Mercyhurst Magazine Fall 2014

Mark Stookey, center, and his wife have donated a quarter-million dollars to build a career preparation track into Mercyhurst’s AIM program. He’s pictured with, from left, Ryan Palm ’07, associate vice president for advancement; President Tom Gamble; his son, sophomore Andrew Stookey; and Brad McGarry, director of AIM.

- McGarry and his staf ar en’t swimming instructors, he explains. “We push kids into the deep end to see whether they can stay afoa t.” They pushed the 22 students in Foundations this year to live on their own, navigate an unfamiliar campus and city, co exist peacefully with a roommate, socialize with their peers – even take and pass a college course. These tasks can overwhelm any new college freshman, but they’re even tougher for students with Asperger’s syndrome or other forms of high-functioning autism. The ratio of staf t o students is nearly 1-to-1. Staf members w on’t let any student drown, but they don’t throw in a lifeline at the frst sig n of trouble, either. Students need to learn whether they can tread water. Many parents have assumed a college degree isn’t possible for their - kids on the spectrum. McGarry says Foundations gives parents hope, and an objective way to determine if the kids are ready for the demands of college life. Foundations has developed a reputation as the leading college readiness program in the country, McGarry says. Demand was so high this year that he had to turn away dozens of potential students. He accepts only those he thinks have a reasonable chance of success, TESTING THE WATER Mercyhurst’s summer Foundations program gives students on the autism spectrum a chance to “test the waters” of life on a college campus. That’s an apt metaphor, says Brad McGarry, who directs both Foundations and the year-round Autism/Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM).

Under the Career Path Program, students will begin preparing for post-college careers from their frst t erm on campus, completing individualized modules to build the social skills they’ll need to fnd and hold jobs . They’ll use specialized software to assess their own skills and interests, and then begin exploring potential careers. They’ll gradually be introduced to the workplace, frst b y shadowing workers in their chosen feld , then by working in paid Career Path Experience jobs on the Mercyhurst campus, and eventually by interning of campus . AIM plans to build a network of local businesses and alumni interested in working with its students, and will help students tap into national resources as well. In addition to extensive preparation, students can be assigned a job coach to help them navigate jobs and internships. Plans call for a full-time staf member t o oversee the Career Path Program. Mark Stookey hopes other AIM families will see the value in the new program and contribute to the endowment, but he also expects that Mercyhurst alumni – including thousands of teachers – will embrace the concept. For information or to make a gift, contact Ryan Palm, associate vice president for advancement, at 814-824-3320 or rpalm@ . If you can provide an internship experience for an AIM student – or a job for an AIM graduate – contact Brad McGarry at 814-824-2451 or .

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