The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) works hard to prepare students for opportunities in the workforce after their college experience. Wells Fargo has taken notice of this dedication and is among many business to reach out to Mercyhurst in hopes of integrating students on the autism spectrum into their companies.
“It is a give-and-take relationship that is very purposeful in engaging companies like this,” said Bradley McGarry, director of the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst. “If we connect with companies like this, it gives our students employment opportunities. Our students then give back to the companies to help them build the infrastructure within their organization for an autism employment initiative.”
Michael Riesmeyer, senior vice president at Wells Fargo, contacted Mercyhurst about increasing the connections between students in the AIM program and the international company.
Riesmeyer has a personal connection and exposure to the program and to college students on the spectrum as his daughter, Megan, is currently a freshman in the AIM program.
AIM Career Path Coordinator, Adam Glass worked with Riesmeyer to figure out what types of sessions Wells Fargo should provide during an informational workshop on April 20. Glass used his work with the students to guide Wells Fargo in what the day would look like, how the students would engage and ultimately what the students would benefit most from.
“We teach the students from a career development perspective,” said Glass.“Where Wells Fargo is coming from is an executive hiring perspective, saying ‘This is what we look for when we hire individuals.’ The students are kind of getting an inside track on what companies really like and can then start working on and honing those particular skills.”
Five senior representatives of the international Wells Fargo company came to Mercyhurst on April 20 to present three main information sessions for the students — “What to look for in meaningful employment”; “How to find employment which hits your needs” and “What goes into completing a successful interview?” — followed by a roundtable discussion with employers and their potential employees.
“The AIM program had a very productive day with Wells Fargo,” said McGarry. “The students gained some great skills, and they were able to provide some strong insight on how best to build infrastructure for an Autism Employment Initiative. Overall, the day was a huge success and better than we could have planned.”
Mercyhurst is growing increasingly well-known among large global companies such as IBM, Facebook, Ford Motor Co. and Microsoft because of the unique minds within the AIM program. This is a huge step for those on the spectrum in the workforce, but companies are very much aware of the corporate benefits they gain by hiring autistic employees.
“It’s great that companies are doing this, but they’re not doing it as a charity case. What I love about what’s happening right now is that these companies see the benefit of having a person with a unique way of thinking in these positions,” said McGarry. “If businesses have diverse thinkers and people that diversify their population, they are going to think differently, do things differently, and ultimately advance businesses in a way that they couldn’t before.”
Many AIM students have traveled with McGarry all over the country for job opportunities and conferences to promote awareness for autistic employees and what employers can do to help make these transitions.
“With a lot of companies who are building this type of program, it’s more than just adapting the interview process, which the AIM students do need. It’s about what Wells Fargo is going to do once the students get past that stage. The students get to share some of those things they feel they need in the workplace, too,” McGarry said.
AIM would not be able to be represented in so many ways if it were not for the generous grant opportunities from donors along with the support from the university.
“These grants are making all of this possible,” said Glass. “They help to propel us to where we need to go to target these opportunities. The whole AIM team really picks up the slack (when McGarry and Glass are traveling with students). It’s not just a two-man show. The whole department makes it happen as they work one-on-one with the students.”