A student on the autism spectrum who has reached higher education deserves to have opportunities equal to those afforded to his or her peers. Those enrolled in the Bridges to Adelphi program have the same access to internships, interviews and job placements that lead to meaningful careers after graduation.
The Bridges office is a safe space for a student with autism spectrum disorder to build friendships and connect with his or her fellow students—a task that can often be a struggle. In the office, students have the opportunity to socialize, meet new people or connect with old friends, with the support and guidance of a trained graduate student who understands the social struggles of students on the spectrum. Bridges students can often be found hanging around the office, without social pressure, knowing that the people around them are not judging them.
Many friendships and roommate connections have been born out of interactions at the Bridges office. Students, peers and peer mentors have crafted long-term relationships from meetings there.
A volunteer peer mentor may encourage Bridges students to attend a campus club or social event that they may not have gone to on their own and may even accompany them. Then, once they feel more comfortable, students often continue to attend the activity on their own.
The friendships that develop between the students and their peer mentors often grow beyond mentor-mentee relationships. “The mentorship (which is not disclosed to others) falls away quickly,” said Mitch Nagler, Bridges to Adelphi program director, and “a true lasting friendship begins.”
Beyond the peer mentorship project, the Bridges program also runs off-campus social outings and on-campus social groups. During the 2012–2013 academic year, a woman’s support group was launched, providing program participants an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings that all women in college struggle with.
“These students have the same problems as everyone else,” Mr. Nagler said. “This support group gives them the chance to open up about things in a setting where they feel at ease, and they end up learning from each other.” The group was such a success that this fall Bridges will initiate a similar men’s group.
But college is more than forging friendships and graduating. The goal is ultimately to get a job and be independent. For students on the spectrum, the thought of applying to or interviewing for a job can often be a nerve-wracking, if not overwhelming, task for them. To address this, Bridges offers a great deal of support in this area, beginning early-on with vocational testing —which may point the student toward a new major. Bridges students can pursue internship opportunities on campus and—through a unique partnership with Birch Family Services, a family service organization in New York City—off-campus internships as well.
“Is success graduating students?” Mr. Nagler said. “Yes and no. For me, it’s also helping them get into meaningful careers so they can flourish and live successful lives.”
The relationship between Bridges to Adelphi students and Birch Family Services is one that few universities share. Birch Family Services works with corporations to find experiential learning opportunities and post-college employment. They have successfully placed Bridges graduates at the American Museum of Natural History, PricewaterhouseCoopers and a variety of small firms. Bridges graduates have gone on to excel in the fields of accounting, art and the cutting-edge field of information technology.
“In this highly challenging global labor market, employers are constantly seeking to acquire a competitive advantage, hiring candidates with specific technological and mathematical skill sets,” said Thomas Ward Jr., executive director of the Adelphi Center for Career Development. “There is a public outcry from employers that they need students trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as the STEM industries. Working with the Bridges to Adelphi program, the University can offer our employer partners a pipeline of highly talented, conscientious and dedicated candidates who possess these highly demanded (STEM) skill sets and competencies.”
Providing the tools for making new friends and embarking on careers, the services offered by Bridges are innovative, individualized and meant to last a lifetime.