When Duchenne muscular dystrophy robbed Thomas Roy of the ability to walk, it sharpened his desire to succeed.

Making use of online courses and new technology, the 22-year-old Rutgers student is achieving academic success as he works toward a bachelor’s degree in the School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR).

“I believe that my lack of physical strength has motivated me to keep my mind sharp,” Roy said. “It is important for me to remain challenged.”

Sign Up for E-News

Diagnosed with the muscle-deteriorating disease as toddler, Roy was able to walk for the first nine years of his life. When his leg muscles became too weak to support his body, he transitioned to a motorized wheelchair. Though he cannot move or extend his arms, Roy uses his hand to operate the chair’s joystick control.

Despite such physical challenges, Roy’s interest in learning has never wavered.

After graduating from Roxbury High School in 2012, he attended County College of Morris for two years and majored in Liberal Arts. He dreamed of attending his sister’s alma mater, Rutgers, but commuting or living on campus seemed too daunting.

Then, Roy discovered he could transfer his credits and earn a bachelor’s degree online through SMLR. He sees the B.S. in Labor and Employment Relations as a gateway to his eventual goal of studying discrimination law.

“Earning a degree would have been impossible for me ten years ago,” said Roy, who now lives in Hackettstown. “I feel fortunate that Rutgers has offered me the opportunity to learn at my own pace and the ability to work toward attaining a degree.”

Roy completed two courses, Principles of Leadership and The Ethical Leader, over the summer. This fall, he is taking History of Labor and Work in the U.S. and Introduction to Human Resource Management.

When his voice is strong, Roy completes assignments using voice-to-text software. On days when his vocal cords cannot project at the right volume, he dictates softly to an aide who then types his words.

Either way, Roy’s work stands out.

“Thomas is a terrific online contributor who served as a leader in student groups,” said SMLR Professor Paula Voos, who oversees undergraduate programs in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations. “He helped move the discussion along, drawing both from assigned course material and independent reading on the web.”

Roy said he has enjoyed learning about the history of employee relations, union and non-union concerns, and the evolution of the workplace. He took special interest in the research of SMLR Distinguished Professor Doug Kruse and Professor Lisa Schur, who are experts in the employment and political participation of people with disabilities.

On course to complete his degree in January 2018, Roy is hoping to join his fellow graduates at High Point Solutions Stadium the following May. “It would mean a great deal to me to attend the commencement ceremony in-person, and that is my plan,” Roy said.

After that? Law school.

“Thomas continues to amaze me with his positive attitude and strong desire to succeed,” said his mother, Denise Roy. “He refuses to allow the physical challenges that he faces each day to deter him.”