Mercyhurst Magazine Fall 2022


Brad McGarry and his wife, Aimee, were joined by sons, Nate, front row left, and back row, from left, Brayden, Nico, Mason, and Connor when the creation of the Brad McGarry Center for Neurodiversity was announced.

In honor of one of the nation’s best-known advocates for college students on the autism spectrum, Mercyhurst University announced in June that it will establish the Brad McGarry Center for Neurodiversity on its Erie campus. The announcement kicked off a fundraising campaign to endow the new center, which expands the award-winning Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM), headed by McGarry since 2014. A lead contribution of $250,000 from the Patrick Rooney Jr. family has established the foundation upon which a $1 million endowment is planned, said Mercyhurst President Kathleen A. Getz, Ph.D. Getz made the announcement in the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center before McGarry, his family and friends, and colleagues and supporters of the AIM program. Guest speaker at the event was Gov. Tom Ridge, a longtime chairman of the National Organization on Disability who has worked with many of the nation’s disability organizations to develop and advocate for policies and approaches that support increased disability employment. Meanwhile, under McGarry’s leadership, AIM has thrived, growing from an enrollment of four students to more than 80 today, and delivering impressive outcomes that not only benefitted

his students but also propelled a new set of talented and productive employees into today’s workplace. Through his work with AIM, McGarry became a resource for many other institutions across the country. He testified before the U.S. Congress on best practices in serving this growing demographic and was a subject-matter expert in stories featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education, National Catholic Reporter, C-SPAN, and Forbes. He also became friends with Temple Grandin, perhaps the world’s best-known individual with autism, with whom he was known to share interactions with his students. The university’s commitment to the new center is a signal to McGarry that his efforts championing the needs of students on the spectrum will remain strong for many years to come, which is particularly meaningful to McGarry at this time in his life. Diagnosed last year with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, McGarry has continued to interact with his students despite increasing limitations. For years, he has been relentless in his pursuit of their happiness and success and, even in struggling with his own disease, has worked with the university to strengthen the program whose mission he believes in so passionately.

The new Brad McGarry Center for Neurodiversity will include four components, explained Vice President for Student Life Dr. Laura Zirkle. • Increase AIM enrollment and create more academic and social opportunities for its students. • Expand the summer residential program for college-bound students on the spectrum to determine if they are ready for the demands of college life. • Launch a first-of-its-kind initiative to train students on the spectrum for jobs in the rapidly growing field of cyber security. • Create a training program that will support the efforts of companies and organizations to successfully recruit and work with these uniquely gifted employees. “Brad has been a force of nature, constantly championing the needs of the neurodiverse,” Zirkle said. “Through his awareness-raising and advocacy, he has also shifted attitudes and helped to create barrier-free environments for his students. Our hope is that this center will continue his legacy for years to come.”


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