WASHINGTON, D.C. — A handful of students from Mercyhurst University visited our nation’s capital during their spring break. The trip is part of the university’s Autism Initiative, better known as the AIM program. Giving these students a chance to learn about a variety of career paths and working with employers to match them with jobs that highlight their abilities.
Inside the House congressional offices on Capitol Hill, about ten students from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania are on their way to meet with Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly (R- PA). They’re part of the university’s AIM program.
“It’s designed to be an academics plus program,” said Sam McCrimmon, the University’s Vice President for Advancement. “And so these are students on the autism spectrum, but they go to regular classes so they’re in classes with the rest of our students. We provide them wraparound help, getting them used to things like being on a college campus, living alone. Part of this is teaching the students how to be in official settings but part of it is also continuing to advocate for neurodiverse individuals.”
The AIM program has taken students to the Grand Canyon, New York City and even Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. The AIM program designs trips for their students based on their educational and general interests to discover different careers. For this trip, potential careers in public service and in student Jack Sullivan’s case, cybersecurity.
“They have so many options here,” said Sullivan. “Walking by the Department of Energy, our hotel is right next to Lockheed Martin’s Corporate offices. So cybersecurity, this is probably the mecca for cybersecurity.”
Students said the trip has opened more resources for them than they imagined.
“I’ve been having a good time seeing areas where there are different employment opportunities and resources on how I can start finding jobs and such before I graduate,” said student Nico King.
“I’m from a small town and not sure about my peers but places to go out and into the world and places you can go to and we’ve gone to a few organizations today and it’s great to see people are trying to make a change to get rid of the stigma, autism and regarding neurodiversity,” said student Jordan Dickinson.
But most importantly, they’re having fun along the way.
“The students are having a fantastic time not only discovering the careers but talking about themselves and building great conversations, so it’s been a magical time,” said AIM director Amanda Mulder.