AIM aims for higher employment options for their students


Tung Vu

Brad McGarry in his office working on upcoming events for AIM.

Mackenzie Burns, Staff writer

President Micheal Victor raised $1.2 million within six months of being in office. The announcement was made in January Victor said a portion of this would go to the new Autism Initiative and its new career path program, which helps AIM students get jobs after graduation.

AIM Director Brad McGarry is in the process of improving the career path program and promoting job placement for those with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Not long ago, McGarry was moved when author, Steven Silberman, recalled his work. Silberman authored the book titled NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.

“[My work] upends conventional thinking about autism and suggests a broader model for acceptance, understanding and full participation in society for people who think differently,” Silberman said about his book.

In reality, that is all autism is – thinking differently. Many put such a negative stigma on the term, and employers have been no different. Instead of ignoring those with the condition, employers may have a lot to gain from hiring those on the autism spectrum. This is what McGarry is all about, and he is determined to give all of the students he works with a place in the workforce.

A lot has been going on lately in the AIM office.

“Last year, Raise the Roof for Autism was the catalyst”that put Mercyhurst on everyone’s radar,” McGarry said. Now, many want to connect with this nationally acclaimed model. This year, alone, McGarry has been on half a dozen trips around the country to help expand the resources Mercyhurst can provide its students.

In early March, McGarry, accompanied by the AIM Assistant Director, Paulina Weilandt, spent four days in the District of Columbia with the Tom Ridge Policy Group.

During his time in the District, he met with the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, Pennsylvania senators, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and former Pa Gov. Tom Ridge. He was then asked to present at the University of Michigan’s Depression Center Conference.

Only days later, McGarry went on the road again, this time to the Inaugural Autism at Work Summit in Philadelphia. SAP America hosted the summit, where McGarry was a panelist on “Building Bridges between the Education System & Labor Market.”

McGarry will be taking eight students to New York in May to meet with the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership (ASTEP).

In June, Mercyhurst University will host an educational summit sponsored by the Angelman Syndrome Foundation. McGarry has experience with the foundation as his son, Connor, suffers from Angelman Syndrome.

This November, Mercyhurst will host one of the most well known individuals with autism to share her own experiences, Temple Grandin, Ph.D in Animal Science.

Grandin’s parents were told their child would grow up and be institutionalized. Today, she is an author, speaker and video producer, who is thriving with autism and has revolutionized the cattle handling industry.

Grandin is proof of how successful and revolutionary someone with autism can be. She has shared her experiences with many all over the world.

“Grandin decided to come here to advocate the connection between us, her and the employment field,” McGarry said.

The AIM Office is already planning events for next year. In January 2017, McGarry will be taking students to Tanzania, Africa, where they will brave the journey to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

They will also take a threeday round-trip journey to the Shira Plateau, followed by a three day safari. They will also partake in three days of service work in Arusha.

While all of these trips and events are incredible, McGarry wants everyone to understand the real purpose for all of it.

“We want them to be educated and obtain meaningful employment,” McGarry said.

He not only wants his students to receive the best opportunities in life, but he wants everyone else to understand autism. He has seen AIM students graduate and receive prestigious jobs in countless fields. His goal is for all of the AIM students to do the same.