Manatee Technical College graduate inspires visually impaired peers at Lighthouse of Manasota

Applying a thermal compound to a computer processor is no easy task, even for the best of the best. It requires precision. Without it, the processor inside a computer would overheat.

It was a daunting task for 19-year-old Tyler Collins to complete, especially as a visually impaired student. But Collins completed that task and more at Manatee Technical College as a student in the Network Support Services program.

On Monday, Collins spoke to students in the transition program at Lighthouse of Manasota, in an effort to inspire other visually impaired students that anything is possible.

“No matter what job you’re trying to do, don’t give up,” Collins said.

Collins was born with bilateral optic nerve hypoplasia, a condition he’ll live with for the rest of his life. He has trouble discerning similar colors. If a person wearing a white shirt is standing against a white wall, they wouldn’t appear to have a torso to Collins.

But he’s had an interest in computers since third grade, and when he graduated from Lakewood Ranch High School in May 2015, he enrolled at MTC. Collins was instructor Joel Hall’s first visually impaired student.

“At first, I was a bit taken back,” Hall said. “But he’s just done extremely well, it was just a pleasure.”

Ten months after enrolling in MTC, Collins will take the second part of his certification test — he requires someone to read the test and record his answers for him — on Wednesday. Assuming he passes the second part of the exam, he’ll be able to take his certificate and be employed in any computer repair shop around.

“I want to troubleshoot. I want to get into it,” Collins said, comparing his work to a brain surgeon in a hospital.

When he started his first class at MTC, he wasn’t sure how it would go. Collins said the staff at MTC helped make sure he had what he needed to do well and gave him opportunities to succeed, including taking on the daunting task of applying the thermal compound to the tiny processor.

“There have been parts that have been easy and parts that have been hard,” he said.

Collins brought his experience and his triumph to Lighthouse on Monday, and spoke to students whose visual impairments ran the spectrum. The two-week summer program aims to help teenagers transition from a school setting to an adult setting. Students are housed in a hotel nearby and have to perform tasks most people would take for granted, like handling money or making their beds properly.

Having Collins speak to the students brought a new aspect to the program, said Lisa Howard, the director of development.

“The advice is coming from someone who knows what they go through,” Howard said.

The students in the program also work, getting set up for a week with different nonprofits and businesses in the area, forcing the students to adapt to different conditions. Lighthouse also works with teens on Wednesday during the school year and once a month for an outing on Saturdays during the school year. Collins had previously gone through the program when he was in school.

“I wanted to inspire them,” Collins said. “Unless it’s very vision-intensive, there’s a chance they can do it.”

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney