NANTICOKE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Students at a northeastern Pennsylvania college are getting a special lesson about overcoming obstacles. It’s not in the course work they’re studying but a classmate who is proof that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The student from Plains Township was born with serious physical limitations. But as Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Hiller explains, she is not letting that stop her from pursuing a degree toward her career dream.
“Put those cues in so they have an idea of where it is,” said Luzerne County Community College Professor and Communication Arts Department Chairman Tom McHugh.
In the middle of the Communications 101 class he teaches is a student who’s conquered much more than freshman fear of being on camera. Despite being restricted to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, 19-year-old Lizzie Breznay is pursuing a degree in audio video communications. Since she was just a year and a half, her home health aide Robin Jones has been by her side to see her through her school years including graduating near the top of her high school class.
Now, in her first semester college freshman year, Lizzie landed a co-hosting role in her class’s first major tv production project a Halloween Bash broadcast. Because Lizzie is considered non-verbal, she uses assistive technology called Tobii. It relies on eye-tracking. Lizzie uses her eyes to complete words and sentences which the device sounds out. She scripted a line for her latest class project which is a news parody.
“Luzerne County Community College and the weather is sunny. I don’t know why you needed me to come out here to tell you that. You could have just come to the window and looked up at the sky,” as Lizzie laughed and exclaimed “Yeah.”
Even without the Tobii device, Lizzie manages to stay involved in class. She makes a clicking sound with her tongue to indicate she agrees with something and sticks out her tongue for just the opposite. And what Lizzie lacks in mobility, she makes up for with determination.
Her classmate, Justin Gombita from Honesdale said “She’s very smart, resourceful. Yeah. It’s like a really welcome surprise.”
Lizzie has also bonded with classmate Lydia Ameen of Pittston Township who said, “It’s just amazing. The things that she does and I love seeing her come in here. She has such a drive. It’s crazy. But it really does open a lot of eyes for people who don’t always see someone like going out of their way to do so.” When asked if it inspires her, Ms. Ameen said, “Definitely. It definitely does.”
In the middle of the production rehearsal, Mr. McHugh told the class, “The content needs to flow from one thing to the other. I think you have that here.” He found out early that Lizzie is a fast learner.
“We don’t really focus on what she can’t do because she can do so many things so well.” He believes there’s a place for Lizzie in the ever-evolving field of broadcasting. “Coming up with the ideas is really the most important part of creating any content and with Lizzie, there is no limit to her creativity,” said Mr. McHugh.
Whether she’s in front of the camera or behind it, Lizzie is proving something to others as much as herself. Ms. Jones said of the college experience, “It’s not a waste of time. No. She gets to express her creativity. She tells me how she wants things.”
When asked what she hopes to do with the degree she plans to earn, Lizzie answered with the Tobii device. “I would be happy to land a job in broadcasting either on the air or behind the scenes at any local or national news station. I plan to do great things with my life.” Some would say she already has.
Lizzie has already had a taste of professional broadcasting. She interned last summer at WVIA-TV and helped co-host PA Live! on WBRE-TV after winning a contest.