For anyone, the transition to college can be hard.
However, for those on the autism spectrum, it can be even harder. For students on the spectrum who are considering going to college, Mercyhurst’s CREATE Program is a nationally-acclaimed summer experience designed to help potential students determine whether they are ready for the demands of college life.
Students live in a typical residence hall, eat in the college cafeteria, enroll in a three-credit college course and interact with fellow students in a variety of social activities and settings. In the end, students receive a formal written assessment of their readiness for the rigors of college life. Along the way, they will also hopefully make a lot of new friends and feel more prepared for what the future holds.
Although the COVID-19 pan-demic, unfortunately, prevent-ed the CREATE Program from going ahead in the summer of 2020, the 2021 CREATE session is scheduled to take place from July 10 to July 31, 2021.
For students already at Mercyhurst, neurotypical or not, the AIM Program is actively recruit-ing junior counselors to help run the CREATE program.
Not only is this a fantastic resume builder for any students hoping to get involved, but it is also a fun and rewarding summer job that promises to be meaningful and beneficial for all involved. Students act as junior counselors and live on campus for the month of July. As well as receiving payment in the form of a $900 stipend, junior counselors receive free room and board for the duration of the experience.
All workers will be given an extensive orientation to ensure they have the skills needed for the job. Staff also arrive early and remain on campus for a few days after the CREATE students have left to help complete assessments for the students. “The philosophy of CREATE is to make students on the spectrum feel like they belong in college through a college transition program. We are looking for Lakers who want to be a part of that,” director of AIM, Brad Mc-Garry, said.
Staff members will be need-ed from Wednesday, July 7 until Wednesday, Aug. 4. From Mon-day to Friday, staff members work 5.5-hour shifts, covering either the morning, afternoon, or evening shifts of the camp. Each junior counselor is specifically responsible for monitoring the progress of four to six CREATE campers.
There will be a total of 34 students in the program, and this year the program does intend to run fully in-person and face-to-face, hopefully with all students and staff being able to show proof of vaccination.
Students who attend CREATE take a three-credit college course and also participate in the “College 101 Series” and the “Mini Lecture Series” of CREATE. These exist to familiarize students with college departments and resources and to expose the participants to different lecture styles, whether these are PowerPoint presentations, lab work, or lecture-based discussion. The Mini-Series lectures are not graded but exist to give students exposure.
“Guest speakers and connection to resources can help students identify services they need and navigate college life,” McGarry said.
Social skills training takes place in the afternoons. A functioning scale is used to monitor the progress of students, which is essentially an “AIM GPA.” CREATE students also get to take part in a variety of recreational events on the weekends, and staff is able to join the fun.
“Our off-campus activities are usually going to the beach, taking part in activities in downtown Erie and taking a trip to Niagara Falls,” said McGarry. “We also have opening and closing ceremonies which staff will take part in.”
After completing the program, all students will receive a formal written assessment documenting their performance throughout CRE-ATE. The report will highlight their strengths and/or weaknesses and make recommendations to support their transition to residential college life as full-time students.
“We are actively looking for junior counselors who will assist our other staff in running the program. Counselors will be supported by three graduate assistants, a behavioral specialist, a member of Res Life staff, and the wider AIM staff. Counselors should mod-el appropriate behavior to show what it is like to be a good college student and to help with the assessment of college readiness for all those who come to CREATE,” McGarry said.
Anyone hoping to apply can email McGarry or talk to a member of AIM staff for more information.