By Lisa Pollich, Ph.D.
Project Director; Disability Accommodations Specialist L-2
In February, CUNY Project REACH (Resources and Education on Autism as CUNY’s Hallmark), an initiative of the Central Office of Student Affairs (COSA), celebrated its two-year anniversary by holding its third annual Strategic Advisory Meeting. The meeting gathered professionals in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community, both from within CUNY and outside of CUNY, to review work done, talk about plans going forward, get valuable feedback into issues important to ASD students in higher education, collaborate on issues of importance to students on the spectrum, and discuss the progress of Project REACH. Invitations were extended to key stakeholders involved with the project.
After a short networking lunch, University Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Dr. Christopher Rosa, provided opening greetings at the gathering and explained that the number of students with autism in higher education is rapidly increasing. Dr. Lisa Pollich, REACH’s Project Director, gave a presentation about the history of Project REACH, a review of the project’s activities over the past year, and a description of plans for the future. The importance of student outreach, educational training for the campus community, and collaboration across disciplines was also emphasized.
Next, the principal investigators of each of the five Project REACH-funded campus mini-grant projects gave a presentation about their campus projects: the overall goals, as well as the progress/highlights their particular projects have made this year, and discussed the impact of their projects on students with ASD. After this, attendees discussed what kinds of efforts were needed going forward to help students on the spectrum, as well as what kinds of issues and challenges educators faced when dealing with ASD. Following that, breakout sessions and facilitated discussion were held, moderated by the principal investigators of the mini-grant projects. These addressed issues and concerns about particular aspects of ASD in college, to brainstorm and share of ideas.
Participants were in attendance from the following CUNY colleges: Hunter College, Brooklyn College, College of Staten Island, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Lehman College, Bronx Community College, CUNY School of Law; and the following organizations and divisions: CUNY LEADS, CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD), Office of the Dean of Health and Human Services, CUNY Communications and Marketing. Non-CUNY organizations included New York State Board of Regents, Asperger Syndrome Training Employment Partnership, the FAR Fund, the Museum Access Consortium, the Summit School, Birch Family Services, JobPath, Resources for Children with Special Needs, and Greenburgh North Castle UFSD.
It was a very productive meeting in which many issues were voiced, important topics were discussed, there was collaboration across disciplines, and Project REACH received guidance about where to focus efforts going forward. Feedback from these meetings is used to assist in fine-tuning plans for the upcoming year. The meeting reinvigorated REACH’s commitment to helping students on the spectrum get the most out of their college experience and helped to further shape the direction of the project. A special thanks was extended to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Frank Sanchez, and University Dean for Health and Human Services, William Ebenstein for their guidance and support and also to the FAR Fund for funding the initiative. For more information about Project REACH, visit the website at www.cuny.edu/projectREACH.