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Manufacturing student aims to inspire Deaf community

Jay Patel wants to inspire the Deaf community to pursue hands-on education at Pennsylvania College of Technology. He believes working individually with one’s hands is a better way for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to learn than sitting in a large classroom lecture.

The young Michigan man knows a thing or two about navigating the world with the inability to hear, but that has not held him back from pursuing his dreams. Self-described as “motivated,” Patel holds an Associate of Science degree in precision manufacturing technology from Rochester Institute of Technology and is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at Penn College in manufacturing engineering technology.

For his bachelor’s degree, he desired a more hands-on approach, found Penn College via a Google search and drove the eight hours from his Ann Arbor-area home to campus for a tour.

Jay Patel, a manufacturing engineering technology student at Pennsylvania College of Technology, stands outside the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center on campus.
Jay Patel, a manufacturing engineering technology student at Pennsylvania College of Technology, stands outside the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center on campus.

“I was just fascinated,” Patel said. “I knew in my heart that it was a really good match for me. I was really inspired by all the hands-on technology.

“I am just really ambitious, and I have a lot of big plans in life. I want other students and other deaf or hard of hearing students to know what this school has to offer and how they can be successful as well,” Patel said.

The RIT graduate reveled in the strong and supportive Deaf community in Rochester, New York, and would like to see Williamsport evolve into a similar destination for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Patel always sees opportunity.

This is the same zeal he learned from his parents, who emigrated to the U.S. from India in 2007, when their son was 10. The couple sought better learning opportunities for their child and better work opportunities for themselves.

“My parents wanted me to learn American Sign Language and to have as many educational opportunities as possible,” Patel said, noting that he was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. “In India, there are more limits and barriers. In America, people are more open-minded, and there are good educational opportunities. My parents were motivated for me to be able to live a more social life and to be a functioning adult with a good job.”

A career in manufacturing offers a great range of possibilities, and Patel plans to move wherever he needs for work. He has already completed an RIT summer internship at Solar Turbines Inc., a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc., located in San Diego.

Jay Patel (left) works with Heidi E. Roupp (center), disability and access resources specialist/staff interpreter, and Howard W. Troup, instructor of automated manufacturing/machine tool technology, in the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center.
Jay Patel (left) works with Heidi E. Roupp (center), disability and access resources specialist/staff interpreter, and Howard W. Troup, instructor of automated manufacturing/machine tool technology, in the Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center.

“Jay described himself as motivated, and I would agree with that,” said Heidi E. Roupp, disability and access resources specialist/staff interpreter. “It’s really refreshing to see a deaf student overcoming those challenges. He doesn’t let his deafness interrupt his ability to learn or communicate or get the same education as the other students. I think he’s a really impressive student, motivated and friendly, easy to work with. And I know that’ll carry over to his professional life, as well. Any employer will be lucky to have him someday because he is very skilled.”

In addition to Roupp’s sign language support in his labs and classes, Patel has found additional “helping hands” and camaraderie with faculty and fellow students.

“Sometimes it’s hard to communicate with the teachers, but everyone here has been really amazing with their willingness to communicate with me,” he said. “Of course, I use the interpreter, but when I’m working hands-on alone, I’m really confident in my skill. I’m able to run the machines. Sometimes, the challenges are with communication, but I feel pretty comfortable. I’ve learned to adapt throughout my life, and I have a great communication team that helps me. I feel confident.”

Richard K. Hendricks Jr., instructor of automated manufacturing/machine tool technology, said, “Jay is a very motivated and inquisitive person. He is focused and very organized and always willing to meet and exceed expectations. His deafness has created positive challenges for us in the lab environment to engineer methods of measuring machining efficiency and troubleshooting. In the past, these methods of evaluation have involved listening to the cutting sounds. Jay’s attendance and inability to hear has certainly raised our awareness and creativity to adjust and improve how we present information and techniques in quality control and efficient machining techniques.”

One of Patel’s instructors has a background in ASL, having grown up with a brother who is deaf.

“My brother has been deaf since birth and is completely deaf, just like Jay,” explained Howard W. Troup, instructor of automated manufacturing/machine tool technology. “I did use sign language growing up, and he was good at reading lips, also. I wish my brother would have had the opportunities that Jay has had. I think a lot of Jay. He can do anything we can do except he can’t hear.”

Five years ago, Troup fine-tuned his ASL skills in Penn College’s ASL 1 class and hopes to take ASL 2 in the future.

Patel says his fellow students have also offered excellent support and are always willing to pitch in and answer questions. If Roupp isn’t immediately available to interpret, the students bridge the communications gap with various motions and gestures, and Patel says he relies on hand-written notes when needed.

In College Avenue Labs, Patel operates the Haas UMC-500, a powerhouse piece of equipment featuring multi-axis machining.
In College Avenue Labs, Patel operates the Haas UMC-500, a powerhouse piece of equipment featuring multi-axis machining.

“The hearing students are cool. They are open-minded,” he said. “They always make it work, and I am appreciative.”

Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry, a senior in manufacturing engineering technology and vice president of Penn College’s Baja SAE team, is one of those who has offered extra fellowship.

“I first met Jay when he was touring Penn College,” Harrison said. “From the moment he had entered the club room, I could tell that he was enthralled by Baja in a similar way to myself only a few years prior, when I toured the college and caught my first glimpse of the Baja team. While we may be a race team, PCT Baja has education at its core. We are a collective not only working toward the goal of engineering and manufacturing the best race car we can, but elevating each club member to their fullest potential. Jay exemplifies this, as he consistently shows up eager to learn more and apply what we teach him to projects for the club. I eagerly anticipate the coming months as Jay continues learning and can apply more of what we are able to teach him independently.”

Joining the Baja team, which designs, manufactures and builds an all-terrain vehicle to survive various challenges, gives Patel a new extracurricular activity to enjoy beyond his favorite pastime – traveling.

“Any free time I have, I love to travel,” he said. “I love to meet new people and really enjoy socializing and hanging out with my deaf or hard of hearing friends. I like to experience new places every weekend. I love to see Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania mountains are beautiful.”

Pennsylvania’s winding roads, hills and small towns are different from the “flat and straight” roads and city life he is used to in Michigan.

When he’s not driving to new experiences, Patel spends the remainder of his free time researching companies on the internet to stay up to date on new technologies and be aware of additional skill sets that are attractive to business and industry.

The “real world” foundation he’s gaining at Penn College is an inspirational outlet he wishes others who are deaf or hard of hearing could experience.

“All the majors here apply to the real world,” Patel said. “You’re so prepared when you graduate from here. There’s not a lot of lecturing where you’re taking notes for hours at a time. It’s just really refreshing because they allow you to be hands-on. It depends on what your passion is, but there are so many options here. And all the teachers are just fantastic.

Patel and Roupp (standing) chat with industry visitors at an Employer Recruitment Day held on the campus mall during the early part of the Fall 2021 semester.
Patel and Roupp (standing) chat with industry visitors at an Employer Recruitment Day held on the campus mall during the early part of the Fall 2021 semester.

“They’re great with working with this population and very willing to help. There are so many opportunities here, and my experience has been such a positive one. You can follow your dreams and you can be successful, too.”

For the Fall 2021 semester at Penn College, 14 students with some type of hearing loss are registered with Disability and Access Resources. Not all of these students use sign language as a means to address communication barriers. Other types of services are also available, including Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART), which is live captioning. Penn College has had numerous graduates in a variety of programs who have used sign language services, including two student commencement speakers.

For information on manufacturing engineering technology, call Penn College’s School of Engineering Technologies at 570-327-4520.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. For more, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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