“The most challenging aspect to losing my vision is all of the extra preparation and creativity that has to go into so many things,” said Sam Tocco, a student co-op with Regional Relations. “It can’t be overstated how much you constantly have to prove yourself in so many different ways, not the least of which: doing jobs effectively.”

Sam didn’t have a difficult time proving himself in a Corporate Responsibility course at Macomb Community College, taught by Michael Chriss, a professor at the college, and director of Regional Relations at DTE.

“Sam demonstrated a strong ability to research and comprehend very complex issues, and was fully prepared for each session,” Michael said. “His focus, analytics, and ability to research information and communicate his findings were his strengths and remain his strongest asset in his new role.”

Sam shared how Michael used real-life examples to help illustrate his points in class. One instance particularly stood out: Michael told a story about an eager student proactively pursuing an internship opportunity at DTE.

The eager student, Leif Clark, eventually went on to work for Michael at DTE and worked his way up to becoming Associate Regional Manager for Regional Relations.

“That story about my supervisor Leif is what inspired me to ask Mike for some time before class one day to interview with him,” Sam said. “Although the position he had in mind for me didn’t end up coming to fruition, the fact that someone as impressive as him wanted me for a great project like this helped me gain enough confidence to continue going after positions like that.”

Sam said Michael instinctively understood that he needed nothing more than reasonable accommodation to be successful in his class. He stayed in touch with him because he respected him and felt he would enjoy working for him.

When the opportunity came up for an internship at DTE, Sam jumped at it. And who is one of his direct supervisors? Leif Clark.

“To my knowledge, Sam is the first visually impaired Student Co-op at DTE… Our entire HR organization embraced the idea when I proposed it, and collectively they worked with my team to make the logistics workable,” Michael said. “But let me be clear: we did not hire Sam because of his disability. We hired him because he demonstrated the qualities that we look for in our employees.”

Sam said he has learned that DTE is an organization filled with people who lift each other up and he’s proud to be a part of it.

“What I, and hopefully others, have learned over the course of the pandemic, is that virtual workspaces help level the playing field for people who are challenged with disabilities,” Michael shared. “The physical accommodations that often stood in the way of successfully employing those with physical impairments, are dramatically lessened in a remote virtual environment.”