Autism Initiative seeks peer mentors


Trang Nguyen

AIM Director Brad McGarry assures students that becoming a peer mentor at one of top programs in the country is an instant resume booster.

Phuong Nguyen, Staff writer

The Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) is looking for peer mentors in all majors to help the students on the Autism Spectrum balance with the social, emotional and academic struggles of college life.
The Peer Mentor Program (PMP) is an attempt to balance the social aspects of the college experience for students in the AIM program. PMP embraces the mission of the Sisters of Mercy by making campus a place where everyone is equal, accepting of diversity and knows each other compassionately.
According to AIM Director Brad McGarry, not only do AIM students benefit from the program, it also helps students build a stronger resume. Volunteering for AIM, one of the top programs in the country, brings the credibility and opportunity for students’ resumes in any field.
“The collaboration is a win-win relationship,” McGarry said.
During a training and working process, peer-mentors can gain and improve many soft skills, including organization, teamwork and communication. In addition, many current AIM staff members were peer mentors.
Students in any major can apply to get involved. Although students who have two-year experiences in related fields or dealing with Autism is preferable, the training process teaches mentors about Autism, conductive and behavior modification and other necessary skills.
“We draw from special Education, Psychology, Sociology- actually, any body. We found that any student in any major can be beneficial to our students in some ways. I do not think it gears directly to any kind of group,” McGarry said.
Applicants must possess the ability to maintain close and enduring social contact with program participants. The job also requires applicants to commit a minimum of four hours a month.
Activities range from going to dinner together, seeing a movie, studying and doing homework, to hanging out together and joining other events that take place on and off campus.
Participation in mandatory trainings and meetings takes place once a month for an hour. Peer mentors have to work to promote individual growth and develop a sense of community within the program and to encourage pride in Mercyhurst.
The job opening has 43 available spots. In the spring term, AIM programs will receive more students, so the peer mentor program has no hard deadline for applicants. Currently, PMP has 10 peer mentors, including Psychology major and Biology minor Michelle Winwood.
She became involved with the AIM program in 2014, and continued to be a year-round peer mentor last academic year and was a senior peer mentor for Foundations this past summer. Now she is an intern in the AIM department, fulfilling her senior capstone requirement for her major.
“I love seeing the positive impact that our students have from their peer mentors. Students have the opportunity to talk to and be with people on our campus they might have never thought to talk to,” said Winwood.
“I think the most rewarding part of my job as a mentor is what my students teach me. The passion, dedication and desire to learn is unlike anyone else I have seen.
“My students push me to be a better person and want me to learn as much as I can. Some of the brightest, funniest and most caring people I know I have found through this amazing program, ” Winwood said.
For more information about PMP or AIM program (offices 301-307 Egan Hall), contact Brad McGarry at or
AIM Coordinator Paulina Wielandt at