2022 Council Scholarship recipient Nathan Schmitt says his first semester at Milwaukee Area Technical College was “actually pretty easy.” The 2022 Franklin High School graduate locked in a 3.9 grade point average. When Nathan says things were “pretty easy,” he’s not being immodest. He’s been interested in and learning about electronics and information technology since 3rd grade. It’s no wonder he found his first round of college offerings in his chosen major to be a breeze.
For all the first semester success, Nathan and his mother Jen are open about the challenges Nathan has encountered along the way. He is blind and has autism. He also has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. That dichotomy describes Nathan’s approach to life: He may face more barriers than some people, but he’s gotten good at kicking them down.
By the time Nathan arrived at MATC he had already built an impressive resume. Software development and coding classes since middle school prepared him for leadership on tech teams at Franklin High. His robotics competition team went to the World Finals in Texas. He’s an ongoing member of Islands of Brilliance, an art, creativity and technology program for students with autism. Nathan’s Islands of Brilliance was tasked with developing a new lighting scheme for Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge.
“Before they ended up putting lights on it the people doing the Hoan project needed a proof of concept,” Nathan explains. “They asked the brilliant kids in our project to build a 3-D and 2-D virtual reality simulation of the lighting patterns.” Their laser-measured computer models and animations included everything right down to trash can placements. The team was asked to present their project to, among others, the Milwaukee City Council and the Mayor.
Jen Schmitt says the social skills that came with the experience have been as big a part of Nathan’s recent success as the technical training.
But for all Nathan’s technical prowess, there are more basic skills that are only now coming within his reach. “The first time I used a vending machine was a week ago,” Nathan says. It’s a skill he picked up during a monthly gathering with what’s called The Breakfast Club, where a group of young adults with autism meet for breakfast, talk about life, and learn strategies for everything from public transportation to, well, vending machines.
Through it all, Nathan is dedicated to a professional future in the high-tech sector. “When it comes to technology, I never say I cannot do something,” Nathan says. When asked where his confidence comes from, he chuckles. “Google!” he says. “In technology, everything is documented. It’s all out there. Everything is there for the searching.”
The Council Scholarship, Nathan says, allows him to concentrate on school without the pressure to bring money in. “We just feel really blessed to have received the scholarship,” Jen says.
Nathan will carry 12 credits during the coming spring semester. “We’ll see how that goes,” he says, confidence on full display.
Application materials for 2023 Council Scholarships will be available in February. Watch our social media, next month’s issue of On Sight, and the Scholarships page of our website for more information.