two weeks in a coma, Rollins woke up feeling no pain. However, he had suffered brain trauma. With the exception of the week leading up to the accident, his memory was intact. But he had trouble completing everyday tasks.

He remained in the hospital for 27 days and spent four months in therapy. Physically, he fully recovered. So Rollins thought it was odd when his doctors and his parents asked him if he wanted to return to RIT.

“I told them, ‘Of course I want to go back. Why wouldn’t I want to go back?’ But I didn’t know what I wouldn’t be able to do,” Rollins says. “I seemed fine.”

But Rollins was not fine. He returned to RIT the following fall and things were difficult.

“I would sit in a math class and it was like the class was being taught in a different language,” he recalls. “I couldn’t understand what the professor was trying to tell me, let alone learn all the material.”

Rollins received a ‘C’ in one class and failed the rest. The student who always had wanted to be an electrical engineer—even as a child he used to dismantle his toys in an effort to figure out how they worked—had grown frustrated. He decided to go home.

“I stayed until Christmas break, and then I realized I couldn’t do it anymore,” he says. “It was a waste of time and money. I couldn’t understand what was going on.”

But he wasn’t giving up.

He enrolled at SUNY Morrisville, which is close to his home, and began taking some lower-level classes. He had progressed to Calculus II at RIT, but enrolled in Basic Algebra at Morrisville. He still couldn’t comprehend the material.

Rollins says he couldn’t understand the reasons for doing something and the processes behind it. So he began to memorize the material, instead. And it worked. In May 2004 he earned his associate degree.

He refused to stop there. Rollins returned to RIT the following September. Things still weren’t the same.

“It was like getting on a treadmill that was going 50 miles per hour,” he says. “I couldn’t keep up with it. RIT was just so much faster paced.”

But with persistence and the help of the professors in his new major, computer engineering technology, he caught up.

“Within the last year, I went from memorizing everything to really understanding things,” he says. “It was like a light switch.”

Now, Rollins is just completing a co-op at Critical Link, a hardware and software development company in Syracuse. The co-op marks the completion of his final graduation requirements.

He will receive his diploma May 25 and plans to mail copies to the doctors and nurses who helped him make his recovery.

“Even when I was making errors, I knew I could do it,” Rollins says. “I wanted to prove to everybody that I could get back to where I was.”

Rollins plans on working for a few years and then returning to RIT to get a master’s degree in computer engineering.

“God gives you a hand of cards to play with in life,” Rollins says. “Even if he takes some of those cards away, you still have to play the best you can with whatever cards you have left. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

John Follaco

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