The Catholic University of America

Dec. 5, 2007

U.S. Department of Defense Honors CUA Graduate Student

Electrical Engineer Receives Outstanding Employee with Disabilities Award

Rocco Arizzi with his technical director Randy Reeves (left) and base commander Capt. Mark W. Thomas

Rocco Arizzi has been overcoming hurdles since the age of 3, when he was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. On Dec. 4, Arizzi was recognized for his many accomplishments in the face of adversity: The Catholic University graduate student and Naval Surface Warfare Center employee received the Department of Defense Outstanding Employee with a Disability Award for 2007 - the only naval employee worldwide to receive that honor.

Arizzi, who is wheelchair bound and has only limited use of his hands, has been balancing his doctoral research with a full-time job with the center in Washington, D.C., for the last four years as he works toward a doctorate in electrical engineering.

"There are a lot of ways that people with disabilities can participate in our national defense and they may not realize it," Arizzi says. "I hope something like this will, in the future, put into the minds of children with disabilities that they can make a positive impact on their country - without necessarily being a soldier."

Arizzi has been raising awareness about spinal muscular atrophy - and the potential for those afflicted to lead full and active lives - since he was selected as the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Goodwill Ambassador for New Jersey at age 4. He became the National Goodwill Ambassador soon after.

At age 16, Arizzi Rocco was one of 200 Texas high school students chosen to attend the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a two-year early entry college program, at the University of North Texas. He received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Texas in San Antonio. And while enrolled in his master's degree studies at Florida Atlantic University, Arizzi worked as an adjunct algebra instructor and tutor at a local community college.

"Rocco's achievement is truly exceptional and well deserved," said Mark Mirotznik, associate professor of electrical engineering and Arizzi's doctoral adviser. "CUA's Department of Electrical Engineering is very fortunate to have a graduate student like him. He is a very gifted engineer, conducting research on how naval ship designers can learn from nature when designing new electronic sensing systems. Above all, however, he is simply a great person who inspires everyone around him."