Syracuse University Magazine

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Matt Barbaccia ’16

Pedaling for Parkinson’s Awareness

Matt Barbaccia ’16 has been on the journey of a lifetime the past several weeks. Pedaling the highways and back roads of America, Barbaccia is on a cross-country mission to raise awareness about Parkinson’s disease. Barbaccia headed out on his bike February 27 from Jacksonville, Florida, to make his way to Santa Rosa, California. Originally the idea was to bike across the country for the experience. With advice and ideas from many people, he decided to dedicate the trip to a special cause. “There was only one cause that came to mind, and that was Parkinson’s disease. This disease has affected my Uncle Mark for roughly 15 years now. I’ve grown up seeing the progression of his symptoms, and I have always wished there was something I could do,” says Barbaccia, whose grandfather, Andrew Barbaccia Sr., had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and passed away in 2002. “There are many people whose lives have been touched by Parkinson’s; I know this cause will resonate with them.”

Before his ride, Barbaccia plotted out the route—which includes stops in Dallas and Denver—and trained in his hometown of Rochester, New York. He created a website (www.ride4parkinsons.com) through the assistance of iConsult, a graduate student organization in the School of Information Studies. Viewers were able to track his progress through an interactive map, read daily blogs, and view photos and videos. The site also functions to seek donations for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which raises research funding to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease and to develop therapies for those living with the disease. “For me it’s a win-win,” says Barbaccia, whose father is an avid cyclist and inspired him to pursue the bike trip. “I have the opportunity to embark on an adventure that I am sure will challenge me in ways I have never been challenged before, and I am able to raise attention for an important cause simultaneously.”

Barbaccia is making the trip between important milestones in his life: his college graduation and the start of his time with Teach For America. Barbaccia, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the College of Engineering and Computer Science in December, said his coursework “challenged me to think in unfamiliar ways, and taught me resiliency and a hard work ethic.” For six months, Barbaccia also took part in a supply chain and research and development co-op with Johnson & Johnson, where he worked on various projects, including with a research team experimenting with some concept products. 

During his time at Syracuse, Barbaccia was contacted by a recruiter from Teach For America (TFA). As he learned more about it and the impact it has on students in low-income communities, he knew it was an opportunity for him. Barbaccia begins his TFA training in June in Arizona and will teach secondary mathematics in Hawaii, starting in the fall. “I hope to make an impact that is meaningful to my students, and enriching for myself as well,” he says. 

Until then, his eyes are on the road, and he’s just enjoying the ride and meeting people along the way. He would like others to benefit from his ride in some way. “I hope my contribution, however large or small, makes a difference in the pursuit of a cure, for my uncle and all others who suffer from Parkinson’s disease,” Barbaccia says. Kathleen Haley

Photo courtesy of Matt Barbaccia

Editor's Note: Matt Barbaccia reached the Pacific Ocean on April 12.