Brennan Bell refuses to let a lifelong disability interfere with his dream of becoming an engineer.
The success story of the Mississippi State University mechanical engineering student is fitting as National Disability Employment Month was celebrated in October. The 75th annual event reminds American employers of the importance of inclusive hiring practices and pays tribute to the USA’s workers with disabilities. Observances also coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On track to graduate at Mississippi State on November 25 at the Humphrey Coliseum, Brennan Bell thrived as he worked four MSU co-op rotations at the Toyota plant in Blue Springs. He engaged with robots making the body of Toyota vehicles. As 2020 nears an end, the Gulfport native is eager to join the workforce and contribute to the world.
A job offer from Toyota recently came his way, and Brennan will join the workforce as a body welding engineer. He is likely to begin working in early 2021 at its plant in San Antonio, Texas.
Brennan, 23, raves about his hands-on Toyota experience at the innovative plant near Tupelo. “What I really enjoyed about my work in my first term at Toyota was being given the responsibility of an engineer and to take on the tasks that come with the position. I was treated not like an intern, but like an engineer on the team.’’
Born in 1997 with a sunken or caved-in chest wall, Brennan Bell endured the congenital disease of pectus excavatum. It is a chest wall deformity in which several ribs and the sternum grow abnormally.
The MSU senior puts it simply as having a cereal bowl placed where his sternum should be. As a third and fourth grader playing soccer, he quickly became short of breath and experienced chest pains. He couldn’t lift heavy items. Still, he pressed on to his teenage years and worked a part-time job at Wendy’s at age 16.
Fast forward to January 2016 when Brennan received his first corrective surgery and stayed one week in a Virginia hospital. One of the amazing aspects of the surgery was having a curved steel bar inserted in his chest. It was done to push up his entire chest wall until it was in a normal position. The steel bar was removed a few years later.
A 2015 graduate of West Harrison High in Gulfport, Brennan stayed active in Key Club, the National Honor Society and Junior Civitan. He pursued his studies at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston. Despite pain management issues, Bell graduated from the two-year school in the Spring of 2017. He struggled with his studies at times and medical issues, but he refused to quit when setbacks arose. Brennan transferred to Mississippi State in Fall 2017.
The Gulf Coast resident thanks the many people helping him achieve big things as a future engineer – including his counselor with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services’ Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.
His former MDRS counselor Renee Skalij – now the deputy district manager for the MDRS Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in Gulfport – describes Brennan Bell as “an amazing young man who will be successful. He has a very supportive mom and dad.’’
His father, Jeff Bell, a retired U.S. Postal Service employee, and his mother, Regina Bell, who works at an arts & crafts business in Gulfport, played key roles as he tackled life’s daunting challenges.
The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services supported Bell in several ways with funds for his college tuition, meal plans, and dormitory costs. Counselors helped Brennan on his road to become independent financially and feel secure on his own.
“We have assisted him with all of his college,’’ Skalij said. “He will be graduating soon and we are so proud of him.’’
Today, few would know that Brennan experienced hardships, needed surgery and received considerable help from vocational-rehabilitation counselors. “Contributors like MDRS’ VocRehab help those of us with disabilities complete their college degrees and find meaningful work,’’ he said.
Brennan Bell believes in the good of people. “I get my energy and motivation from people and I’m more likely to help others over myself. My parents believed in me, while my friends were very supportive throughout my surgery and recovery. I couldn’t have made it without them.’’