Monday, December 9, 2019

Graduate Profile: Austin Bonebrake

As a high school student, Austin Bonebrake envisioned himself in a hands-on profession someday, such as welding or working in a machine shop. The sophomore thought there was plenty of time to decide his exact path. That all changed with one brutal moment in the winter of 2015.
“I was in a sledding accident. I hit a tree head first. It left me paralyzed,” he said.
Specifically, he broke his C-6 vertebrae and suffered severe damage to his C-5 vertebrae. He was suddenly quadriplegic, with some limited use of his hands. He worked through rehab and intense pain in that recovery. He learned how to operate a wheelchair. However, it was not just the many serious physical adjustments he needed to make to get his life back on track. He needed a new career plan.
“I figured that being hurt it would be hard to find a job without an education. I knew that I liked being outdoors, so that’s why I chose environmental science. I like to problem solve and find solutions.”
That brought him to Vol State with TN Promise. College requires a lot of course work for students and for Austin there were also many physical hurdles to overcome, such as how to take notes in class and write assignments.
“I don’t have much hand function, so I do the work on my iPad. I have a PDF viewer app and I use my pinky to write. I takes a bit longer to do assignments.”
Transportation from Portland to the Gallatin campus was also an issue. “My mom has had to get up every day to drive me and I need extra time to get to class.”
That may be changing soon. “I’ve been working with Voc Rehab, so I should begin driving in January.” Austin’s family purchased a truck and the Vocational Rehab program in Gallatin paid for the equipment necessary for Austin to drive. That will fit in well with his plans after graduation in December. He is transferring to Western Kentucky University to study biology, perhaps with a minor in environmental science.
“This major has challenged me to think out of the box and find new ways to problem solve. I’ve enjoyed all of my environmental science classes. Assistant Professor Erin Bloom has been my go to person. She’s helped me keep my head up.”
Austin has been nominated for Outstanding Graduate. His instructors mention his willingness to get extra help and to ask questions after class. He still deals with quite a bit of pain from his injuries and side effects from medications. Yet, his college career is defined by his resilience.
“When it first happened it was difficult to cope with,” he said. “But as time goes on you get into your own groove. You just have to go for it.”

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