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January 22nd 1998

 

 

 

Engineering Technician Aids Jet Engine Research
Floyd Truskot

In 1987, a near-fatal car crash left him paralyzed. "I'm classified as a high   para or low quad," Truskot explained. "I have paralysis in all four limbs and  my hands are functional, but weak." Before the accident, he was training for  an area triathlon - he rode a bike 15 miles and ran 10 or 12 miles daily, and   swam two miles every other day. "When I came home from the hospital, my   sports career was over and I put my shoes in the closet."

Truskot was hospitalized for five months. Before the accident, he'd earned an   associate degree in electrical engineering technology, worked as a bench and   field technician, and did circuit board repair. "I couldn't return to that   job," he explained, "because you need fine motor skills - you have to pick up  little resistors and capacitors. I have gross motor skills, which means I can  only pick up large objects."

He began falling into a daily TV-watching groove, which alarmed him. "I had a   lot of knowledge of electronics and computers, and I knew I was an ideal   candidate to go back to work and school. It took me a little over a year to   make the decision, but I finally called the Ohio Rehabilitation Services   Commission."

Jim Cousins, who's since retired, was his vocational rehabilitation counselor  at RSC. Testing affirmed that Truskot was a natural to receive training in   computer-aided design (CAD), which is similar to doing mechanical design with   a computer. "I wanted an accessible career and working with CAD was the way   to go," he said. By January 1989, he was pursuing an associate of applied   science degree in CAD at Lorain County Community College (LCCC).

"I was nervous about being back in class because I was in a different   situation than before, but the college had services for people with disabilities and it was highly accessible." Because he wasn't yet driving,  Truskot relied on family and friends for transportation. RSC assisted with  his tuition, books and supplies. "Jim told me that once I completed the  college program, I had to get a job," he said, "and that was my main goal -  I'd do anything to get back to work."

After more than two years of study (including seven consecutive quarters  without a break), Truskot earned his associate degree in 1991. A home  computer provided by RSC greatly assisted in his course work. An outstanding  student, Truskot was named one of the top 25 winners in a national  scholarship competition sponsored by a CAD-related magazine. Unable to take a  required machine shop class because of his disability, he'd substituted a  technical drawing course, where he created the impressive set of house plans  he submitted for the competition. "I was the only student at LCCC to win a  CAD scholarship and that was a big plus for me," he recalled.   By the time he graduated, Truskot was driving a van modified for   accessibility by RSC. With his transportation situation in hand, he was ready   to start a job hunt. "I graduated on Sunday and on Monday, I was out   looking," he remembered. "I gave myself six months to find employment. I   wanted a job that fit me whether or not I had a disability." Truskot threw   his considerable energy into honing an already-impressive portfolio. "I had a   powerful resume. I polished it and tweaked it and worked on cover letters."

No opportunity was left uninvestigated, no potential contact was ignored. He   conducted an intensive letter campaign, scoured three newspapers' want ads   and networked. "If a friend told me that XYZ Company was looking for people,   I went there." RSC paid for postage on my envelopes, so every Monday morning,   I was at the office with a pile of them.   "One morning, Joan Pretzlav (RSC employer services specialist) handed me a  letter from the Cleveland Federal Executive Board which said there was going  to be a career awareness day at the federal building. I didn't really want to  go to downtown Cleveland, but it was an opportunity so I knew I had to.  That's where I heard about NASA." Truskot filled out a job application at the  event and was called later that month to interview. "Hank Wroblewski (NASA  Lewis Research Center branch chief) told me they weren't hiring but were  looking for candidates. NASA has success written all over it and that was one  contact I was going to keep, no matter what. Every month, I sent Hank a  letter indicating I was still interested in a position."

Meanwhile, Truskot kept pursuing leads. "Through my letter campaign, I'd   caught the attention of a company that dealt with powder coatings and turnkey   finishing systems. They had an opening for a CAD designer and I got the   position after two interviews. I went in to tell Jim Cousins I'd found a job,   and it was the last day before he retired. He was a happy camper - he lit up   just like a light bulb!" Truskot had achieved his goal of finding employment   within six months of graduation. He started on Dec. 30, 1991.   He quickly became proficient at creating CAD drawings for company salesmen to  use with clients. It wasn't long before the owner entrusted him to do a  three-dimensional depiction of an entire system for an important  presentation. "I worked on it for about six weeks straight, every day and  even on weekends, until it was completed," Truskot recalled. "When it was my  six-month review time, I got a 30 percent raise! I couldn't believe it - I  told my friends and parents that if I hadn't had a back on the wheelchair,  they'd have been picking me up off the floor! Talk about a boost to  self-esteem!"

