Leveraging Energy and Effort
Justin Third enrolled at Minneapolis College during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly learned he had a passion and a knack for the world of information technology, disability advocacy, leadership and mentoring. A native of Alabama, he is the first in his family to pursue a college education and found possibility in what he had thought impossible.
“This is my third try at college,” said Third who practiced patience with the process. “In my first college experience, I chose the wrong subject. The second wasn’t the right school for me. And finally, after careful research, I found Minneapolis College, an award-winning campus with engaged faculty and staff and the career connections to support me in launching my career.”
The World of Information Technology
Justin quickly found a home in the School of Information Technology at Minneapolis College, learning he is adept with technology and a savvy programmer. Getting involved beyond his academic studies, he joined the Cyber Security Club, a talented group of students on campus who come together to compete annually in the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.
Third took his newly honed technology skills and expertise to benefit his peers when he became a tutor in the Academic Success Center, quickly earning himself a leadership award for strong customer service. “You can find Justin on campus in the computer lab every Friday helping students trouble-shoot a wide array of computer challenges,” said April Hanson, Director of the Academic Success Center, who marvels at his dedication. “His belief in promoting equity and awareness for student needs can be witnessed through his caring approach, big heart and personal humility. Justin is like a sparkler, extremely passionate about making accessibility more visible and supporting his fellow human beings through his own talents and personal drive to succeed.”
"Justin is the sort of student I wish I knew when I was doing my undergraduate work, struggling with then undiagnosed ADHD," said Brian Huilman, Department Chair and faculty in the School of Information Technology at Minneapolis College and a mentor to Justin. “Through his work with the Academic Support Center and the Accessibility Resource Center, Justin has taught many students how to leverage technology to access and use College and classroom information most other students take for granted.”
Disability Justice Warrior
After experiencing his own challenges with disability-related barriers and witnessing a former roommate’s daily encounters navigating physical barriers in his environment from a wheelchair, Third became acutely aware of the possibilities of technology to make the world more accessible for people with disabilities.
And Third’s opportunity to make a larger impact on the lives of people with disabilities has arrived. As a National Science Foundation S-STEM scholarship winner, he will research, design and create an accessibility tool using USB technology. Ultimately, Justin’s hope is the tool will connect to and allow the navigation of any device from a person’s hand. The National Science Foundation scholarship supports research and people like Third to create knowledge that transforms the future.
Going a step further, Third is part of a dedicated group of people who are starting a Disability Advocates Club on campus. "The creation of a student club focused on disability advocacy and justice are in the early stages of development yet, Justin has stepped up and taken a leadership role to ensure the strength of this new group,” said Chris Luhmann, academic advisor at Minneapolis College. “It's inspiring to see a student like Justin who is not afraid to put himself out there and speak up to issues around disability and ableism. That's exactly the type of leadership we need to break down and eliminate barriers for individuals with disabilities at Minneapolis College and within our communities.”
He relies heavily on the guidance of others. “I’m not doing any of this on my own,” said Third whose diligence has earned him a 4.0 and a spot in Phi Theta Kappa. “I work closely with my academic advisors, the faculty, staff and my peers. I call it 360 degrees of support because it comes from everyone believing in me. In turn, I do the same for others and as a result, each week is more amazing than the last.” Third will graduate from Minneapolis College in 2023 with degrees in Cyber Security and Defense and Software Development.