Blind student completes DACC automotive degree
Alderson overcomes challenges with determination
By Jaylene McIntosh Las Cruces Bulletin
The words “drive” and “vision” are commonly used this time of year to describe recent graduates: “That young man has a quite the vision for his future,” or “She has the drive to succeed.” In literal terms, one is not usually allowed to drive without his or her vision, but in the case of 47-year-old Clifford Alderson, professional drive is all the vision he needs.
Alderson was the first blind student to earn an Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology from Doña Ana Community College when he walked across the stage of the Pam Am Center Thursday, May 9.
A native New Mexican, Alderson said he started losing his vision at the age of 22, and was legally blind by 23.
“I was working for the GM dealership in Albuquerque, in the parts department, and I also did basic tune-ups.”
He said that when his eyesight started to deteriorate, he knew he needed to change his life.
“I had a love of cars and wanted to continue on that path,” he said.
Through the assistance of the Lion’s Club in Albuquerque, Alderson connected with the New Mexico Commission for the Blind (NMCFB) in Alamogordo, where he received training in independent living skills such as cane travel, cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, grocery shopping, plumbing, woodworking, identifying money and multitasking.
With these new skill sets and a renewed sense of independence, Alderson pursued a variety of career paths. He volunteered as a baby cuddler at University Hospital in Albuquerque and repaired child car seats. He also trained to become a chaplin.
“But, I couldn’t get automotive out of my blood,” said Alderson, “It was my passion.”
He continued to work on vehicles of friends and family members and received encouragement along the way. He said he had great encouragement to pursue his preferred career.
“My good friend told me not to give up on your dreams,” Alderson recalled. “He told me, ‘Don’t give up on what you like to do. Don’t give up on you. I know you can do it.’” At age 40, Alderson returned to the NMCFB for additional guidance. His first NMCFB counselor asked him to pinpoint his interests, goals and dreams for his future.
“I finally voiced my passion,” Alderson said, “I want to work on automobiles!”
His counselor helped him identify a career goal in automotive technology, and Alderson found training at the NASCAR Technical Institute in North Carolina. He moved there at age 42 and also volunteered at the Memory Lane Motorsports and Historical Automotive Museum.
“I was immersed in car history, and I loved my experience,” Alderson said. Unfortunately, his dream came to a halt less than a year into his training when the NASCAR Technology Institute had to close its doors. “It had some problems and shut down,” Alderson said.
With help once again from his NMCFB counselor, he applied to automotive schools around New Mexico, and was accepted into DACC’s Automotive Department at age 43.
“When I first met Cliff, I wasn’t sure if he was up for the task,” said Jose Retana, assistant professor in DACC’s Technical & Industrial Studies Division, automotive department. “But, then I spent time with him and learned he was a go-getter and great problem solver. He proved to all of us that vision isn’t just optics. Cliff … has that drive and willingness to learn and succeed.”
Alderson is proud of his accomplishments, noting his grade point average is a 3.8, and said his next journey will be entering the work force as an auto mechanic.
“I would tell anyone, disabled or not, to finish their own race. Follow their passion, don’t give up, and surround yourself with amazing people,” Alderson said.
Jaylene McIntosh is the director of development at Doña Ana Community College. DACC Corner appears every other week in the Las Cruces Bulletin. For more information about supporting DACC students and programs, contact McIntosh at 528-7070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about DACC and its student offerings, visit www.dacc.nmsu.edu or call 527-7500.