Published July 6, 2015
A life-changing injury took the ability to walk from an Ohio State University football player, but it also gave him a new perspective on life, leading him to pursue a master’s degree at UB and establish a unique foundation.
Tyson Gentry was a walk-on punter and receiver at Ohio State. At a team scrimmage during April of his sophomore year, Gentry took a hit during a routine play and landed awkwardly on his head, breaking his C4 vertebra and paralyzing him from the neck down.
Gentry’s life changed with that one hit, but he refused to let a devastating and unexpected injury stop him from achieving his goals. He adapted to an instant lifestyle change, persevered in school and graduated from OSU with a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing science.
“I finished one of my courses while I was still doing in-patient therapy,” Gentry says. “I started school back up in the fall and took the minimum requirements to meet full-time status. I definitely had to make some adjustments as far as how I would take notes and tests, and write papers, but I got through it. I graduated in the fall of 2009, five years after starting college.”
Since then, Gentry has become one of the success stories of the thriving online educational community in UB’s Graduate School of Education (GSE).
GSE’s online programs allow students to complete their education in a top-ranked program — UB’s is ranked 23rd in the nation by U.S. News and World Report — even from thousands of miles away.
“Online graduate education offers individuals who are busy with current employment or families — or do not live near a college or university — the opportunity to return to school,” says Louise Lalli, online programs manager. “Our faculty program director, Dr. David Burganowski, made an early commitment to online education and student outreach, which broadens our student base and increases the worldviews present in our classrooms.”
The programs focus on students and helping them to succeed.
“All of GSE’s online programs are student-centered and supported,” Lalli explains. “Understanding the importance of academic and social engagement creates a rich learning environment in our online classes. As a result of our efforts, our students succeed both in and out of the classroom.”
For Gentry, who enrolled in GSE’s online graduate program in rehabilitation counseling in 2011 while living in St. Petersburg, Florida, the program offered a chance to complete a master’s degree without worrying about transportation to and from school.
“I started the UB program before I started driving again since my injury, so relying on my wife for transportation would have inconvenienced both of us,” says Gentry. “I think online schooling is a great solution for people who can't easily leave their homes.”
He agrees the online programs are truly focused on student success, noting his advisers and teachers were extremely supportive throughout the program.
“They were definitely a pleasure to work with and I truly learned a lot,” he says. “Louise was a huge help in answering different questions — unrelated to classwork — throughout the program. That all makes a big difference, especially when you are unable to meet face-to-face with your teachers and advisers.”
The Rehabilitation Counseling Program, one of the first GSE programs offered online, is a part-time program that ranks in the top 10 in the nation.
Rehabilitation counselors work with people affected by physical, mental, social or emotional disabilities. Counselors often focus on veterans, the elderly and students, helping them overcome obstacles and resolve issues, whether they be personal, family or even employment.
Gentry graduated from the program in May 2014. Today, he works full time for New Perspective Foundation, an organization he and his wife, Megan, whom he met his senior year at OSU, started through their shared passion for helping others.
“The idea for our foundation came from when I was in the hospital and people sent me get well cards,” Gentry says. “Some of them included gas cards because they heard about my parents driving back and forth from my hometown and they wanted to help alleviate the cost of travel. That always stuck with me because a lot of people don’t realize how quickly extra expenses add up, especially when you’re already dealing with hospital bills.”
The foundation provides financial assistance and motivational support to those affected by spinal cord injuries in Ohio and Florida.
The foundation’s pilot program, Closing the Distance, alleviates the long-term costs of travel and lodging for those visiting their loved ones by providing gas cards and funds for hotel stays and airfare.
“In the last few months, we have been able to help about 10 families through our Closing the Distance program,” says Gentry. While he and his wife are trying to stretch funding, continued donations are needed.
Gentry points out that New Perspective Foundation is a one-of-a-kind organization.
“There are very few services that offer financial assistance with the travel accommodations for family and friends,” he says. “Most of the offered resources come into play once the person has been discharged from the hospital.”
Although he’s not currently working as a counselor, Gentry taps into his degree daily while working for the foundation.
“Often times I am talking with applicants about life after spinal cord injuries, both for the injured individual and for their loved ones,” he says. “Counseling is not officially part of what we do with the organization, but I definitely do quite a bit of it.”
As New Perspective grows, the Gentrys envision assisting those with disabilities other than spinal cord injuries, as well as expanding their work to individuals living in other states.
Gentry travels extensively as a motivational speaker, focusing his talks on overcoming obstacles and having a positive perspective on life. Megan Gentry has a passion for the American Sign Language, and they hope to reach the deaf community through the foundation as well.
“I am extremely thankful and blessed that a lot of positive things have come from a terrible incident,” Gentry says. “Overall, that has been my main focus — no matter how bad the situation, it could always be worse. There are people out there who are suffering more than I am. This is where I came up with the name, New Perspective.”
Donations to New Perspective Foundation can be made online.