Visually impaired student finds home in fraternity

    By Mina Corpuz, The Enterprise (Taunton, Mass.)

    EASTON, Massachusetts — Phi Sigma Kappa brother Jack Duffy-Protentis is less than a year away from graduating and starting a career as an engineer, a field that he enjoys because it allows him to work with his hands.

    In addition to being a college student and learning concepts from chemistry and physics he has applied to his work, the Easton native has faced another challenge: being visually impaired.

    “I do the same thing as everyone else, but I just have to find a different path,” said Duffy-Protentis, who attends Worcester Polytechnic Institute and studies mechanical engineering.

    Being visually impaired is challenging, the 22-year-old said. It adds more steps and time to do things, but that isn’t a barrier.

    Duffy-Protentis has about 20 percent of his vision left. His peripheral vision is good, but his central vision, where most details come from, has decreased.

    He can make out shapes. When Duffy-Protentis looks at people, he looks at the tops of their heads and can understand where their features are, but can’t see their facial expressions.

    He has been interested in tinkering with things and later found that engineering would be a good fit for him. Duffy-Protentis wanted to find a school with a hands-on approach to learning like WPI.

    After graduation in December, he wants to go into automotive engineering and work abroad with hypercar companies like Lamborghini, Ferrari or Sweden-based manufacturer Koenigsegg.

    WPI is academically challenged and fast-paced, he said. For his senior project , Duffy-Protentis is working with a team of students to convert a gasoline jet ski into a solar energy and electric one. The goal is to build a prototype.

    In class, he sits at the front of the room and takes pictures of notes on the board. He meets daily with a tutor to make sure he understood material from lectures.

    Duffy-Protentis is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

    He knew that his fraternity was a good match for him when his brothers made an effort to include him in one of its traditions.

    After members are accepted into the fraternity, they play a game of football. Duffy-Protentis planned to sit the game out because he can’t see the ball when it’s in the air.

    Fraternity members asked if he could play soccer, which Duffy-Protentis can because he can see it better. The fraternity altered the tradition so that he could participate.

    Beyond school, Duffy-Protentis has interned at a manufacturing center in Easton called Case Assembly Solutions that makes circuit boards.

    He has volunteered a science, technology, engineering and math camp for children through the National Federation for the Blind and likes that he can be an example of a visually impaired engineer.

    “There aren’t many visually impaired engineers out there,” Duffy-Protentis said.