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Ambition and altruism lead to scholarship for student with disabilities

"I'd like to reward people who go the extra step," says Bryan Lutgen, the 29-year-old management information systems major who received the Don McGonigle Memorial Scholarship this spring. This goal made him a prime candidate for the scholarship.

The scholarship, distinctive in targeting University of Montana students with disabilities, was established in honor of Don McGonigle, who died of multiple sclerosis at age 46. Terry Payne & Co. Inc. and United States Fidelity and Guaranty Co., where McGonigle and his friend Terry Payne worked together, founded the scholarship.

Scholarship winners are chosen from a pool of applicants who attend the UM School of Business Administration. The scholarship is administered through the UM Foundation, but the award decision lies with a committee consisting of Mary McCourt, McGonigle's sister; Chris McGonigle, his widow; and Larry Gianchetta, dean of the School of Business Administration.

Chris McGonigle and McCourt find the interview experience highly rewarding. "I can almost picture Don sitting in there with us," says McCourt.

The ideal winner has a legal disability and shows many of the characteristics that made Don McGonigle a remarkable business person - characteristics like cheer, optimism, courage, determination, modesty, kindness and high moral standards.

McCourt especially favors applicants with "a broad sense of the world," as evidenced by volunteer work and concern with social justice, as well as those who remind her of Don McGonigle's "kind, family-oriented, generous and hard-working" children.

Lutgen, Chris McGonigle says, "embodies the spirit of our scholarship with his physical challenges and attitude, so positive, so creative, so smart." 

"I'm proud to be a part of the scholarship," says Lutgen, whose foot issues put him in a wheelchair in early adulthood and now make him unable to stand for more than a minute at a time. "It gives people like me, who are at a disadvantage, an opportunity to succeed," he says.

Mika Watanabe, coordinator of Disability Services for Students at UM, agrees wholeheartedly. Lutgen is one of 1,200 students served by Watanabe's department.  The department assists students with visible disabilities like Lutgen as well as students with invisible disabilities, such as learning and psychiatric disabilities. Watanabe says Lutgen is a "very hardworking person" with "strong persistence."  

Change has been a constant in Lutgen's life since before his disability struck, thus his motto: "Take one day at a time." Lutgen was born in Billings, Mont., and then traveled around Texas. At the age of 10, he made permanent roots in the Flathead Valley. Lutgen has had a very hard life. He says, “I know the hardest of the hard life and – well, not the best of the good life, but a glimpse of the good life to come." 

By going back to school, he hopes to expand his options beyond what he has already achieved. He received his A+ certification when working for Microsoft back in 2002 and knew that computers were always going to be a part of his life. Before attending the University of Montana, Lutgen received his associate’s degree from Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. He chose UM because he wants to stay close to his wife and three children in Kalispell.

Lutgen, who expects to graduate in 2014, is pursuing a bachelor's degree in management information systems because much of his education and work experience involves information technology. He wants to use that experience to be a manager in an information technology-based business back in Kalispell or possibly start working for Google or Microsoft.

In Lutgen's spare time, he creates software and applications for those in need. He hopes to expand his projects into a non-profit business in the future. He has also created a comedy YouTube channel called Wheel Bound Productions in which he banters with a supposed alternate personality, answering viewers' questions. His goal with this channel is "giving people a smile every day."