Sights ‘AIM’ high with conference


Kristian Biega, Staff writer

Mercyhurst University’s nationally recognized Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) program has been working to raise awareness for students on the spectrum as they continue to seek higher education and vocational opportunities.
On Nov. 1 and 2 at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center, Mercyhurst will present the conference on Autism in Higher Education.
Brad McGarry, director of AIM, allowed this conference to take off. It was McGarry’s personal connection through his child’s Angelman syndrome and passion for advocating and educating that he acquired contacts with so many major leaders in the field.
Over the years he has collaborated with many of these experts who were willing to help this conference become a reality.
“These heavy hitters believe so much in what Brad (McGarry) and Paulina (Wielandt) have implemented, that they want to collaborate with us just as much as we want to collaborate with them,” Holly Deitrick, AIM administrative assistant, said.
This conference is proud to be hosting some of the biggest names in autism, including internationally celebrated author, activist and spokesperson on autism and professor of animal science, Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Having autism herself, she has paved the way for major strides in research and awareness within the field. Along with Grandin, Stephen Shore, Ed.D., will be giving a keynote speech during the conference. Shore is also on the spectrum and has become an extremely successful professor, researcher and advocate for autism through his hard work.
Other speakers coming to the conference will be writer Steve Silberman, Ph.D., psychologist Robert Naseef, Ph.D., and Mercyhurst’s AIM director McGarry and assistant director Wielandt.
Every speaker coming to this event is an expert in their field and is truly passionate about the work involved in this growing program, not only at Mercyhurst, but all over the nation.
Conferences like this not only bring awareness to the community, but also nationally to other colleges to help them cultivate programs such as these to support students on the spectrum who are looking to further their education, become self-sufficient and find a vocation.
Everyone is encouraged to attend this unique conference that Erie and Mercyhurst are proud to host. Deitrick emphasizes that this it is a great opportunity and that is a “one-of-a-kind conference.”
The conference is not exclusively for individuals on the spectrum, or even those directly impacted by autism, but anyone who wishes to gain awareness about autism in higher education. Employers and educators from across the nation are expected to be in attendance to become aware of the next generation of employees and leaders of the nation.
“The conference is really bringing everybody together,” said Wielandt. “On an employment front, on a higher education front and a family front.”
She hopes it will start the conversation and get people asking, ‘How else can we make a difference?’
There are still tickets available for the conference at a reduced rate of $89 for students, alumni and staff of Mercyhurst. These tickets provide admission to both days of the conference and all of the speaker sessions. Separate tickets can be purchased for $20 for admission to only the evening keynote speakers.
Wielandt hopes that this conference will only enforce that belief and make an impact in the autism community.
“Everybody has abilities to do everything,” Wielandt said.