"Renaissance Man" in Pursuit of
By Karen Putz
Imagine a job that pays you to go hike in the woods among the trees and streams. Mike McConnell has that very job. He is stationed in Lincoln National Forest as a Forest Hydrologist in Alamogordo , New Mexico . He covers 1.1 million acres of forest, ensuring that Federal and State water laws are followed.
With a profound hearing loss in his left ear and a moderate-severe hearing loss in his right, Mike is still able to use the phone and field radios with ease. He is the only Gallaudet alumni certified to fight forest fires. He maintains a blog on fire fighting at: http://smokymike.blogspot.com.
Born in Portland , Oregon , Mike was diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of one and a half. He was part of the "rubella generation" in the late 1960's. Mike was given a body aid to wear with one ear bud mistakenly amplifying the weaker ear. This went unnoticed for several months, until the next visit to the audiologist where it was switched to the other ear.
Mike began his schooling in an oral program, and then attended his home district school in the fourth grade. "I had lots of friends growing up," says Mike. "Most were neighborhood friends or friends from school. I had a few deaf and hard of hearing friends, too."
Mike has fond memories of playing baseball in the street, hiking with his family, summer camps and trips to his grandparent's farm just outside of Dufur , Oregon . "There," Mike remembers, "you can see Mt. Hood , Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams from the farm."
After graduating from high school, Mike explored a variety of colleges. "After high school I went to Valdosta State College (now Valdosta University ) in southern Georgia for a year," recalls Mike. "I wasn't ready for college. I went to Gwinnett Tech for two years while I bumped around and worked, trying to figure out which college to go to and get back in. I decided on Gallaudet University to give it a whirl. I wanted to experience what it is like to be on a campus full of deaf and hard of hearing students."
Mike entered Gallaudet just a few months before the "Deaf President Now" protest. "It was an interesting slice of history to witness," he says. Mike graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics, having completed additional coursework at George Washington University . He has a master's degree in Geology from the University of Idaho .
Mike enjoys a variety of sports, including a form of Japanese martial arts called Aikido. He competes in Strongman competitions, flipping tires that weigh 800 pounds and pulling trucks weighing over 12,000 pounds. Mike has a goal of being able to flip a tire weighing 1000 pounds.
This strong, muscular guy has a softer side; playing ragtime music on the piano, including pieces by Jelly Roll Morton. Mike began playing the piano at the age of seven. In middle school he played the drums and xylophone. He played the drum in the marching band during his freshman year. "It was an enjoyable time since my band competed against others in marching band competitions throughout the southeast playing in South Carolina , Georgia and Florida ," he relates. His current musical ambition is to raise money through his blog (www.kokonutpundits.blogspot.com) to purchase a baby grand piano. Mike also has the goal of performing in the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival (http://www.scottjoplin.org/) in the very near future.
Mike met his wife Keri at Gallaudet. They quickly discovered something in common: they attended the same elementary school together as kids. They are now the parents of three daughters. While Mike's three daughters all have hearing in the normal range, Mike still has something to say about raising deaf and hard of hearing children: "Well, the best thing is to pay more attention to their deaf/hh child. Each child is different. Each hearing loss is different. As long as parents are informed about hearing loss and education, they can make their own informed decision on how to proceed with dealing with their child whether it's signing or oral. Or both."
"There is no one perfect communication method," he continues. "One has to find their child's strength and weaknesses when it comes to communication. And take advantage of that."