AIM ranked No. 3 in nation

Joseph McCarthy, Contributing writer

Mercyhurst University’s AIM program, or Autism/Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, once again ranked high in a national survey. It received third in the “20 best value colleges for students with autism” category by Best Value Schools.

On the survey itself, the university scored 96 out of 100 points for all S.A.F.E.R. categories. S.A.F.E.R. stands for Social, Academic, Functioning, Employment and Residential.

“We’re honored that we rank so high on the national list. It validates the work that we are doing,” said Brad McGarry, head of the AIM program.

The AIM program has ranked high on other surveys as well, he said.

“We’ve been able to make bigger and better connections throughout the years, expanding and educating companies on neurodiversity, and it could help their company. We’ve also presented throughout the country and the world,” said McGarry. “We’ve successfully implemented autism awareness campaigns, brought some of the leading national experts in autism to Erie, including Temple Grandin. We got invited to the autism advantage luncheon at the United Nations. We took students to Africa, and conquer the canyon in Arizona.”

He also said that he even received a phone call from President Barack Obama, and has talked with congressmen about the program.

“We’re going to continue to offer innovative services and continue to set trends in the field to get number one,” said McGarry. “Our employment rate is 5 times the national average.”

Because programs like AIM, as well as the work of those like Grandin, a famous autistic engineer, companies like Microsoft have begun hiring autistic people as part of their inclusion programs.

When the AIM program first started in 2008, it was only a handful of students. Since then, it has grown significantly.

“We have been able to expand staff,” McGarry said.

The AIM program now has many full-time staff members. Students are given the opportunity to meet with business leaders on networking trips. Last semester, the program was able to take students to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and go on a hike through the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The AIM program continues to climb higher.