Commencement 2024: Visually Impaired Children Inspired Mom to Go Back to School
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Commencement 2024: Visually Impaired Children Inspired Mom to Go Back to School

Jeannine Penzone and family

Jeannine Penzone ‘24O&M is a single mom with three children, two of whom have retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, inherited eye disease that causes severe vision impairment. 

Dealing with that as the children were growing up, Penzone found help was more challenging than she anticipated. She had to dig around to find what she needed, especially after her children graduated from high school.

That got Penzone to thinking. Maybe she could go back to school and eventually offer some of that hard-to-find help for those with visual impairments. And, that’s exactly what she did. 

Jeannine Penzone in classThe culmination of that effort is she will graduate with a Master of Science in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) and a certificate in Vision Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) at Salus University’s 128th commencement on May 23, 2024, at the Kimmel Cultural Center in Philadelphia. 

“I was full of self-doubt and I wasn’t sure I could do it,” said Penzone, who graduated in 1995 with a degree in health administration from Marywood University in Dunmore, Pennsylvania. “I thought I might be too old to go back to school. How do I do this?”

In 2019, Penzone’s daughter Kayla, who is visually impaired and works in the human resources department of AAA Auto Club as an employee relations attendance specialist, was invited to speak at Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Michigan, an organization that welcomes clients who are legally blind, at least 16-years- old, who want to travel independently either with a White Cane (Orientation and Mobility Training) or Guide Dog (Guide Dog Training). 

Penzone was invited to go along as her daughter’s guest, and while there, toured the group’s facility and talked with a lot of people involved in the organization. 

“That’s when I decided that I could do this, and I really started looking seriously into schools. And, the Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) department at Salus met all of my needs,” said Penzone.

While taking some introductory O&M classes at Salus, Penzone was exposed to VRT, which at the time she knew nothing about. Not only was she interested in pursuing a master’s in O&M, but she was also intrigued by VRT and wanted to expand into that area as well. 

Jeannine Penzone headshot“All the classes are spot-on. They teach you just about everything,” said Penzone. “In my cohort, there were seven students, so we were broken up into two students and an instructor or three students and an instructor. You’re experiencing it, and you’re watching your classmates do this if you have questions, the instructors are right there to answer.”

Penzone did her fieldwork at The Eye Institute (TEI), the clinical training facility for the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, where she found an entire team of educators teachers available to answer questions and help in any way they could. She also did an internship at Leader Dogs, since she was already familiar with that organization. 

Penzone has accepted a COMS position at The Iris Network in Portland, Maine, but is looking forward to once again walking across the stage to accept her diploma. Her son, Zachary Penzone, who is also visually impaired, graduates from law school this week. Penzone’s other daughter, Genna McDonough, is a behavioral therapist who works with children with autism and special needs. 

“I’m excited for commencement. I would love to be able to dually do something in O&M and VRT but it was knowing my kids were settled in life that allowed me the opportunity to go back to school,” said Penzone. 

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