Most people couldn’t imagine losing their sight and starting business school in the same year. But soon after learning to read Braille and how to walk with a cane, Brian Harrington ’15S (MBA) was on a remarkable path to the Simon MBA.
In 2002, Harrington started as the director of information technology (IT) at the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing. Since then, he has witnessed and even been at the helm of some of the school’s considerable growth. “When I first took this job, I was managing two people and doing a lot of hands-on tech stuff,” he says. “Very quickly the School of Nursing did a lot of great things and expanded its work and services, and the IT team expanded with it. Now we have 16 people on our team, including two managers.”
Watch Brian's video!
It was that growth in job responsibilities that first had Harrington considering business school. “I remember thinking, ‘There are a lot of possibilities here. I’m not doing the same things I was,’ ” he says. “I was a manager and director, but I wanted to have the skills to do a better job. I wanted to bring more to the party.”
But life wasn’t always a party when Harrington, who was born with microphthalmia, a condition that causes the eye to be underdeveloped, began to lose his vision. “I couldn’t see well, but I saw well enough,” he says. “I could see my computer screen and I rode my bike everywhere like it was my car. But right around the time I got my job at the School of Nursing, glaucoma was detected. I lost one of my eyes in 2008. They did surgery on the other eye to try to keep it from failing. It looked like the surgery was going to work, but in 2012, it failed. By May, I didn’t see anything anymore.”
It was a difficult spring for Harrington, but that fall, he was registered to take his first two classes at Simon. “I didn’t really allow myself much time to think about adjusting,” he says. “I knew things were going bad in the fall of 2011, but I hadn’t lost my vision yet. That’s when I set up to get services from the Association for the Blind. I also started mobility training and learned how to get around with a cane.” Harrington might not have known it then, but it was all preparation for fulfilling a lifelong goal.
“My plan since high school was to get a master’s degree,” he says. “Somehow that’s always been in my brain. I really wanted it, and after I talked to a couple of my buddies here at the School of Nursing and found out they were into trying business school too, I decided to go for it. We all got into Simon and just jumped into the 2012 fall classes.” The circumstances of his decision were not lost on Harrington, but he knew he had support. “I have an amazing wife and a beautiful little girl who’s nine now,” he says. “She must have been six when I went back to school. But there I was, trying to do all of it at the same time. One night I’m in class at Simon and the next I’m in an evening class to learn Braille. It was a little nuts.”
Harrington started Simon as a part-time, nonmatriculated student, first taking economics and finance classes. “I was used to doing things visually,” he says. “So there I was getting numbers that I needed to plug into complex economic formulas to find answers. I remember trying to figure out how I would have once written it on paper, but that wasn’t an option anymore. Thankfully, there’s speech software for Excel that reads everything the cursor is on—so every time I move the cursor with the arrows on the keyboard, it reads me what’s in the spreadsheet.”
Harrington says he loved his Simon experience, and credits both technology and the support he got at the School for much of his success. “Nobody wants to go blind, but if you do, this is the time to do it,” he says. “I can’t imagine how people did it even 20 years ago. Now, there’s a product called VoiceStream that reads PDFs for you, and these days publishers offer digital books that can be used with a voice reader.” When it came to getting his hands on those digital books, Harrington says Simon staff stepped up to help. “Anna Rogers [associate director of Simon’s part-time programs] was my advisor and she was amazing,” he notes. “No one really gave me a break, but there were people like Anna who really helped.” Along with arranging meetings with professors, Harrington says Rogers would also scan PDF files so they could be used with a reader.
“Brian has a great sense of humor and always puts people at ease,” says Rogers. “In our meetings with his professors, he stressed that they should treat him just like any other student. With a little consideration for someone who can’t see the spreadsheet, and accesses information in different ways, Brian was able to participate and learn in every class.”
Harrington graduated in 2015, possibly making him the first blind person to complete the Simon MBA program. Like many Simon alums, he was looking to enhance his career with advanced business skills. “I’m not necessarily looking to change careers,” he says, “but I wanted to broaden my horizons. Being able to take my professional experience and combine it with an MBA education that includes leadership development, marketing strategy, and business law makes me a better candidate for a lot of possibilities.”
Perhaps even more valuable than what the Simon MBA can mean for his career is what graduating from the program did for Harrington’s self-esteem. “Simon helped me grow as a person and have a lot more confidence,” he says. “Now I know I can walk into a room and say, ‘Yeah, maybe I can’t see, but I can still get this done.’ ”