My Educational Journey

Originally Posted 3:54 AM 7/15/2008
UPDATED 5:59 AM 2/19/2011

Below is my "complete" educational journey and tells where I'm planning to "go" from here, but I wrote about my graduation on my blog also, and shared some different info than what is below.  Click HERE for my blog entry.

If you want to literally see me roll across the stage and read about how I almost did not get to, click HERE(Updated link)
Update: download my graduation pictures slideshow HERE (it's 25MB; it might take a while)

My Educational Journey...

I, Bill Miller, incurred a spinal cord injury on August 23rd, 1997 just two days before I was to begin my senior year at the University of Florida. I spent three months in hospitals and then returned home with the same level and type of injury that a hero of mine, Christopher Reeve, had, which is that of a C1-2 quadriplegic and requires mechanical ventilation (it sounds worse than it actually is, which I hope you can gather from the content I share here on my website; see the links at the bottom of the page).

I have always wanted to be a graduate of THE University of Florida, and to finish my education at UF would require doing so over the Internet, since moving to Gainesville, even temporarily, wasn't feasible. When I learned that UF was now offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration (BSBA degree) that can be earned online, I knew that was the opportunity I needed. I was hoping my previous schoolwork would allow me to switch majors from mathematics to business without requiring any prerequisite courses, but I needed two economics courses (macro and micro) and two accounting courses (financial and managerial) before I could start back at UF in their Online BSBA (or OBSBA) Program. A UF adviser, Jill Lingard told me that I could take the four prerequisite courses online via St. Petersburg College. So I registered for classes at St. Petersburg College and resumed pursuit of my education on the 7th anniversary of my injury, August 23rd, 2004. I thought it was particularly meaningful and oddly appropriate that the first day of classes that semester happened to fall on my 7th anniversary. There certainly can be beauty in God's plan.

Before I continue with my educational journey, I have to provide some additional background.

Ever since I was discharged from my two-month rehab stint at Shepherd Center in Atlanta at the end of November in 1997, I've been "busy" trying to both get better physically, and be productive. First, I had to learn to talk well with the ventilator. Then I learned how to operate my computer by voice. My computer is my primary tool to the world. I started doing movie reviews for our local newspaper and only stopped because I had other endeavors I wanted to pursue. I wanted to start doing speaking engagements (I've had more than 100, mostly local to central Florida) and there was also a wheelchair bowling idea I wanted to work on.

My Stepmom, Donna, saw how well I could drive my power wheelchair, and she knew I must be able to bowl, but there was no such device that would allow me to. She tried to find someone who could construct something so I could bowl and a sheriff's office volunteer in her courtroom was a retired engineer named Claude Giguere. Donna showed Claude a picture of me in my wheelchair (the same one on my website's homepage) and Claude said he could help me bowl. He and I got together and quickly agreed that the most feasible idea was an attached ramp concept, i.e. attaching a ramp to my wheelchair that would hold a bowling ball, and allow me to drive and release the ball upon stopping. Claude and I wound up co-inventing what today is known as the IKAN ("I can") Bowler®. IKAN comes from a Greek word meaning empower, and our IKAN Bowler empowers wheelchair users to be able to compete in a fun, social sport. The IKAN Bowler is sanctioned for league play by the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) so its users can legitimately compete with or against able-bodied bowlers and/or fellow wheelchair users. Being able to confidently participate in a social, recreational activity is therapeutic and uplifting for the IKAN User, and often is inspiring to people who see us bowl (for more of my thoughts on the magnitude of the IKAN Bowler, and for IKAN User testimonials, click HERE).

After building a prototype for how quadriplegics and other power wheelchair users can bowl, we wanted to try to share the ability with other physically limited people. There really weren't any recreational activities that I could physically compete in, until we developed the IKAN Bowler. We started, essentially, in 2002 and have been working ever since to build the best, most user-friendly IKAN Bowler possible, which we have done, and we're trying to get the word out that such a device exists, because most power wheelchair users still don't know about it. Claude and I, along with a successful entrepreneur named Vincent Tifer, cofounded a company called Manufacturing Genuine Thrills, (or MGT for short) because we believe the IKAN Bowler provides genuine thrills for its users. But as a small company with limited resources, we are doing all that what we can (our website is for more information).

