Overcoming a disability brought on by a spinal cord injury in 2008 has been a significant achievement for UK College of Education student Duke Pettit II. As a result of his hard work and success in the Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling program in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling (EDSRC), Pettit recently was one of two UK students given the annual Carol S. Adelstein Outstanding Student Award.
“I have attempted to approach my academic career as I did my military career; adapt, persevere, and overcome,” Pettit said. “I am honored and humbled that my professors have found me worthy of this honor and I strive every day to improve myself in order to live up to their expectations. The University of Kentucky has offered me opportunities of self-discovery I could not have imagined just six years ago and my professors have helped to cultivate a love for learning and knowledge.”
Pettit’s injury, which occurred while serving in the military, left him without the use of his arms and legs, and after his honorable discharge from service, he was unsure what to do.
“I reentered college sixteen months after the accident and graduated two and a half years after that,” Pettit said. “After graduation I was in the process of discovering how I was going to integrate my past ‘able-bodied’ life and experiences into my new life as a quadriplegic.”
Pettit, a Princeton, Ky., native who moved to Tennessee as a child, credits Dr. Sonja Feist-Price with helping him decide to pursue rehabilitation counseling as a career. When they met, Feist-Price encouraged him to consider a career in rehabilitation counseling. Pettit said that even though his undergraduate degree was in Political Science, the more he learned about rehabilitation counseling the more convinced he was that it was the right choice for him.
“She was very persuasive and encouraged me to learn more about the Rehabilitation Counseling program,” Pettit said. “I have appreciated her guidance and teaching since the first day we met. I would like to work with persons who have sustained traumatic spinal cord injuries. During my personal rehabilitation I encountered only one or two professionals that had shared my experiences. As a rehabilitation counselor I would want to help by providing support, information and shared experiences with my clients so that they may be better prepared to pursue an active and productive lifestyle after their rehabilitation.”
It was Feist-Price and her fellow Rehabilitation Counseling faculty who nominated Pettit for the Adelstein Award. Assistant Professor Dr. Allison Fleming penned the nomination letter on behalf of Feist-Price and faculty members Drs. Malachy Bishop, Ralph Crystal, Debra Harley and Jackie Rogers.
“As a person with a disability, Duke is passionate and committed to being a rehabilitation counselor because he has a first hand understanding of the value of having a skilled assistance when life has taken an unexpected turn,” Fleming wrote. “Duke has said that disability is not something that he thought of much prior to his accident, but he considers his personal success as a reflection on not just his own efforts, but also those who helped him during his recovery.”
Named for the wife of retired UK English professor Michael Adelstein and given by the UK Disability Resource Center, the Adelstein Award is presented annually to the student with a disability who best serves as an inspiration to the university community. Nominees for the Adelstein Award are evaluated through the excellence they demonstrate in academic achievement, leadership, extracurricular activities, and social or personal qualities.