Although he had no desire to job-hop, Truskot still dreamed of working for  NASA and stayed in contact with Hank Wroblewski. One day, Wroblewski called  and told him that the opportunity had arrived - a job was available.  Truskot's employer was sorry to lose him but wished him well, told him the  door was always open and sent him off with a party. It was a good career move  for Truskot - the company went out of business within a year.   NASA's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland (a 24-mile drive from Lorain) is a  huge operation, comprising about 150 buildings. Primarily an aeronautic  research center, some of its work has also been for the space program.   Truskot joined the NASA team in September 1992. His impressive job title is   Central Process System systems operator. "I remotely operate large   compressors, exhausters, drying vents, chillers, dehydrators and valves to   recreate atmospheric conditions for jet engine research," he explained. "I  really enjoy it." The job is primarily performed in a control room, using  text and graphic displays on a computer workstation, he said, which is part   of the Lewis Process System distribution control system. The work area - with   its dimmed lighting and banks of ever-changing monitors - greatly resembles   the general public's idea of a NASA control room. 

His arrival at NASA heralded more college for Truskot. "I was put in a   four-year training program, two years of which were college, which I chose   over vocational school." He took about 15 classes at LCCC and Cuyahoga   Community College. Although he was still in contact with RSC and Counselor   Darlene Krausher (who took over for Jim Cousins), NASA paid for all of   Truskot's course work.  After taking classes in steam plant operations, and geometric dimensioning  and tolerancing, he received a third associate degree - this time in  mechanical design. Not surprisingly, Truskot exceeded the expectations of his  NASA training program by earning the degree, which wasn't a requirement. He's received numerous awards and recognitions during his years at NASA and is  awaiting his fourth promotion. Active in Lewis Center's Disability Awareness  Advisory Group, Truskot received its 1995 award recognizing the employee who  best promoted advancement for people with disabilities. 

"When I came aboard at NASA, they knew I used a wheelchair," he said. "We had  to iron out some accessibility issues, like the restroom and the water   fountain, and they put a little ramp into the control room." Truskot was   subsequently featured on the cover of a NASA employment brochure and   contributed significantly to its content. "I'm very pleased with my position   here," he said. "My coworkers are super-talented, bright people. NASA's a   great organization."

Even with his dedication to the job, Truskot's not too busy to advocate on  behalf of others with disabilities. A long-time member of the Lorain Advocacy  Board for People with Disabilities, he was directly responsible for the  initial legislation to increase the fine for illegal parking in handicap  spaces in Lorain from $10 to the $100 state maximum. He also co-wrote a  brochure on disability etiquette and has been featured in local newspapers  and national disability-related publications numerous times. In 1996, he  organized, coordinated and participated in the NASA Lewis National Disability  Employment Awareness Month.

Truskot admits that his spare time is nearly nonexistent. He's back in classes, with a new goal that he calls a "burning desire." "I want a  four-year degree, because earning associate's degrees won't get you up the  pay scale. I gave myself a year off from school and started with the  University of Akron (through LCCC) for their automated manufacturing  engineering technology program. I do a lot of studying - it's a good  challenge and it keeps my mind young!" Truskot is pursuing the bachelor of  science degree in the evenings and on weekends. He expects to graduate within  two years.

He credits his success to attitude. "When I had the accident, the thought did   cross my mind, "Why did this happen to me?" I don't say I was never   depressed, but I think I've come to the point where I talk with people and   they can overlook the disability and see the person... that's a skill in   itself."

Someday, Truskot plans to build a totally accessible house (possibly from his  own plans). Until then, he's busy with his job, schoolwork, caring for his  cacti and building car models, a hobby he enjoyed before his accident. He's  confident that the future holds promise. "I'm making five times more being  employed than being on Social Security disability and if that ain't a  motivation, you have to tell me what is!" he challenged. "Just because I have  a disability isn't stopping me from going after my dream." He credits RSC  with being "a real gift to me and part of my success in being employed."

The man whose personal motto is "I want to make a difference rather than be   looked upon as different" once wrote the following as part of an essay for   his CAD scholarship:  "...I have learned not only to pick myself up where I have fallen, but to get  up and "STAND TALL" and show the public that a severely disabled person can  lead a purposeful and productive life... The bottom line is not whether  you're able or disabled, the bottom line is ATTITUDE. With the right  attitude, you can conquer and achieve any goal you set forth..." 

Article Reprinted from: Snavely, Valerie. "Truskot's career lifts off at NASA: Engineering Technician aids jet engine research," RSC NewsNet, Jan./Feb. 1998, Vol. 14, No. 1, p.1 - 3.

Connect with Floyd at: Floyd.J.Truskot@grc.nasa.gov

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