So I was "busy" before going back to school, and I felt two courses for a fall or spring semester would be enough of an additional workload, and I wanted to take one course each summer, which is a faster-paced semester (yet still covers a full course worth of material). That plan would be five courses each year. There are 15 four credit hour courses in the Online BSBA Program, so the program should take three years. That is essentially what I did. It took me one year (a fall and spring semester) to get the four prerequisite courses I needed, and my last class ended August 8th -- the day before graduation -- and about two weeks before the 11th anniversary of my accident.

That schedule turned out to be an appropriate workload, and enabled me to go "slowly" enough to study the material well and earn an A in each class and I completed the OBSBA with a 4.0 GPA.

Besides the schoolwork itself, I've encountered many challenges along the way. For example, at least a month before every semester, I have to seek an electronic version of my required textbooks from their publishers, who aren't always eager to comply (I purchase a print version first, then my school disability resource representative requests the alternative format) and sometimes I wouldn't get a decent accommodated text until several weeks into the semester. Also, all my studying is by voice... I cannot take lecture notes. Fortunately, disability resources will compensate a student notetaker for sharing his/her notes with me. Every semester, I would post an announcement on our class discussion board introducing myself and describing my situation and why I need a notetaker (I can't take notes using voice software while watching a lecture). It wasn't always easy to find a student willing to type up their notes (they are busy also, and it can be quite a bit of extra work; I understand that).

Anyway... I FINALLY graduated (with honors:) on August 9, 2008 from THE University of Florida -- about 10 years after I thought I would.  Apparently, God had different plans for me, than what I originally planned to do (I was probably going to get a master's degree in education after my bachelor's in mathematics, so I could teach math on the collegiate level, like at a community college). I have since come to believe my life has greater purpose, that being... to do God's will, which I believe is trying to help others have and live a better life.  My unusual physical situation has afforded me an opportunity to have a different view of life than many people, and I believe that makes my words more impactful during my speaking engagements.  If I were able-bodied, and talked about having healthy perspectives and overcoming challenges (the primary topics of most of my presentations) people would probably say, "what do you know?"

Sitting in this big wheelchair with the ventilator on back, talking when the ventilator gives me a breath (which occasionally makes me briefly pause) gives people pause and they can clearly see that in my situation, I have experienced life from a different perspective than theirs. I think that is one way that God has given me to help people, His will be done. With our bowling venture, we are trying to empower and improve the quality of life for wheelchair users, especially power wheelchair users -- who are also some of society's most physically challenged people. I am completely paralyzed from my neck down -- yet I've bowled six legitimate games over 200 and I can beat many able-bodied people, competing under fair rules in the exact same sport. How cool is that?! :-)

So, What's Next for Bill Miller?

Well, we are still trying to help as many people be able to bowl as possible. Our business has very low overhead, so we can sustain ourselves for a good while until we are finally able to blow the doors off of the world and let everyone know that quadriplegics and anyone who can safely operate a wheelchair CAN BOWL. We need heavy exposure and have ideas how to get that exposure, but it will take time. So those efforts will continue, hopefully until there are therapeutic "cures" for paralysis and wheelchairs become a thing of the past (they won't ever completely disappear; as people age, wheelchairs will still be of use, but hopefully the causes that necessitate wheelchair use early in life will be eliminated).

[UPDATE 9/17/2009]  I am planning to earn of a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship (MSE degree) via the University of Florida's Internet MSE program.  I plan to begin in October 2010.  I was previously planning to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA degree) from UF.

[Resuming original post from shortly after graduating with my bachelor's degree]

I am going on with my life, while doctors and scientists work on finding ways to cure paralysis. I'll be ready when the glorious time comes that I can start moving my body again voluntarily. I have previously said "that might be just five more years," but now, there are actual doctors who are saying it truly could happen that soon.  A master's degree will enable me to have some job options whether I'm still paralyzed or not.  I can teach at a community college that is literally a five minute van ride from our house, or I could teach online courses.  Or I could work from home and do a number of different things.

You now see why it has been important for me to resume my education, and earning my bachelor's degree with honors from a very well respected university is something of which I'm certainly proud. Many graduates send out announcements in hopes of receiving gifts that can help them venture into the real world. I really don't need any gifts, but if people want to do something in recognition of my graduation, I chose three donation possibilities: Paralysis help, Cancer help, and helping others experience the joy and empowerment of bowling with an IKAN Bowler. Click HERE if you want more info about making a donation to any of those three causes that are near and dear to my heart.

Thank you for your interest in my educational journey!

Bill Miller :-)
C1-2 Quadriplegic with a 221 High Bowling Game
Co-founder of Manufacturing Genuine Thrills Inc. d/b/a MGT
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